Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Midnight Club: Los Angeles
Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Racing (Arcade)/ Free-Roaming/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Racing games come in a few different flavors these days. There are arcade racers, kart racers, and simulation racers. Sometimes, a game comes along that tries to combine all of those standards into one nitrous-filled joyride. Midnight Club: Los Angeles is one such game.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles is a very nice sight to behold. The entire city of Los Angeles was re-created with an extraordinary attention to detail. All of the vehicles are rendered beautifully and the locales make for some interesting vistas. The one drawback is that since RockStar San Diego is using the Grand Theft Auto IV engine, there are some technical hiccups that stem from a game with a huge, open world.

First, every car that you can drive looks gorgeous, but there are some vehicles in the game that function more for atmosphere than enjoyment. Your opponents' cars look great, but every now and again, there will be a van that just looks like a blurry blob with wheels and it is only noticeable because of how good everything else looks. Second, with a city as large as Los Angeles, it is sort of expected to have some texture pop-ins and unfortunately it does happen. It doesn't ruin the game by any means, but it is just a little off putting the first time it happens. I might seem a little tough, but the game really does have a great visual style and runs at a very smooth rate, it is just hard to not notice the small things with how great everything else is.

The audio department, while not as impressive as the visuals, does a good job at keeping you in the moment. There are little audio clues about when the boost is ready or when it is okay to use a special ability. All of the cars sound different and appropriate for the car type. There is a soundtrack feature much like GTA IV and there are an acceptable number of genres and stations to choose from. There is a hip-hop channel, an electronic channel, and a hard rock channel, just to name a few. There are about 15 - 20 songs for each genre and every song feels like it was chosen to fit into the world of street racing. I appreciate the commitment, but I am not a street racer and I kept looking for a custom soundtrack feature so I could listen to what I wanted.

Essentially, the story for Midnight Club: Los Angeles is just the same as every other street racing videogame, (which is to say that they are all loosely based off of the movie The Fast and The Furious.) A small-time guy comes into town looking for some action. He meets up with some local talent and has to climb the ladder in order to earn respect and make a name for himself. He accomplishes that part by racing as many people as he can find and sometimes acting as a delivery boy for some high-paying clientele.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles is an open world racer with trappings that could be part arcade racer, part simulation, and part Mario Kart. It really does span the gamut of the genre, but sadly does nothing to push it forward. What they give is a high quality, incredibly polished experience that mainly appeals to the hardcore fans.

One thing that MC:LA does really well is how the mission, or race, structure is set up. The main story missions can be tackled one right after another and they make it incredibly simple to manage everything in such an open environment. The key factor that makes everything so much better is simple... retry. If you feel like you didn't come off of the line fast enough, then retry. Made it through most of the race in first, but you took a turn too wide near the end and cost you the race, then retry. It may seem like an insignificant feature to be excited about. But given that they still make you drive to each place in order to start the race, it is really nice to be able to start over without having to drive back to point A to get another shot.

Another really cool feature is that there are no load times in Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Well, sort of anyways. There is an initial load time to start the game, but after that, everything happens in real time. Basically, the game hides the load times very well. When you choose to go to the next race or pull up the map, the camera zooms way out until you see the whole city. Once you choose the next race, it zooms right back in to where your car is parked. It is a really nifty feature to say the least.

MC:LA has three basic racing modes: ordered race, circuit race, and landmark race. Ordered is just a series of checkpoints throughout the city, circuit race is the same as an ordered race except that it will have laps, and landmark is the most open of the three since it simply tells you to get from Point A to Point B using your best judgment. The Menu system is integrated into the playing experience really well by keeping you in-game, but having a pop-up in front of your vehicle instead of a new screen. It makes just messing around much easier because at any time you can create a custom race and won't have to wait because it will take you there directly.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles is freaking tough. There, I said it. Just imagine the most aggravating moments from Mario Kart and it still won't be enough to compare to the learning curve that MC:LA throws at you so early on. Usually, racing games offer a sense of accomplishment before taking a turn for the frustrating. Midnight Club: Los Angeles offers no such reprieve, but instead forces you to participate in one-sided race after one-sided race until you have enough money to buy the next class of car. By the time the next class is unlocked, the enemy A.I. is so aggressive (and the rubber-banding factor is so high) that it seems like you started all over again. Ultimately, MC:LA is too hard for its own good. The difficulty could be a turn-off to some newcomers out there, but it may be just the thing that some hardcore racing fans need.

Game Mechanics:
There is one neat control mechanic that sets Midnight Club: Los Angeles apart from the rest of the pack. All of the cars are enabled with special abilities (provided that you unlock them). This gives MC:LA a much more forgiving tactical element. Zone, EMP, Roar, and Aggro are the four special attacks. The ZONE power up slows down time and makes you focus more on the finer points of driving over 100 mph. EMP sends out a blast that disables all the other cars, AGGRO makes you more aggressive by letting you take less damage, and ROAR sends out a sonic boom that shoves the competition out of the way. On the standard control setup, to activate the power-up, you press the (L3) button. Having special abilities there is really nice, but move across the horizon and (R3) controls boost. To accelerate, you simply move the right stick up to go forward and pull down to go in reverse. This becomes a real problem when taking sharp corners unexpectedly because it is a reflex to pull back on the stick to brake while pressing the E-brake, (R1), to make that corner. But pulling down too hard on the stick actually activates the boost which sends you right into the building in front of you while all of the competition passes you by. To be fair, all of the controls can be changed in the Menu system and mine were just the default controls, but it is just to illustrate how frustrating it can be in Midnight Club: Los Angeles.

At the end of the day, Midnight Club: Los Angeles is a good game, but not a great one. It doesn't lose points for graphics, sound, or even controls. The punishing difficulty, uninspired gameplay, and laggy online experience drag it down. There is simply no way to deny the polish and fine tuning that Midnight Club: Los Angeles offers and in order for me to cover every single feature packed in this game, I would have to write a novel. If you are looking for a competent, fast-paced racer then you have it. If you were looking for the next logical step in the genre, it isn't here.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.