Midnight Club: Los Angeles

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Eric Layman Hot

Written by Eric Layman     October 31, 2008    
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Release Date
October 20, 2008

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society...

I'm not sure if anyone's noticed, but arcade style racers seem to be edging out their more simulation-flavored counterparts.  Forza 2 came off as tedious, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue was arguably overpriced and failed to hold my interest, and Need for Speed: Pro Street (remember NFS inexplicably alternates between arcade/sim every year) disappointed just about everyone who played it.  Burnout Paradise, on the other hand, sucked me in like no other racer has in the last five years.  When all was said and done, I had dropped 80+ hours into completing the single player section and destroying the online portion of Paradise City.  Burnout's new open world approach really grabbed me, so I was delighted to see Midnight Club: Los Angeles was taking a similar direction with its latest iteration. 


Paging Paul Walker


The game opens up with a harmless cliché; you're the new guy in town, you're magically given a free car, and you need to make friends and earn respect by street racing everything in sight.  It's a direct ripoff of 2001's The Fast and the Furious (and previous Midnight Club games), but really it's the only archetype that makes any bit of sense, so it's fine in context.  Unlike the latest Burnout, the city is also widely populated with droves of actual people (and, no, you can't run any of them over).  The dense population and colorful personalities of some of your friends heavily contribute to human element of the game, which would otherwise go unmentioned if not for the complete absence of such in the more mechanical Paradise City. 


As the title would suggest, the series has returned exclusively to Los Angeles.  Having spent a significant amount of time in the area, it's not an exaggeration to say that driving anywhere in LA yields a level of fear on par with fist fighting sharks or going to see High School Musical 3.  Absent are the massive traffic jams, slim alleys, and impossible curves, and in their places are wide open, drift friendly streets, distinctive shortcuts, and a much more streamlined experience.  And, while it's not a street-for-street reproduction of LA, Rockstar San Diego nailed enough landmarks, streets, hills, and real life business to satisfy the casual Los Angeles connoisseur.  Of particular interest was their rendition of the Santa Monica and Palisades Park areas, which both look spectacular in their detailed reproduction (not to mention, I always wanted to drive full speed down the 3rd Street Promenade, thanks guys).


The actual racing in the game is broken down into a handful of different modes.  Traditional races, initiated by flashing your lights at marked cars, are good for racking up some cash, but most of your progress will be earned through missions plotted around the city.  The most popular is usually the checkpoint-style races, which feature giant plumes of yellow smoke populated as checkpoints throughout the city streets.  While it's bizarre at first, the giant columns of gas do well to help you navigate through the city.  Not that you'll have much trouble with that anyway, as the street layouts are fairly intuitive and forgiving, save the traffic.  Other modes come in the form of time trials (sans smoke plumes), delivery (basically getting there as fast as possible without racking up damage). pink slip races (you win you take the other car), or some payback missions (think the opposite of delivery missions).  More often than not, races are grouped into a series of stipulations, such as the first one to win three races wins it all, but they all generally fallow the same “get there first” concept, some just feature additional heartbreak.


"How can I get there," isn't as much of a challenge as "What's going to happen on the way," and "What can I do to stop it?” You're going to hit a lot of light poles and, thankfully, you usually careen off them as if nothing ever happened.  More substantial hits are taken from running directly into oncoming traffic, which always left me pointing in the wrong direction and, if I was more than halfway finished, a lock for last place.  Slipping in between cars is surprisingly easy, and your twitch reflex response to last second avoidance of cars is usually enough to salvage a brush-off instead of a full on collision.  Police are quick to attend to your transgressions if you break some trespassing laws, but they're fairly easy to avoid should you not make direct contact.  Doing so will invite a high speed chase, which generally ends with you forfeiting a significant chunk of change.


The vehicle selection is modest, but streamlined to the cream of the crop.  Most of the traditional exotics make an appearance, but a special place in my heart exists for 240sx's, 280z's, Scirocco's, and RX-7's.  The rendering of each car is fantastic and, while it's not up to GT5:P's level of realism, it's more than enough to get the job done (especially with all the activity on screen).  A precious handful of bikes are present, which of course accelerate and handle better at the cost of durability.  While your vehicles can lose parts, smash up, and, according to their life bar, break down over time, it never really seemed to make a difference until the car was on its last legs. 




The AI is a mixed bag of absurd precision and unanticipated tomfoolery.  While each race opportunity is color coded from easy to hard, the AI racers always seem consistent at inexplicably ruining your life.  Make no mistake about it, Midnight Club is hard, and your mistakes are sure to be capitalized upon seconds after you inevitably fall prey to failure.  They'll blow by you at the last second, unaccountably outpace you at random stretches, and engineer car pile ups of massive proportions for your pleasure.  While I initially though the AI was a ruthless demon from which there was no escape, they eventually showed traces of more human like flaws.  Cars would occasionally follow me after I missed a turn (as if they didn’t know where they were going either), and would sometimes wipe out for no reason.  These instances were rare, but it added a touch of personality to otherwise merciless mechanics.


Mario Kart-like rubber banding is also in play, so, even if you're doing well in first, they're never far behind (though, to be fair, if you wipe out early in the race you can usually catch back up).  Is this unfair?  Definitely.  Does it keep Midnight Club interesting?  Always.  Whether or not that's fun for you is debatable, but a constant, almost arbitrary difficulty level in every race at least keeps things fresh.  Such is the theme of an arcade racer; it's not supposed to be realistic.  Its challenge comes from edge of your seat insanity and a constant bombardment of the unexpected, not course memorization and endless fine tuning.


Should you wish to slightly tip the scales back in your favor, an eclectic mix of absurd moves are at your disposal.  Sticking behind an opponent and drafting his or her contrails fills a gauge, which can then be spent on a speed boost or, for tight situations, shifting over on two wheels.  This system provides an attractive risk/reward system; play it safe and pass with caution, or risk insanity and fly by?   Upgrading your car with licensed, if not capricious parts and adding nitrous oxide is standard fare, but optional abilities are where Midnight Club really carves its niche in the genre.  A debilitating EMP, traffic scattering roar, and neat bullet time options help round out the bizarre, but incredibly fitting arcade style powerups. 


A screenshot might not get this across, but the game looks phenomenal in motion.  The high contrast approach to the color pallet suits the LA cityscape quite well, and the muted glow of the streets at night is equally striking.  It doesn't rain too often (just like real LA, I guess), but the traditional wet-street effects are top notch as well. The architecture has a tendency to look a little too "boxy" if you stop and smell the roses, but when the game is in motion, as it should be; every detail of Midnight Club is either on par with or exceeds its peers.  The default "action view" and its persistent shakiness are neat, but its practicality is almost nonexistent, and you're better off switching to first person or a more traditional behind the car view.  The soundtrack ranges from passable to fantastic, with cuts from Gliss ("Blue Sky"), and Nine Inch Nails ("Discipline") being especially nice surprises.


An online mode is present and offers a surprising assortment of race modes.  Mostly based on different versions of capture the flag, both team based and free for all modes are in place.  Standard race fare, ranked matches, and a general cruise around the city are available as well, though it tends to feel a bit unbalanced without the rubber banding of the single player mode.  A brief photo mode is on hand should you feel like capturing the splendor of your car in Los Angeles, but the police usually weren't too pleased with my attempts at trying this around Pacific Park.



Editor reviews

Allusions to Burnout Paradise are inevitable, and, while they share some open world elements, Midnight Club opts for different approach. A focus on style, personality, and spontaneity takes precedent over crashing, takedowns, stunts, and memorization. General feelings of repetition and the exceedingly tough difficulty may turn off those not terribly in love with the racing genre, but everyone else should at least give the new Midnight Club a shot. It's extremely fast, always gorgeous, and a highly in line with the series roots.
Overall rating 
Fun Factor 
Eric Layman Reviewed by Eric Layman October 31, 2008
Top 10 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews (391)

Allusions to Burnout Paradise are inevitable, and, while they share some open world elements, Midnight Club opts for different approach. A focus on style, personality, and spontaneity takes precedent over crashing, takedowns, stunts, and memorization. General feelings of repetition and the exceedingly tough difficulty may turn off those not terribly in love with the racing genre, but everyone else should at least give the new Midnight Club a shot. It's extremely fast, always gorgeous, and a highly in line with the series roots.


As easily loved as it is hated, but its finesse and polish can't be argued.
Best yet rendition of Los Angeles, a competent soundtrack, and top of the line visuals.
No real reason to go back once you're finished, but the career mode will take a while and there are always the online options.
Fun Factor
It takes a certain type of dedication to appreciate what some might an exercise in patience, but Midnight Club is still entirely playable from beginning to end.
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