Review by BloodGod65

Reviewed: 10/28/08 | Updated: 02/11/10

The first next-gen outing for Midnight Club is a solid, but lackluster experience (with Complete Edition mini-review)

(A note about this review: This review has been divided into two sections; the first addresses the original release while the Complete Edition section details and discusses the additions made through the platinum hits re-release. Note that everything included in the Complete Edition was previously released for download on Xbox Live)

Before the movie The Fast and the Furious kickstarted the ricer revolution, before Electronic Arts ever jumped on the street racer bandwagon and before every developer in existence tried to capitalize on a popular trend for a quick buck, there was Midnight Club. The guys at Rockstar did it first, and they’ve always done it best. So, has the Midnight Club pedigree survived the jump to next gen consoles?

Midnight Club Los Angeles tells the tale of a nameless, hairless newcomer to the city. If you’ve ever played a Need for Speed game released after Hot Pursuit 2 or any other street racing game made after “The Fast and the Furious” you know the drill (the tired, mindless drill). Unfortunate for him, Speedy McBaldo (as I’ve named him) gets no respect from the local wannabes who think they’re all that. He then sets off to show the punks a thing or two about racing and take all their money in the process. With a story that isn’t too engrossing, it’s a good thing that it doesn’t play much of a role in the game. It isn’t often that the game takes players away from racing to watch a cutscene, which is commendable because it is boring and the characters are rather unlikeable.

Longtime fans of Midnight Club (or just those familiar with the last entry) will find that the rest of the game is very similar to previous entries. Players start out with a jalopy, complete races and earn money to buy better cars to win more races. However enough tweaks have been made throughout the game that it may take a while before becoming comfortable with everything.

The races include the old standbys; ordered races, circuits and point to point races, now renamed “red light races”. Numerous new race types have been added such as time trials and freeway races, where you speed up behind an opponent, flash your lights and take off through a short series of checkpoints dodging traffic all the way. Then there are the wager and pink slip races, which allow you to place your own money or car on the line. The most interesting additions are delivery and payback missions. Delivery missions give you a car and charge you with delivering it to a random point around the city. The twist is that you have a set time limit and a maximum amount of damage you can inflict on the cars. Standing in stark contrast to those are the Payback missions. These charge you with seeking out another car and inflicting damage on it. But unlike the previous game club races are not part of the equation. All the events are tied to specific characters and you’ll have to seek them out in the city to race them.

The racing itself is just as fast and crazy as ever despite a significant overhaul to the physics system. In previous games cars were always a bit light, prone to crazed slides and felt as if they were barely attached to the road. For the most part, those problems have been eliminated and it is rare to find your car doing something off the wall. The physics overhaul does have some consequences that may not sit well with some, namely that players will actually have to brake before entering turns and the cars aren’t as fast off the line as they were before. For most people this shouldn’t be much of an issue since it does away with the unpredictable nature of the car physics from earlier games.

Still, players may find themselves frustrated when it comes to racing for an entirely different reason. There has been a furor about the difficulty level of the game despite Rockstar’s best efforts to solve this problem. Before delving into that though, it might be best to explain what they’ve done here. Previous games made the player race every event (and win) to advance through the game. While that’s logical, the problem was the game could often be brutally difficult due to a difficulty level that varied wildly according to the player’s performance. The solution for Los Angeles was to let players choose their difficulty level and let them progress no matter how they performed. This is accomplished by assigning every race a color coded difficulty level (green being easiest and red hardest). The continual progression is assured through Rep.

Rep points are acquired every time you finish a race. Win or lose, you will be given Rep points but the amount varies according to how difficult the race was as well as what position you finish in. No matter how a player does, so long as the race is completed Rep points will be earned, which means you don’t have to win everything to unlock new parts and cars. This also gives the player an incentive to not simply hit restart if they mess up at the tail end of the race.

So what’s the fuss about? Veteran Midnight Club players should know that the new system was a brilliant idea that works great. I daresay many veterans will find Los Angeles to be free of the headaches that accompanied earlier games (I know I have). However, newcomers should beware; this is still no easy game. Opponent cars are almost always faster than you off the starting line and they will capitalize on the slightest mistake, meaning a healthy lead can quickly become a lonesome position in the rear.

That’s not to mention the opponent AI still has all the dirty little tricks up its sleeves from the previous games. Slipstream turbo, a maneuver that involves drafting an opponent and then shooting past them with a sans-nitrous boost, rarely works right. In almost every case, as soon as you hit the button they will shoot off ahead of you without ever using their nitrous. They also have a strange ability to recover from crashes in the blink of an eye. They make plenty of mistakes but I’ve often seen a head-on collision where the car just continues on as if nothing had happened. This is especially irritating given that when I’m involved in a head-on collision my car does a double spin through the air, leaving me to work my way back up to speed and up through the pack.

At some point all your high-speed shenanigans are going to attract the wrong sort of attention (namely from the police). Like a lot of other things with Los Angeles, the cops have also received a drastic overhaul. Instead of being pre-set events, they are scattered throughout the map at random and will try to pull you over if you’re breaking the law (speeding, hit and runs, etc.). You can comply and pay a nominal fee or just drive like hell. Choose the latter option and you’ll have to get away or be arrested. Just to be crystal clear, this isn’t Most Wanted, so you won’t be ramming police cruisers and running them off the road. You’ll just be outdriving them and trying to stay ahead until they lose you. The odd thing is that they’re unnaturally good at tracking you. I once doubled back on them, all while they were two blocks away and they stayed on my trail with ease. However, they’re not too much of an annoyance, given that they’re easy to evade if you’re patient.

Eventually the run-ins with law enforcement, mad sprints across the city, and the inherent lunacy of other drivers in LA will take their toll on your ride. Unlike MC3, where damage amounted to little more than paint and vinyls being scraped off your car, here the damage goes further. Whole parts of a car can be ripped off or otherwise destroyed. After a race you can choose to repair you car with some junky, primer coated parts. To get rid of the junker look (and restore your pride) you can swing by a garage or gas station to get fixed up right.

And now we come to the real problems of MCLA. First, there’s the car list. Two of the car classes from DUB Edition have been dropped (SUV’s and Choppers) leaving Muscle, Tuner, Exotics, Luxury and Motorcycles. The actual number of cars is far less than DUB Edition as well, a claimed forty-six. I say claimed for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, four of that number is comprised of repeat cars, albeit already customized. Then there is the Audi R8, which is only available to those who have Xbox Live and sign up for Rockstar’s Social Club. So in effect there are really only forty-one cars. And the problems don’t end there – the list is terribly unbalanced. There are only three luxury cars, three motorcycles and seven exotics. The rest are divided up amongst Tuners and Muscle. The neglect of motorcycles is especially strange given that they handle better than ever…

And then there’s the fact that some of the most iconic cars of the street racing scene are nowhere to be found. Toyota Supra? ’69 Dodge Charger? Nope, sorry. There is also one more thing that I find especially troubling and this is the number of licensed traffic cars. Many of the cars you’ll see in traffic are taken straight from the car list, but then there are a few oddities like the Chevelle along with Cadillac’s entire car catalogue (Escalade, Escalade EXT, CTS, and XLR). And it’s not like these cars just bear a resemblance to their real-world counterparts – They have been just as meticulously rendered as the cars you can actually drive and they’ve even got the proper badging. Why is it that Rockstar bothered to put a CTS and the XLR in the game, but didn’t include them in the car list, especially when the Luxury section is so woefully under par?

Car customization has also taken a severe hit. Rockstar touted the customization as being better than DUB Edition, but that isn’t quite true. While it is true there are a few more things you can do (wide bodies, headlights, doors, and interiors) the actual options have been stripped down to a level befitting recent Need for Speed games. For body kits, there are at maximum only four pieces to choose from for each car. Wide bodies might as well not have been included seeing as there is only one for each car. And then there’s the stuff that was taken out – louvers, mudflaps and chopped tops just to name a few. What’s worse is that it takes forever to unlock anything (cars included), perhaps due to the lack of stuff in the game. You might unlock the front bumper pieces and spend another three hours racing to unlock the rear bumper pieces. The length of time between car unlocks is even more painful.

Given that this game runs off of Rockstar’s RAGE engine (which most recently powered Grand Theft Auto IV and Table Tennis before that) it should come as no surprise that this is a great looking game. The city of Los Angeles is remarkably detailed with lots of real world landmarks, and other less noticeable touches, like the awesome texture work for the pavement. Then there is the advertising, which is so tastefully integrated into the world you may not even notice the iPod billboards, 7-11 gas stations or Gamestops scattered around the city for quite some time. Cars are wonderfully detailed and are now complete with interiors (which are visible using the new helmet cam) and look spectacular in motion. Thankfully there are no jaggies or other weird problems to ruin their beauty.

There are some problems in other areas though. Every now and then the graphics will completely bug out, leaving the environment an untextured mess. This happened once when I came out of a garage, forcing a complete system restart. This happens to a lesser extent quite often, with the roads disappearing and the car sinking through. For a game that has been delayed as much as this, I can’t see how Rockstar didn’t catch these problems.

MCLA’s audio is a little above average. The soundtrack is very diverse and quite a bit more balanced in terms of how many songs are in any given genre. Not everything is a winner but there is plenty of quality material and much of it is suitable for fast driving. Personally I don’t think the rap selection is as strong as it was in the previous game but the electronica is far better.

The voice acting is pretty good and often downright hilarious. The pre-race trash talk, where your character and his opponent throw insults back and forth is great and feels like a subtle jab at previous Need for Speed games. Opponents are usually a bunch of morons who speak in the same brain-dead street style from Underground (“Yo dawg, bring yo bank to da race. Word.”) and Speedy McBaldo makes fun of them for being so idiotic.

Though Rockstar did little to promote it, Midnight Club Los Angeles was enough of a success to warrant a series of downloadable content. As was the case with DUB Edition Remix, Rockstar has decided to bundle in all this extra content in the Platinum Hits release of the game, all for the budget price of thirty dollars.

So what, I hear you asking yourself, does that downloadable stuff consist of? Quite a lot actually. The most noticeable is the huge territory expansion that comes in the form of the South Central add-on. This new area meshes seamlessly with the lower half of LA and you’ll be able to drive in and out of it at will. It’s not a trivial amount of real estate either; if I had to hazard a guess I’d say it’s well over half as large as the original city. And like Rockstar’s recreation of Los Angeles, South Central is very well designed and possesses its own look and feel (in this case, rundown and grimy). The area also has an extensive network of back alleys and side roads that will allow brave drivers to outsmart their opponents. It doesn’t go to waste either, because Rockstar has filled South Central with new races and characters. You’ll find a new garage, meet its owner and he’ll fill you in on the local racing scene.

More important, and more desperately needed, than the huge piece of added land are the additional cars. A total of twenty-one have been added. To put that into perspective, the original game only had forty-one. So it’s a sizeable upgrade. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the stupendous effect one might imagine.

In truth, only ten of the added cars are divided amongst the original car classes. Tuners get two cars with the new Eclipse and Evo, muscle gets another two with the classic GTO and Chevelle, the bike class gets a new Ducati, and the Aston Martin DB9 is added to the exotic class. The luxury class comes out the winner, with four new cars, more than doubling the original count. Among these are a few Mercedes and the Cadillac XLR. Even with these additions the list is still horribly unbalanced. While it’s understandable that the list would lean towards tuner and muscle cars, the other classes are still pretty much out in the cold. The end totals for bikes is four, exotics is eight and even with the addition of four cars, there are only seven luxury rides. It’s also worth mentioning that the Audi R8 is still only unlockable through Rockstar’s Social Club (despite being shown on the back of the case).

You may have noticed that I’ve only accounted for ten of the twenty-one. That’s because the rest are divvied up among the three new car classes – lowriders, SUV’s and cop cars. Of the remaining eleven, five go to the cop cars, four to lowriders and SUV’s end up getting a measly two rides, both of which are Rovers. The lowriders at least show some variety – Bel Air, Riviera, Malibu and Impala. The lowriders drive a lot like muscle cars (in fact two of them were in the previous game and were labeled as such). The SUV’s are heavy but once they get up to speed they’re damn near unstoppable.

The cop cars do change the game to some extent, although not drastically. Once you buy a cop car, you’ll be able to take to the streets and race it like any other ride. Apparently people in LA think nothing of racing a cop… The only real changes are that you can turn on your sirens, cops won’t bother you and with the bull bars on the front you can hit traffic and just plow right on through. All in all, the cop cars are a weird but not unenjoyable addition to the game. However, I’m willing to bet most people would have expected a mode where you actually played as a cop and chased down street racers a la NFS Hot Pursuit 2.

So the Complete Edition has some added content but it still doesn’t entirely redeem the faults of the original title. Twenty new cars is a pretty big number but the way they’re distributed makes the additions almost unnoticeable. The new car classes aren’t anything to get excited about either, because there are so few to choose from. As is the case with the bikes, if Rockstar was going to put so few SUV’s in the game why bother at all? Finally, nothing has been done about the irritating graphics issues from the base game. Texture loading is an issue that only gets worse the longer you play and certain actions have a tendency to create some framerate issues.

Although this is a solid racing game, a few questionable design choices and graphical glitches hold it back from the greatness it was so close to achieving. Even so, Midnight Club Los Angeles is not a bad racer. But after three years of waiting and numerous delays, it is a bit of a disappointment. As for the Complete Edition, it is definitely a superior version but not by any great margin.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Midnight Club: Los Angeles (US, 10/20/08)

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