Name: Midnight Club: Los Angeles
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
The Midnight Club series has always been a favorite amongst gamers and critics alike. Making the transition to the next generation has taken a little longer than it should have, but in October, Midnight Club: Los Angeles finally hit store shelves. Promising a mostly faithful recreation of the Los Angeles area down to proper street mapping and famous landmarks, I was eager to get behind the wheel. Immediately upon starting the game, I could tell this racing experience was going to be different than any I’d had before. And that’s a good thing.
In Midnight Club: Los Angeles, you play a nameless character, who looks suspiciously like Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino’s brother, Blaine, returning home to… well, race. The story isn’t really all that important. Nor is it very good. The dialogue is groan-worthy, which is surprising considering Rockstar is generally so good at in-game scripting. Opposing racers will jaw at you across the product placed T-Mobile Sidekicks, but it seems like only ten or twelve lines of dialogue were recorded. Like any game that has such a minimalist approach to the script, you can understand how annoyed you’ll get the fiftieth time some guy calls you a “little girl.” Honestly though, you guys aren’t getting Midnight Club for the story, are you?
At the open, Midnight Club: Los Angeles literally drops you right into the heart of Rockstar’s simulated LA, and pretty much just lets you do whatever you want after your first mandatory race. Navigation is handled by a handy and in-depth GPS, which when you activate it, pulls up to a full 3-D satellite view of the city seamlessly. It’s amazing that no one else has done this yet with as much success. From the map, you can locate where other drivers looking for a race are, as well as where you can find garages, or for you David Lynch fans, find the best way to Mulholland Drive. Once you’re done with staring at the wonderfully detailed map, which is accessed with the touch of a button, the game zooms all the back onto your car just as seamlessly, and it’s nice to see a game do something other than the standard 2-D map.
Once you find a computer driver, flashing your high beams starts the race. Occasionally, there’s a race between you and that driver to the start point of the actual race. It’s not a big deal to lose, as you’ll still get to participate in the real race, but beating the computer to the starting line earns you more rep. You’ll find that as you progress, you aren’t going to win every race you enter. Of course, you won’t have to either thanks to the reputation system. The better you perform, the more rep you earn among the street racers, thus opening up more races for more cash. Higher rep not only does that but it will unlock more of the 45+ licensed cars, and also opens up more tuning and customizing options. The nice thing is no matter where you finish, you will earn rep. The bad thing is finishing in the top three happens less and less the farther you progress. Midnight Club: Los Angeles has an interesting difficulty scale that enables the computer to upgrade their vehicles as you upgrade yours. Been saving up for some performance enhancing parts so you can finally beat that one race that’s been giving you trouble for the last few nights? It won’t matter since as soon as you upgrade, the computer will too. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a challenge, and I don’t want things handed to me, but I can only take so many cheap losses. Conversely, winning is tremendously satisfying, especially during some of the longer races where the computer has plenty of time to screw you out of a victory.
One of the most important things of any racing title is how well the cars handle. There’s a solid weight to each of the vehicles, and all the types of cars feel totally different when under your control. Muscle cars are much stronger than the exotic cars and tuners, making them generally hard to control. When you do finally master how to drive some solid Detroit muscle, there’s hardly a better feeling in the world. It’s easy to see why so many people love American classics like the GTO or Challenger once you get behind their virtual wheels. Exotic cars, like the Aston Martin Vantage, speed through the streets throwing caution to the wind, and there’s a true sense of the power unleashed if you’re able to get on a straightaway. Tuners, such as the Mitsubishi Eclipse, will perform as well as the parts you put in them, and the investment in making a great car are totally worth it. Rarely do players get an honest representation of what it might be like to be at the wheel of such impressive automobiles, but Midnight Club: Los Angeles captures the feel better than most, and nearly as well as the best.
Eventually, you will have enough rep and cash to start going crazy with the car modifications, and that’s where Midnight Club truly shines. From the less than impressive cars you start off with, to the stunning Lamborghini Murcielago, to my personal favorite, the Dodge Charger SRT-8; you will be impressed with just how much detail went into recreating these stunning automobiles in the game, right down to the dashboard instruments. They may not look quite as real as the models in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, but the cars in this game are a pretty darn close second place. Anyhow, the in-game garage offers a wealth of upgrades you can make, both cosmetically, and more importantly, for tuning purposes. There’s a lot of actual car part makers involved, like Injen and Pirelli, as well, and their parts are faithfully rendered. Body kits and vinyl decals are also implemented, and while I’m not a big fan of stickering up cars, I really love a badass spoiler. I can honestly say that with the exception of the motorcycles (there’s only 3), the customization options available give players enough choices that you may never see the exact same car twice. After getting a car completely worked up the way you want, it’s time to take it online.
Most racing games present their online sections as a completely different portion of the gameplay experience. Midnight Club: Los Angeles allows you to transition almost instantaneously from the single-player to the online with just a few button presses. Since the whole city is pretty much your racecourse, once you’re online, all you need to do is send another driver hanging out on your server a message to race. Once they accept, you chose the type of race and location, and you’re off. Rep and cash are also earned online, so it’s best to bring your “A” game. I’d gotten into the online scene a bit late, and most people’s cars blew mine away for pretty much the entire race. The online portion even offers game modes like Keep Away and Capture the Flag. The game allows for up to 16 people racing at a time, and there was hardly any lag or glitching whatsoever. Once the race is over, you can continue cruising around online waiting for another challenge, or jump back into solo play without really losing a step. Having a game switch between the online and offline modes so effortlessly is impressive, and one of the reasons I could hardly put the game down.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles just might be the best racing game to come out this year. The options available to players make every play different for every person, and if not for the staggering difficulty at times, just might have been one of the best racers to date. If you’re looking for a phenomenal racing experience, with tons of customization, and very solid online play, look no further. This game not only belongs in every racing fan’s library, but also should be a part of everyone’s collection so they can see just how fun titles like this can be.