Midnight Club: Los Angeles Review
The long-running street racing franchise Midnight Club has chosen to make its next-gen debut in Los Angeles, land of the monthly fiery street racer death. Luckily thereís no dying in videogames, for keeps anyway, and no dying in this version of Los Angeles where you can drive down a crowded sidewalk at 80 MPH secure in the knowledge that everyone will safely somersault out of your way. In this pristine, smog-free, and relatively un-crowded version of LA, you can enjoy all of the thrills of the street racing life without any of the consequences. Even the police will let you off with a fine and a smile should they catch you...
Rockstar has done an impressive job of recreating the City of Angeles for this game. It is a condensed version of LA, but this is understandable given that just the city of LA itself is about 50 miles end to end and can take over three hours to pass through on a bad day. However, denizens of this burg such as myself will find that it is easy to navigate the gameís version of the city and will find famous landmarks and familiar streets with ease. Licensing issues preclude an authenticate replication of every location, but stand-ins are used effectively when needed. Fore example, I took a drive over to the intersection of Hollywood and Highland and saw that the Ripleyís museum was there complete with the dinosaur coming out of the roof, but that the Kodak Theater and Mannís Chinese had been replaced with similar looking buildings with similar sounding names. If youíre from LA or are familiar with the city, it is certainly fun to spend some time just driving around in the game and checking out familiar sites. Iím not usually a fan of product placement in games, but I have to say that all of the 7-11s in the game do add a little authenticity to this virtual version of LA, although it is a little odd not seeing an equal number of AM/PMs. Once the racing starts those familiar with the city will lose their advantage, though. At 100 MPH itís impossible to read street signs or figure out where you are if you donít happen to pass a familiar landmark. Plus, if you want to win consistently youíll need to take full advantage of the numerous short cuts in the game that will take you down back alleys, through parking garages, and across pedestrian routes.
There is a story in the game and itís exactly what you expect it to be. Youíre the new guy on the underground racing scene and you must work your way up from the bottom by winning races and earning money and respect along the way. But whoever pays attention to the story in these types of games? Just tell me where the next race is located and Iím on my way. Getting between races is easy thanks to the gameís GPS feature. It works like a real=time Google Maps or Google Earth. Press a button and the camera pulls straight up from your car to an altitude from which you can see the entire city. Race locations are clearly marked and youíll be able to track the locations of rivals and police cruisers in real-time. Zoom the map in and youíll be able to see smaller streets and even shortcuts. Itís a fun map to play with as well as a great way to see where you are and where youíre going.
And now for the most important part a racing game: the racing. As you may have guessed, all of the racing in the game takes place on the streets of LA. There are a few different types of races in the game, but in all of the youíll need to contend with the other traffic on the streets and keep ahead of the police. Some races are strictly point to point and you can chose your own path to the destination. Others are way point-based and require that you pass through each intersection marked by a giant plume of smoke in order. The sense of speed is the game is impressive and youíll feel like you really are barreling down city streets at breakneck speeds. The realistic sense of speed adds excitement to the game, but it also brings some unwanted tid bits of realism along with it. At these speeds you need to watch for traffic a half block or more away in order to have the time to dodge an approaching car on a collision course, and youíll need to be ready for your next turn about a block before you reach it. Since it can be hard to see the turns that far away, youíll need to rely on your on-screen mini map as a guide while racing. Add to this the fact that it is hard to tell where the next smoke marker is placed without the mini map and youíll find that youíre primarily watching the minimap while racing with quick glances up to watch for traffic.