Midnight Club: Los Angeles
PlayStation 3 | Xbox 360
Midnight Club LA Review
Review By Steve Farrelly @ 11:07am 26/11/08
If you've never been to the "City of Angels" before there's honestly no way Midnight Club LA is going to mean much more to you than a reminder of some landmark you saw from an episode of Baywatch or being able to point out the hotel from True Lies Arnie took his horse up an elevator in.
If you have, then before even playing the game you're going to realise Los Angeles is likely one of the best designed cities for illegal street racing. It's ridiculously large intertwining roads, barrier freeways, and seminal grid design already stand as the perfect race foundation, but when the very sport you're doing is based on breaking the rules, LA's hobo-clad alleyways, promenades and massive barren parks make for tantalising shortcuts.
It's also an ugly, ugly city meaning you're less likely to be distracted by architectural beauty (they have a garish Frank Gehry building there), removing any concern for not watching the road with attentiveness and smashing into one of the city's gruesome filth-coloured concrete walls.
Like most modern racing games, Midnight Club LA attempts to exude cool. I say "attempt" because while the game is actually better at it than most, it still harbours an element of "try too hard". Replete with dialogue, fashion or comments that attempt - on an aesthetic level - to speak to the audience the game is geared for without sounding (or seeming) condescending, Midnight Club LA comes across as the new kid in school; looking like a cool person but attempting to impress just that little bit too much. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just often pitched across in the wrong way and in MCLA it keels off in the wrong direction from time to time.
There are numerous landmarks you'll likely recognise because of the Hollywood factor, while overall this compressed version of LA is incredibly easy to navigate because of the awesome map system which is cleverly tied into the game's presentation.
Tearing down the highly detailed streets of LA at night looks fantastic. Lights leave small trails as you swerve to and fro, while the sense of speed is elevated thanks to some cool effects that range from shifting the camera up alongside your vehicle when engaging nitrus to an almost tunnel-vision focus.
Cars are highly detailed and feature specular highlights based on real-world lighting within the game. Particle effects are equally awesome, and while you will most certainly smash your car at high speeds, there's no complete damage system here. You'll ding your ride up good and proper, but never so much you can't keep racing.
Traffic AI, for example, is utterly blind. There's nothing more frustrating than coming to a giant T-intersection where, if this were Burnout Paradise, traffic AI would swerve or break to avoid the ludicrously fast car hooning from the other direction, but in MCLA they just keep on driving Miss Daisy often resulting in race-altering collisions.
This sort of gameplay is probably in place to keep races as challenging and edge-of-your-seat as possible, but in my opinion it negates any concept of truly skilful driving.
So this time around, Midnight Club's focus has been moved towards making a product most people can just pick up and play, and regardless of coming first, progress through the game. It makes sense (especially because previous iterations in the series have been workhorses to master), but in opening up the approach Rockstar have taken away division for the overall game. So instead of skill, what's left to keep you powering through?
Because you don't necessarily need to be the best driver on the block, you earn money for racing regardless, and doing so will give you access to various customisation options for the myriad of vehicles available within the game.
You can paint them whatever colour you like, add your own decals (layers and layers of decals), power up with new performance parts (both bought and unlocked) and pretty much make any vehicle you own, your own.
There isn't really a story per se, but MCLA does have contextual encounters with various characters and your very own character has been somewhat fleshed out so you care about what you're doing each time you step on the accelerator. Rockstar could have very easily mistreated this portion of the game, but I'm glad to report they haven't (at least beyond the annoying ribbing that comes from other drivers as you race).
Freeway races are also new additions as the game-world is pretty much bordered with freeways. Jump on these, flash your lights at a potential opponent and away you go (clearly with such dubious traffic AI though, these particular competitions are very, very tough).
Thankfully the various race modes keep everything interesting with the likes of car delivery missions, smash 'em up missions (for douches who owe money), Circuit races (where you compete in a series around town) and more, while the bold can venture online and tackle other drivers who're likely infinitely better than them.
Add even more real-world influenced activities such as being able to gamble on races and the like (all clearly in keeping with the fact everything you do in this game is essentially illegal) and you have a pretty stout gaming product from a company who tend to buck the 'yearly update' trend of so many other suppliers.
Racing fans and car lovers alike will have hours upon hours of fun with this.