Midnight Club Los Angeles
It’s so marvellously refreshing to play such a no nonsense game like Midnight Club. It’s just racing. Hard, fast, sexy racing. In fact, it has many parallels to the act – or in our case, art – of lovemaking. It’s ragged, breathless and as long as you come first, you just don’t care how beaten up you get. There are plenty of rear-ending gags there, but we won’t stoop to that level. In addition to making us think about sex, it also makes you think. Not just about what’s around the corner in an "ouch, this is too fast for my brain" kind of fashion, but about just how good racers can get, and how good the last one you played was. We’ll leave that particular metaphor for your imagination, though.
Midnight Club is a brilliant racing game, of that there’s no question, but is this as far as the genre can go? Sure, it has a great many wonderful additions, but set against the pure quality of the actual racing, they pale into insignificance. We’re going to stick our necks out here and say this is the best arcade racer you’re going to see for a long, long time.
What makes it so fantastically enjoyable is the simple, visceral speed and fierce, state-of-mind altering concentration it requires. It’s certainly not an easy game, and in our hours with it, we saw numerous losses and several embarrassments. The great thing is that it’s always within your grasp. You’re never so outclassed that you won’t do it next time. This might seem like a simple thing, but in the context of Midnight Club’s open-world structure, it’s something that will certainly keep you interested longer than many others. As with every other title in the series, you’re going to need practice. Not simply practice with the cars and their various abilities, but practice with the courses, race types and the city itself.
There are freeways, beaches, industrial areas and common spots for the fuzz to hang out, and knowing these areas, and what happens in and around them makes the city feel alive. There’s a degree of dynamycism in Rockstar’s version of LA that gives it the kind of animation you rarely see. The city slows down at night, comes alive during the day and has areas you like and those you don’t. Which spots fall into which category will depend on your particular likes and dislikes as regards the genre, but there’s something for everyone. What’s more, these somethings are available from the start. You’ve got the whole city to mooch around in, and a plethora of race types, notification and activities to get stuck into. Like we said, though, this doesn’t really make too much of a difference. Midnight Club LA needs no gimmicks. It’s got them, but, crucially, it doesn’t need them. There’s the whole ‘Pimp My Ride’ aspect of it, as is obligatory with racers, there’s a story of sorts, involving heavily stereotyped characters, there’s the open-world aspect of it, there’s the short cuts, and the list continues. Most of the enjoyment you’ll get from it will come from retrying the same, nigh on impossible races again and again. It tests not only your concentration, and how much further forward in your seat you can get, but also your patience and determination.
Pivotal to Midnight Club’s unique feel is the right level of realism slotted into the right level of arcade. There’s no drift ‘mode’ for example, where your car suddenly enters some bizarre land where physics are blown out of proportion. Also, the map is incredibly tidy, and never leaves you failing due to a light clip; the car physics themselves, while being understated, are lovely to see at the end of races and during replays and photos, and, importantly, feel believable. The mini map works perfectly for the vast majority of the time, and because there’s a clear emphasis on not crashing, or at least avoiding head-on collisions, the awareness it demands is often reward enough itself. Playing the odd race here and there doesn’t bring about this kind of gratification, and as such isn’t the kind of title you can easily dip in and out of, but as something to commit to, it betters everything currently out there.
It’s not completely without issue, though. Two particularly got us frustrated. Firstly your texts, phone calls and information all come up on a PDA device that covers the mini map. This is fine for the most part, and doesn’t happen during races, but makes getting around a real annoyance sometimes, particularly when you’re at a popular stage in your career. The second point we have to query is more fundamental in that it directly affects the enjoyment you’ll get out of races. We understand that, as in every other Midnight Club title, you’re persuaded to drive as clean as you can. With the speed that Midnight Club throws at you, this often means a good race will be a scruffy one, but what LA does is punish you dreadfully for any major collision. Going head-on into a truck, for example, will have you spinning like a top for a few seconds, donutting in the right direction, then crawling away while other racers zoom past. Our point is this: even with those niggles, we reckon it’s the best racer you’ll play for a good long while.