Review: Do the racers of Midnight Club: Los Angeles live their life a quarter mile at a time? Maybe...
I'm going to avoid the inevitable comparison to The Fast and the Furious movie franchise when talking about Midnight Club Los Angeles. Really, I am. I suppose that you might forgive the temptation though. I mean, both the Midnight Club games and the F&F movies revolve around the world of underground street racing in tricked out cars but Midnight Club leaves us with a much more memorable experience and a little bit of pride in tweaking out our own ride. So, lets just focus on what makes Midnight Club Los Angeles a solid arcade racing game, okay?
One thing that racing games need in order to be successful anymore is a comprehensive set of cars. Perhaps we owe this fact to the ground that the original Gran Turismo broke more than a decade ago. Regardless of why, we gamers have a smorgasbord of rides available to us in Midnight Club Los Angeles. The game breaks the list into tuners, muscle, luxury, and exotic cars. I'm sure that you'll find your own favorites, but I am particularly fond of the muscles cars. Specifically, the Corvette Z06, '69 Ford Mustang, and '69 Camaro. Of course, you've got to dig the Aston Martin Vantage Roadster, too.
In all, there are 44 different cars to unlock and acquire throughout Midnight Club Los Angeles. Of course, if you can't find the car that is the right fit for you, there are also three motorcycles for you to take on the road. The nice thing is that the bikes have a uniquely different feel as they tear down the road and convey a greater sense of speed and urgency to the races. Of course, if you're like me and have a tendency to clip parked cars as you speed by?
Now, the meat and potatoes of the Midnight Club Los Angeles experience is in illegal street racing. This isn't just a bunch of ? mile drag races down empty city streets. Instead, there are a variety of different styles of races that take you from one side of a fictitious Los Angeles to the other. In the career mode alone there are ordered races, circuit races, red light races, time trials, and freeway races. Each one presents a different set of challenges and conditions, ensuring that you'll find a favorite style and gravitate towards those events. Where the ordered and circuit races give you constant checkpoints through the city, red light races give you a destination at the other side of town and let you find your own way there. For those that don't take their racing games too seriously, there are a number of arcade style moves and power-ups that you can take advantage of, too.
Rockstar San Diego did a great job at recognizing the racing limitations of real-life Los Angeles and crafted a recognizable, yet highly playable version of downtown LA. Gone are the rows and rows of 90-degree turns and standard city blocks, replaced instead with shortcuts and roads with gentle turns. All of the major LA landmarks, from the Convention Center to the Chinese Theater, through MacArthur Park and down to the Santa Monica Pier, are in the game. The subtle changes work amazingly well and facilitate high speed competitions without compromising the look and feel of the city.
This fictional LA, just like the real thing, is teeming with life. The roads are packed with non-racing cars and the sidewalks with a bunch of meddlesome pedestrians. I can best equate the feel of this town with that of Liberty City in GTA IV. Unfortunately, touring around town looking for new racers to challenge also feels like GTA IV. Not the high-drama well thought out part of GTA IV, but the slightly awkward feeling that it conveyed as you tried to follow traffic laws and go with the flow of the other cars around you. It just doesn't feel quite right and kept drawing me out of the whole racing experience. That, and what are up with the cops? Sure, it makes sense that they drop into hot pursuit as you are careening down Wilshire Boulevard, but heading out to pull you over while you are doing the speed limit between races? I'd almost think that I was in Burbank.
Of course, who is going to go out and race for slips in a stock ride? There is a certain amount of pride that an experienced racer will take in their ride and Midnight Club Los Angeles offers plenty of options to truly make the car your own. From performance enhancing tweaks to your suspension and exhaust systems to custom bumpers, fenders and hoods, you can adjust darn near every feature of each car in the game. I'd go so far as to say that fine tuning your car to match your own personal flavor is a game unto itself, what with the online rating system.
It has been a few months since Midnight Club Los Angeles first hit shelves and since then Rockstar has treated us to a pretty extensive expansion, South Central. Made up of four new neighborhoods, this expansion increases the drivable map size by about 30% over the original game's territory. This expansion allows for new courses for your online races and, if you shell out the dough for the premium version, adds in new races, deliveries, aftermarket parts for your car and tracks for your radio.