Name: Midnight Club: LA Remix
Platform: Sony PSP
Creating a quality racing title for a console is no small task. Translating the fun and playability of a franchise like Midnight Club from a console to the PSP is an even bigger challenge. When I first heard there would be a portable version of the next-gen Midnight Club: Los Angeles, I was skeptical as to whether or not Rockstar could pull off what they were doing on the PS3 and 360 on the PSP. After playing through much of Midnight Club: LA Remix, I can you they did it. Almost.
If you don’t know, Midnight Club is an illegal street racing series with a heavy focus on import vehicles and customization. Prior to the last entry in the series, Midnight Club 3, the Midnight Club franchise relied on fictional cars to beef up the roster of available rides. In this version, licensed cars come from all over the place. You could fill your garage out with Volkswagens from the 80s or American muscle cars from the late 60s. Like Rockstar’s other big franchise, the game is open world, and has many branching options for gamers to follow.
The PSP version, Midnight Club: LA Remix, is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad-ass speed. If a racer doesn’t have the ability to instill that speed to the player, the game loses most of its luster. Thankfully Rockstar is able to convey a sense of motion unlike anything I’ve seen on the system. Whether jetting down a straightaway, or drifting through a hairpin turn, the game does a great job instilling a sense of the power each car has. The game’s blur effects are phenomenal, but come with a price. Landmarks and scenery look just as vague traveling at top speed as they would in real life. The issue is that the game creates such solid motion blur at the expense of the graphics when everything is at a standstill. When you’re parked in front of a random building or actual landmark, you’ll notice they don’t look very crisp or clean. Every surface in the world that isn’t the road or a car seems to have a layer of vasoline applied to it. Sure, the PSP is limited in what it can do graphically, but cheating your way to cool looking motion graphics is still cheating.
In most games on the PSP, the analog nub is something of a hindrance, but in Midnight Club, it actually proves to be quite responsive. The other controls are mapped in a way that feels natural, allowing you to concentrate on driving, and not worry about where the nitrous button is. Focusing on your driving is most important for a few reasons. Obviously you want to win, but even if you don’t, you still gain rep from Midnight Club’s progression system. That way, if you finish out of first place you still obtain experience—just less than you would earn had you won the race. Occasionally, you might find checkpoint markers difficult to spot around corners, and while it will frustrate you to miss a turn, often times there’s a shortcut through a store or parking garage to get you back on track. If you watch opponents closely, you’ll see them taking these routes instead of relying on the main roads. Mainly, you need to focus on the race at hand due to pop-in. The PSP just doesn’t have a fantastic draw distance, so you may find yourself careening into oncoming traffic that just showed up out of nowhere. Frustrating? Yes. Forgivable? Most of the time. At least, as long as it doesn’t cost me the race.
Of course, gameplay and graphics only get you so far. The meat of the title is in the cars and the races. There are a huge variety of cars available to you. You can unlock them by beating owners in pink slip races, or purchasing them from Hollywood Auto as you progress. Not only are there a good amount of cars, but the customization options available mean you may never have two of the same cars in any playthrough. Actual third-party products from companies like Apexi, Eaton, and Injen (better brakes, more nitro, different exhaust, new turbo-injectors, etc.) are made available to you the more races you win with a particular type of car. You can even get license plates from various eras and states to customize to your liking. Taking the cars out on the town, you’ll find yourself engaging in a few different types of races. Most all of the races are just checkpoint to checkpoint, but there are circuit races and lap races through the crowded city streets as well. The only problem I had with the lack of variety in races was seeing the same parts of Los Angeles/Tokyo over and over again. Sure it helped me figure out better shortcuts as time progressed, but taking the same route on the freeway every time gets a little boring. If the city was just a little big bigger, maybe this repetitiveness could have been avoided. Races are also just about the perfect length for on-the-go gamers. The game autosaves before and after all your races, so should you happen to run out of battery power, all your progress won’t be lost.
While the world could’ve been bigger, the pop-ups less frequent, and the graphics just a bit sharper, Midnight Club: LA Remix does just about everything else right. Even though the PSP isn’t known for racing titles, Rockstar probably created the first must-own racer for the system. There’s a lot of replay value in the title, and quite frankly, I can’t think of another PSP racing game I’d rather be playing.