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Rockstar Games' street racing franchise roars up the streets of the City of Angels...
- Stays true to the franchise.
- Masses of traffic.
- Depth of customisation.
- NOS in action cam partially blocks the view.
- Doesn't push the series much.
- Not enough variation in race types.
After a three and a half year gap, Rockstar Games' street racing franchise makes its debut on the current crop of consoles (minus Wii), and returns to Los Angeles for the first time since 2003's Midnight Club II. Thanks to a 'reimagining' of what Burnout should be all about, Midnight Club: Los Angeles finds itself in a three-way tussle with Criterion and EA's other arcade racing franchise, Need for Speed. But with Burnout Paradise now dwelling in the pre-owned sections of game retailers, and a head-start on Need for Speed Undercover, the lane is clear for Midnight Club to take the fast lane to platinum sales.
Promising a raft of 'next-gen' features and enough customisation options to make even the most avid petrolhead sated, TVG jumped into the nearest pimped up flame-vinyl muscle car to see whether its faster and more furious...
Under The Bridge.
Built using Rockstar's RAGE engine, which has already forged the new look Liberty City in GTA IV and countless ping-pong tournaments in Table Tennis, Midnight Club: Los Angeles is the first instalment in the franchise to focus on a single city. Choosing LA no doubt for its mix of sprawling straights, wide freeways, and hills, the game continues to encapsulate the Hollywood interpretation of illegal street racing to great effect, and is helped even more so by the usual smattering of real world landmarks (looking better than ever) to really embed players into the world.
To be honest, this is to LA what GTA IV's Liberty City was to New York City - the landmarks are perfect and detailed, and even the smaller (yet notorious) venues like the Viper Club are there, despite the fact that you barely notice them at 130 mph. But the setting for 'Midnight Club IV' is just one of many key features arriving from Rockstar San Diego.
Taking the 'midnight' out of 'Midnight Club' (at least for some of the time) is a day and night cycle, a first for the eight year old franchise. But whilst the introduction of a cycle may not sound like the most exciting sounding aspect by itself, it also works in tandem with an ebb and flow of traffic levels whether it's the morning rush hour or the dead of night, helping to bring the west coast metropolis to life. As a result, this instalment, far more than its ancestors, is a much more dynamic and immersive experience. There is also the usual mix of stunt ramps and endless shortcuts slicing across the latest videogame incarnation of the city, giving gamers the chance to shave off vital tenths of a second from the high speed events that make up this compelling racer.
OK, so the 'glamorous' setting, the trademark traffic, and the labyrinthine roads are all here as an automobile playground, but what about the really important bits - the cars, the chrome, the nitrous, the racing, the tuning?
A LAX Start To LA?
Dropping players into the role of a racer from the east coast of the US as he tries his hand in the Golden State, the banter and arrogance of the participants weaves through the light narrative in a way befitting the sub-genre. Intercutting the racing with the occasion cut-scene, the back chat and quips continue through the races, turning the screw with mind game remarks that would make certain football managers proud. But this is an arcade racer after all not a Rob Cohen movie, so beyond the wise guys (and girls), there's a more important character to meet - the first set of wheels.
Despite official endorsements from the likes of Nissan, Saleen, Ford, Mitsubishi, and Lamborghini to name but a few, it's little shock that one of the three selections available from the start is the rather nifty (if surprising) sight in LA of an early VW Golf GTi. More at home on the roads of Europe than perhaps California, this classic mini powerhouse punches above its weight during the early MC:LA career mode, far surpassing in all areas to its entry level brothers. There are plenty of events to prove that too.
For all the bikes, muscle cars, tuners, and exotics making up the Midnight Club showroom this time around, there is one group of vehicles that sadly don't make it. For fans of the series' third 'DUB' outing SUVs don't feature, eliminating the temptation to customisation the likes of the Cadillac Escalade into the sort of 4x4s usually driven by hip hop stars and Premiership footballers. But whilst it may be disappointing for Sunday league amateurs who won't be able to fulfil a top tier fantasy this time around, we can only hope that the game's potential downloadable content in the coming months will fill the gap.
For gamers familiar to the series, the setup will feel like an old racing buddy. The open sandbox racing gameplay that has typified the career mode of Midnight Club naturally makes a return here, this time with no loading times (but the occasional buffering). Cruising racers drive along the streets of LA, some appearing on screen, whilst others are just waiting to be discovered and set events that unlock new parts and cars are drip fed by the player's new found LA acquaintances. Tours around areas like Mulholland Drive, Hollywood, Downtown, and Santa Monica in tournaments against racers in hangouts spread across the city are met with short dashes in 'red light' races, high speed and traffic drags down freeways, and high stake pink slip competitions, are just a selection of events on offer through the course of the career. Additional races include delivery events where players have to race a high spec car to a location with a tight time limit give the chance to try out Lambos early in the career, whilst Time Trials are exactly that.
Throw in the extra threat from 'the fuzz', a very tenacious and determined version of the LAPD that are harder to shift than a bad smell, and it's clear to see that the components that have made the franchise successful in the past make a souped up debut on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The police in particular offer stiff competition for racers in the game, picking players up for not only breaking speed limits by 100mph (and a lot less) or crashing into a number of cars, but also chase to the bitter end. Get caught, and the longer the chase, the bigger the fine. You can pay a small fine before a chase really gets going - but where's the fun of that? The payoff of evading capture is really satisfying, especially if the police are hunting you down in the middle of an event!