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AusGamers Midnight Club LA First Look
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:16am 06/09/07 | Comments
Rockstar San Diego's latest update to the Midnight Club street racing series hits the money, check out our first-hand impressions

Midnight Club LA - Quick Facts

Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Publisher: Rockstar
Genre: Racing
Players: TBA
Available: TBA
Rating: TBA

Sitting centre of screen in Rockstar Games' Sydney Office gaming room (in front of their impressive 60" LCD TV), I'm told to accept that what I'm about to see is a "work in progress" before the lights are dimmed and the surround sound turned up. Before me – a huge overhead Google Maps-esque, err… map of LA. Rockstar's Australian elite pick a portion of the map and begin to talk me through the game's new dynamics. But everything I'm being told becomes background noise as I'm immediately swept away by this "work in progress". The area of the map chosen has come to life in one sweeping motion from a static overhead view-point to a chic zoom-in to a camera positioned behind the car – the only thing in this transition that stops me wetting my pants is the subtle texture pop-up, but like I said: A work in progress.

To even suggest, however, that the loading textures weren't at all smooth is a moot point, what's important here is just how damn impressive everything is looking in this early build of the latest Midnight Club outing (cleverly tacked with an "LA" qualifier in its title). Loading textures, choppy frame-rates, pop-up and what have will all be broached in later stages of development; here we're trying to discern just what's different about this new instalment in the franchise, and believe me, there's a lot.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles
These changes begin, most importantly, with location. Obviously Rockstar San Diego have chosen LA as their stomping ground, and from the outset it's unbelievably impressive. Having spent a fair amount of time in LA for E3 and the like, I was immediately flawed at the authenticity of the city; especially when driving past places I’ve eaten at, stayed in or partied from (the famous House of Blues is a good example). According to Rockstar, the game-world is going to be bigger than the last three cities of the previous game combined. Awesome.

While there are no pedestrians in the build and a lot of the game-world has yet to be finalised, it's easy to see just how obsessed Rockstar San Diego are with their baby. And there’s no way any of this would be possible without the Rage game engine (a creation of their own built specifically for this series). There's a decent amount of traffic rolling through the streets of West Hollywood, and from what I can tell the AI seems to be reasonably responsive and not at all intrusive (though again, this is an early build). It's also easy to see why the team chose LA with its massively wide roads and grid-like design, the city almost feels like it was created for illegal street racing.

My demoer, who's in control of the 100,000-odd poly’d car, decides to show me the meat of the game though, and another example of a more fleshed out gaming experience is revealed as he flashes his headlights at a potential opponent. No load-times and a quick race to the start line (which helps you with some extra cash and just livens things up that little bit more) keeps things moving at an organic pace and before we know it, the race is on.

What We'd Like To See

Given the idea of a robust living, breathing Los Angeles to drive within, it would be very, very cool if MCLA took a leaf from the MMO book and actually had a game-world where anyone playing online could race and interact with other human opponents. You could set up specific street races, have regular race meets with friends, even watch other races going on around you (though said races to watch would have to be non-interactive in case you caused another player to crash and burn). And with the idea of earning cred working a little bit like gaining levels in a RPG, there would be plenty of room for growth - maybe even have specific races - online - that could only be started with a specific amount of rep. Whether or not something like this would be feasible or even on the cards isn't known, but I'm just throwing it out there, Rockstar.
I say "meat" because, let’s face it, without the actual race portion, there’d be no point to the game, but the difference between MCLA and other entrants in the series is flash. This is as stylised as racing is gonna get, and if you thought games like Burnout or Need For Speed were the top of the pile, you need to think again. MCLA changes the overall dynamic of the sensation of racing thanks to an entirely new camera system that redefines the genre. Hit a boost and watch the camera zoom up to your driver-side door as your view changes with depth of field blurring and an almost anime-esque tunnel-vision effect – everything is shaking and intense and the sensation of speed - through visual style - is second-to-none. But if the third-person isn't your thing, Rockstar have even implemented a new cockpit camera that manages to break the usual static mold of other racers with the same view option. Here your head acts as an almost independent part of the view, and so the sensation of shock, steering and driving fast are completely believable, and on top of that every instrument within your line of sight in said view is reacting to everything you’re actually doing. So your tachometer and the like all reflect what the car is doing, and just what the car is doing is what you’re telling it to do.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles
Similarly to the other Midnight Club games, MCLA sees you racing the streets to earn cred and money. The more of each you gain, the more you can unlock. Unlike the other Midnight Club games, however, MCLA is not nearly as stringent. You don’t have to come first in every race to see all the game has to offer, and for the first time in the series, the entire map – from the outset – is available to you. That means all of LA is your playground and you don't have to participate in five different races to see all it has to offer. This idea, however, still lends itself to rewarding those who want to perform well, and while you certainly have LA at your fingertips from the beginning, getting the absolute most out of the game will come at the cost of learning to exploit all it has to offer – which comes in the way of racing to the best of your ability to earn as much cash and cred as possible to gain access to the best cars and parts.

Another new feature shown was the "Quickfix" option. While MCLA is certainly no Burnout in the damage department, you can still bang your car up pretty good, and obviously you can take it back to your garage and do all the necessary bits and pieces, but if you're ages away and still want to cruise the streets, only in a not-so-banged-up heap, just select Quickfix and your car is returned to the state it was in when you last rested on its aesthetics. It still costs you money to do this, so it's up to you to decide whether it's worth it or not, but at its core, this option represents the idea that Rockstar San Diego wanted to give players as many options within their sandbox racing world as possible.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles
Speaking of wrecks and smashes, from what I could tell much of the game's environment is very forgiving. In fact, like FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage, you could say the only thing that might ultimately stop you in your tracks are the buildings. I saw my demo driver plow through light poles, traffic lights, park benches, trees and more without losing too much of his headway, though, spectacularly, I also saw him get a little too ambitious with one particular shortcut that ended up sending our brand new Lamborghini flying through the air. A few rolls (replete with impressive particles and shards of debris) saw the crash come to an almost Hollywood perfect halt as the wrecked racer – sliding on its roof – ever-so-slightly bumped a parked car hilariously setting off that vehicle’s car alarm. Brilliant.

There was so much more I could see hidden within the confines of the game, but alas, as is Rockstar's style, I only got to see enough to get me (and hopefully you) wanting more. Nothing was revealed about the official soundtrack, final number of cars, multiplayer or online (though I did learn you'll still have access to motorbikes, trucks and more), which is a shame, but the small amount of stuff I did see and was told definitely had me gearing for more. Apparently new information regarding other features isn't too far away, so stay tuned for more news as we get it, but for now, check out the accompanying screens and click here for the official trailer straight from the recent Leipzig Games Conference.