Review by Gruel

"Hey, Yo!"

When the first Midnight Club arrived during the PS2 launch, it was a breath of fresh air for the racing genre. Its open-ended street racing was like nothing before it, and it went on to sell quite well and become a PS2 Greatest Hits title. Now the sequel has arrived, and it has made its way on Xbox with numerous additions (with the main one being the first racer to have online Xbox Live support) in hopes to diversify itself from the versatile amount of racing titles available on the mean green machine.  

The whole street racing genre was popularized with the release of The Fast and the Furious into movie theaters. Now lots of street racing videogames have hit the market such as Need for Speed 2: Hot Pursuit and Acclaim’s Burnout 2: Point of Impact as well as Microsoft’s Project Gotham Racing. These three games alone have all received their fair share of praise from the media. Midnight Club II’s (MC2) new features hope to diversify it from the rest of the pack. One thing that will be noticed is the lack of licensed cars. This is a gigantic blow against the game, and I would’ve thought the publishers would’ve learned their lesson after the first time around.

The thing that made the original Midnight Club so great was the open-ended racing. It’s still here in all its glory. You can literally go off track in any direction. The good thing is that this can lead to shortcuts, then again you can also get lost and never make it back to the main course. Thankfully, there is an arrow that points to the direction of the nearest checkpoint, and you can pull up the onscreen map with a quick press on the direction pad.

MC2 controls just like many other racers on the market, but there is a lot more than meets the eye. Besides doing all your standard driving techniques, you can also perform tail slides with the handbrake and activate nitrous boosts. New is the addition of driving  motorcycles. This opens up a whole new world for gameplay where you can do sweet jumps, wheelies, and front ends on the killer 2-wheelers. 

The heart and soul of MC2 is the career mode. It starts off cruising the streets of Los Angeles, and finding a fellow street racer to challenge. Once you find one that is highlighted, flash your brights at them and they’ll drive like crazy across town to see if you can keep up with them. Once they saw I was at their level, the real racing was on. After beating them, their vehicle unlocks for use in the other gameplay modes. After that, the process repeats until I move on to the two other cities (Paris & Tokyo) that are featured in MC2. Thankfully, there is enough diversity between each main race so things don’t get repetitive.  Each race had me glued to my seat as I’d blaze through intense traffic and dodge huge big rigs at intersections. The only downer to each race in Career mode is that you must finish first each time to proceed in all difficulties. Anything else simply won’t do, and this can make matters frustrating after leading a race for a while and the computer just manages to pass you near the end of the race. The AI is made up of cheap “catch-up” techniques where they’ll always be on your tail when you’re ahead of the pack; then they’ll be as slow as molasses after a crash, and you are a bit behind.  

There are a couple other ways to play MC2. The addition of a race editor gave me the control of changing checkpoints and toying around with other trinkets of the tracks I unlocked. There is Arcade which is perfect for learning the ropes of the game and going against the computer or a buddy in split screen match ups. Besides regular racing, you can also go at it in Capture the Flag and Detonate match ups. While CtF is self explanatory, Detonate is pretty fun. You have to grab a bomb located on the map and drop it off at another random point of the map. Once you have the bomb you can only top off at half-speed and can only take a few hits before blowing up. This is a fun and intense mode, but it’s too bad the developers skimped out on split screen support for up to four players.

But this is where the system link and online play comes in handy. Everyone knows Xbox Live is broadband-only, so people with high-speed internet connections are the only ones that can enjoy the online play.  And after all the online sessions, I can assure you there was rarely any lag, and the experience was a blast going against up to seven people simultaneously. It’s also worth noting there is leaderboards to compare yourself against the best online players around the nation, this was a feature that was missing from the PS2 version of MC2. The best part about Xbox Live is talking trash over the voice communicator, it is far better than typing on a measly keyboard in the PS2 online experience.

The graphics are a bit of a disappointment. It looks like the developers tried to cram in as much as possible, and the graphics had to be downgraded as a result. Everything still looks the same from the original with very few apparent upgrades. Most of the textures for the vehicles and buildings are washed out and don’t look all that impressive. The overall graphics are sub-par compared to the crisp visuals found in Burnout 2 and Wreckless. There are some cool special effects such as sparks flying across the screen whenever a crash occurs, and a cool “blur” effect when you activate nitrous bursts. The overall appearance was polished up a hair when compared to the PS2 version, but you can still obviously tell this is a PS2 port.  At least the frame rate stays at a quick pace so things never slow down. So while there are some bright spots to the visuals, it could’ve been much better with more effort.

When I first heard the selection of songs on MC2’s soundtrack, I never really cared for them that much. The whopping 34 songs mostly consist of techno and trance beats. I thought more hard rock selections would’ve been perfect for the street racing genre, but after a few races with these tunes, they definitely helped immerse me into all the heated races. I’m a bit peeved that the developers didn’t include custom soundtrack support, most of the other racing titles on Xbox (Project Gotham, Totaled, Need for Speed HPS, Test Drive) support it and I was surprised it wasn’t included in here. 

There is plenty of voice acting from all the drivers you go up against in Career mode, and their quality is pretty damn good and convincing to boot. Each driver you go up against has a stereotype you have probably came across before, weather it be the sassy Latino or the geeky computer nerd, they all sound exactly how you’d imagine them to.

The career mode will take a while to beat and you’ll be hard pressed to beat it so you can unlock all the vehicles for use in Arcade mode. Also, you can only use what you unlock in online play. The online play is perfect over Xbox Live, it is a far better experience than playing online with the PS2 version, and I’m sure you’ll spend just as much time as me there.

RATINGS

Graphics: 6.0
Sound: 6.3
Gameplay: 8.1
Replay Value: 8.8

Overall: 7.3

MC2 is a great racer that barely manages to stand out from rapidly growing amount that are available on Xbox. The addition of online play is one of the main factors in this game, and if you want to make good use of that network adaptor, then I guarantee you’ll like the online experience here. However, MC2 isn’t as good as it could have been. The graphics are ugly when compared to the competition, and I’d slightly recommend Burnout 2 or Wreckless more simply because of the better gameplay experience. Not to take anything away from Midnight Club II because it is already a great game, but you just might want to rent it. Because just like your opponents in the game, you’ll want to see if it is worthy of investing your $50 into it. 


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/22/03, Updated 06/22/03


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