The variety of racing games out on the PS3 and Xbox 360 is quite outstanding. The amount of quality in this genre has been fantastic recently, but Midnight Club: LA has brought frantic pace and variety in an illegal street racer we haven’t seen since Need For Speed Underground 2.
Your character is swiftly introduced as the ‘new guy’ on the street racing scene in Los Angeles, from the East Coast. Straight off the bat you’re given three old, cheap cars (’83 VW Golf, ’88 VW Scirocco and Nissan 240SX) to choose from to start off. You’re introduced to your friendly garage owner Karol and a few of your ‘rivals’ you will later encounter in the game on your quest to become the City Champ of Los Angeles. Right away I’m reminded of Need For Speed Underground 2 in the structure of the game.
Karol’s garage, Hollywood Auto is the place which will keep your cars throughout the game (as well as another garage in Santa Monica as you progress through the game). In the garage, you can upgrade your car’s performance, change the cosmetic parts, paint it, apply vinyls, revamp the interior, all at a cost, and do all the things that have become the norm in recent Midnight Club and Need For Speed games in terms of customization. Unlike the more realistic Forza Motorsport 2, none of the cosmetic changes (body kits, for example) will affect the performance of the car or bike you use. Overall, the customization of your ride and specifically the vinyl editor is quite deep – a lot like Forza Motorsport 2‘s Livery Editor. My only gripe with cars in general is the lack of them. There are only about 30 cars, and 3 bikes in this game.
The environment of Los Angeles in this game reflects the real version quite nicely, and looks great. The map in MC:LA is comprised of several parts of Los Angeles squeezed together into one little free-roam world. As you drive around, the text below your speedometer will show you which street you’re driving on, many of which are quite familiar roads to those who have been to LA like the Pacific Coast Highway, Hollywood Boulevard, 3rd St. Promenade, and the list goes on. There’s a good variety of urban, business and beach environment. Overall, the city is big, has great graphics, and the textures look very realistic. The time of day will slowly change as you race and drive around, and when you’re driving around in the rain, everything looks beautiful. Throughout playing the game, I didn’t notice any framerate hitches or weird graphical errors.
I have to say, though, that the presence of the police in this game, especially seeing how the LAPD are notorious for being large in numbers. Thinking back to a similar racer from 2005, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, the cops were emphasized as a force. The more chases you got in, the more notorious you became, the more cops were sent after you, and faster cops with more roadblocks were on your tail. Sadly, in MC:LA, cops are just there for the sake of being there. What I mean by that is that in an illegal street racer, they don’t show up enough to make it seem like you’re actually driving through a city of 11 million people (in real life, at least) at 200 MPH. Is this a big deal? Somewhat, it just seems as if Rockstar wanted to put all of the emphasis on racing and getting money, and it shows. The cops seem quite poorly programmed, you could be about a mile away from a pack of cops, 8 blocks away, and you’ll still be ‘chased’ by them.
In the career mode, there are a long list of missions that you must complete to progress as you go along. As you complete missions, more are unlocked, more cars and bikes become available for purchase, and eventually unlocks challenges to champs of parts of the city (Beach, Downtown, Hills, Hollywood), and types of car (Tuner, Muscle, Exotic, Sports Bike) on the road to challenging the City Champ. While there are these mission, there are also other racers driving around the city that present challenges to flag them down, and there are hangouts where you can put down wagers on races, and these are still present after you complete the game. Overall, this game screams depth, the campaign should take at least 30 hours to complete, and it’s a very enjoyable experience down the road. Along with career, there are the less emphasized Arcade - pick a race and go from there – mode and the strenuous Goal Attack - Pick a race, win it and complete it in a certain amount of time while only taking 25% damage – mode.
The online portion of MC:LA presents several options. You can cruise with up to 8 people around LA, just messing around, and you can present a challenge while cruising to start a race. Alternatively, you can also make a lobby with up to 16 people and start a race/flag based battle. There are several online racing and battle modes to keep you and your online friends busy for awhile. I personally didn’t experience any lag issues while racing online, it’s fairly smooth and quite enjoyable with your friends. Midnight Club: LA has a way to show off your ride in a thing called Rate My Ride. This feature is a lot like Forza Motorsport 2′s Auction House, in a sense that you can buy cars off of others, but this feature also, which may seem obvious by the name, rate other people’s cars. This is a place to showcase the paint job and vinyls you’ve put on your car, and is another way to make some cash in the game.
If you like free-roam arcade racers, you like sexy cars, and you’re looking for a fun online game with friends, Midnight Club: LA is something you’ll probably like. Keep an eye out for the free South Central LA expansion coming soon, as well as car packs which will cost around 800 Microsoft Points/$10 US.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
The 'story' and what you're about to play is established right as you put the disc in your tray. Characters are established early on but never really make a proper connection, but the city of LA is asking to be explored right from the beginning.
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A big city to roam around in, a various list of cars and bikes, several online modes and a deep, challenging career mode. Can't go wrong with that formula.
Can't complain. Each car sounds different, the soundtrack is filled with catchy songs, and the city is filled with noises of car horns and engines.
30-40 hour long campaign and several online modes. After the campaign ends you still have several methods of gaining money, this game screams depth.
8.7 = Great. If you buy this game, you will not be disappointed.