It’s a quality game, but it will frustrate and annoy.
Two fairly big franchises are going to head to head at the moment: Midnight Club and Need for Speed. I’m a huge car freak/fan and have a deep love of racing games and customising cars I will never own in real life. In the past I’ve always gone straight to NFS games when I need my racing fix, as they churn so many out and the, now legendary, NFS: Underground games really impressed me. Recently though EA have made NFS: Undercover and, although I have not played it, it’s supposed to be pretty pants. The critics, never really fans of NFS games anyway, have slated it even more than other crap NFS games which must mean it is truly diabolical and I simply do not wish to waste my money. Luckily there is an alternative that has been around for a while, but generally sneaks under the radar of NFS fans like myself and its called Midnight Club: Los Angeles. The people that brought you the hugely overrated “Grand Theft Auto 4” have made a racing and tuning game, the second of this franchise, and I must state it’s pretty good. You have the whole of central LA to drive around in and around 30 cars to buy and customise. It’s good but it’s not fantastic however and I will endeavour to explain why. There is a story here but it is pointless me explaining it. You basically play a guy who’s new in town and wants to make a name and money for himself in the street racing scene in LA blah blah blah….. The more you win the bigger and better the opponents etc. There is really not any point on elaborating on it but, lets face it, who cares. It’s not why you play such games.
The absolute best thing about this game is the sheer amount of racing to be had. There are so many races to go to, drivers to meet up with and challenges laid out to you, it will take a long time to get bored of it. The city is jammed full of other street racers and race meetings, all marked on the map, and you can simply drive around flash your lights at an opponent and the race is on. It’s that simple and you will never run out of competition or beat everyone as you can race anyone and everyone as often as you like. All tracks are based round the streets of LA but there is a hell of a lot of them and even if you race the same track twice it will not be the same as the traffic and light levels are always changing. You will also have different tasks to do, not just simple races, such as delivering other peoples cars in a time limit, smashing other cars off the road, time trials, etc. You also race for other cars and not just money all the time as well. It is a tiny bit overwhelming in parts but I much prefer a game that will take you a few months to do than a couple of weeks. I’m not big on online play (because I don’t like having my ass handed to me every time by a spotty nerd who lives in his parents basement, and has nothing to do all day except play online) and so many new games these days take focus off the one player, the core of gaming. Fortunately for those that disagree, this provides plenty for both opinions so either way you will never be bored.
You have the whole of Los Angeles to drive around in. The city of LA is impressive and detailed and you really get the feel that you are immersed in this city and making a living out of racing illegally. The city is also very life like and doesn’t feel empty or devoid of bustling city life at any point. The town is thriving with people walking the streets, plenty of other road users, all the famous landmarks are there and the fact that it fades to night and day really absorb you into the whole experience. I love the way that you zoom in and out of the city when you view maps showing just how detailed the city is, and its really a proper huge spaghetti of concrete highways, freeways and back streets, which of course means there is a lot to explore. It is so engaging and large it encourages you to just go driving around, meeting up with other racers, pissing off the police and generally exploring. Like I said, you will not be bored.
The customising is immense. A lot like the game play there is so much you can do with your various rides. The combinations of vinyls, paint and body kits is massive and no one design will ever be the same as another. You can change lights, hoods/bonnets, trunks/boots, spoilers, wheels, tyres, brake callipers, side skirts, ride heights, doors and the list goes on. That’s before we even get onto the inside where you can change steering wheels, seats, internal neon, dials and all sorts. It’s really deep and if you love customising, you can spend hours doing it here. It doesn’t offer anything like NFS’s excellent “Autosculpt”, but it’s not worse its just different and offers a few more options such as side exhausts and superchargers that stick out of the top of your bonnet/hood, like a 1950’s dragster. There’s lots of very cool small additions that anyone who likes customising will appreciate. Im not sure its better than NFS’s autosculpt, but it’s certainly on a par with it.
The racing is very much “edge of your seat” arcade style stuff. Even with the slower cars you hurtle down streets with traffic flashing past and it seriously gives you the sense of speed you desire. The way the cars handle is very arcade like and easy to get to grips with. The cars handle how you would expect them too and are very forgiving to an extent. You can just jump in and race and the learning curve is not savage. You can sling your car into a 90 degree bend at stupid speeds, slide round it, and come out fine on the other side. Although it is ridiculous, and nothing like Gran Turismo (obviously), it is very fun and rewarding. All cars handle differently as well, as a rear wheel drive heavy dodge challenger will feel completely different to a light on its feet front wheel drive Ford Focus ST. It’s detailed basically, and you can tell there is a depth in this, created by genuine car enthusiasts. If that wasn’t enough it also has motor bikes. There is only three options for the motorbikes but the fastest, the Kawasaki Ninja, is very very rapid and seems to heighten the ridiculous speeds as, because you can fall off them, there is more risk.
The most obvious and worst thing is that this game is really really seriously infuriatingly difficult! I can guarantee you right now you are going to lose a hell of a lot if you play this. You are going to crash a lot. You are going to be “smack talked” by your opponents a lot. You are going to be arrested a lot. You are going to have victory snatched from you, on the last bend as a bus comes out of a blind side turning and stops you dead, as your opponents flash past, a lot. It is incredibly frustrating and heart breaking and I have never hurled my controller across the room as often as I did for this game. Ultimately, this does make it rewarding when you eventually win but it is a fine line to draw and Rockstar have gone slightly overboard with this one. It is just too hard for my liking and it is mainly due to several things. Firstly, your opponents are always much much better than you. It doesn’t matter how much NOS you have or how big your turbo charger is, your opponents will always be better than you. If you race someone on a “hard” difficulty they will simply drive away into the distance regardless of whether your in a Lamborghini Gallardo and they are in a Mitsubishi Evo. It feels totally futile a lot of the time. They also do not come under the same rules as you either, as I have seen an opponent slam into an oncoming vehicle and he just careers through it as though it was not there and boosts off into the distance. I know there are special abilities that allow your car to do this, but your opponents can’t use them. It really doesn’t give you a chance and I know you can try easier races, but then you win bugger all cash. Secondly, it’s just too overwhelming in places. There is so much traffic and things to avoid and be aware of you just cant react to all of them at once. You often blast round a corner and there is literally solid rush hour traffic, which you cant avoid. Your opponents always do however. And thirdly, the races are mostly check point races and it’s far to easy to miss a turning as you have to constantly keep one eye on the map in the right hand corner of the screen, which is far too hard considering what you are already having to concentrate on. There are few things more infuriating than having to stop and reverse back to a turning mid race. You are basically always one step behind and playing catch up the whole time and it does add to the frustration factor and is very unrewarding. Rockstar have compensated for the extreme difficulty by ensuring that everything you do in the game counts, as whether you lose or not you will earn money and “rep”. That doesn’t make it fun though and you are going to lose your rag a lot. Be warned.
The gear changes are appalling. Obviously I chose to have an auto gear box for all my cars, as there is far too much other stuff to worry about than changing gear, and it is ridiculous. It never seems to know what gear to put you in, and so often I have been on the rev limiter for about 4 or 5 seconds before the sodding thing actually changes gear! It is so annoying. Then, if you’re in 6th gear at high speed and need to break briefly, it will slam it into 1st gear and you will screech to a halt to simply crawl along whilst your engine screams with high revs for another 4 or 5 seconds. It’s maddening! It will change up when you are at low revs, it will change down when you’re at the rev limit and will generally drive you insane. It’s not even an infrequent occurrence as it happens most of the time. I know the answer to the problem is to switch to a manual gear box, but I simply do not have the time to learn its use or the skill level, and I’m fairly sure I’m not alone. It’s absolutely appalling and it’s not as if it’s not frustrating enough already.
The special abilities are crap. You can equip your ride with various special features that allow you to cheat in order to gain advantage. These are an EMP, for shutting down your opponent’s car, “Agro”, that allows your car to plough through anything oncoming for a limited time, “Zone”, an ability to slow down time to make tricky or tight turns, and “Roar” which sends out a blast to send your opponents flying. You can also slip stream someone and hit the “boost” button for a burst of speed. It is not so much a boost button, as a suicide button. Hit it and you will be sent flying at warp speed into anything that is oncoming, steering and braking become irrelevant. It’s only actually useful when your destination is a perfectly straight line away and there is nothing in front of you, which, coincidently, never ever happens. It is therefore utterly useless and one of the few things that gives you an advantage in the game is taken away from you. Furthermore, the EMP doesn’t really do anything, as it only very briefly and vaguely slows down your opponents but it also slows your car as well! The Agro ability does allow you plough through other cars on the road but it also sends your car flying as well and is impossible to control! The only actual useful one is the Zone but often you have already crashed before you need it, as there is no human on the planet that can react that quickly. You have to predict when you’re going to use it and how in the hell are you supposed to predict something you don’t do on purpose? They are awful. I have read that previous versions of this game always include these abilities, so it’s a kind of trademark but this game simply doesn’t need them and they are too much of a “gimmick” and useless for my liking. It is also yet more things you really don’t need for taking up your concentration.
The car line up is not fantastic. It’s good enough, but not great. The vehicle list is a little limited and (having seen the line up) it does not look as good as the one in NFS Undercover. It obviously depends on what you like but there are not a lot of options for those who prefer the exotics/super cars. I of course do. It’s not that I don’t like a dodge challenger, or Nissan Skyline GTR, I just prefer a Koenigsegg or Porsche Carrera GT. The most extreme thing in this game is the Saleen S7 and Lamborghini Murcielago. There’s also the Audi R8 (download only) and Aston Martin Vantage, but the quantity is not in the same super league as the Veyrons and McLaren Mercedes of NFS. Its mainly muscle cars and tuners, which again is fine, but I would have liked some Porsche’s, BMW’s and basically more choice at the extreme end of the vehicle scale. Who the hell wants to customise cars they could pimp in real life anyway, like VW Golf’s?
The customising is good and there is lots of choice for paint and vinyls, but it’s a little limited for the more extreme body customisations. You only get one wide body kit per car and they are all pretty hideous, plus you can’t add your own spoilers or exhausts to them, or do anything to them whatsoever. So you are left with simply changing bumpers, lights, side skirts etc if you actually want to customise but the choices are fairly limited to around 5 per component and, despite some neat additions, it’s not as good NFS’s auto sculpt or customising options in general.
The cops are very tough to shake. It’s easy to keep from being arrested, however it’s very very hard to lose the LAPD altogether. It’s easier to lose them on the highways, but I have been hacking around the city for ages trying to shake them and they stick to me like glue. You are supposed to be able to lose them once you are out of their sight, but I have been in situations where they are not even on my mini map but somehow they can still see me and are still chasing me. Eventually, a few times, I have given up as I got bored and wanted to go racing instead, so decided to pay the fine. The police are made visible to you by showing them as markers on the map and you have a radar device on your car that “bips” when one gets close. It is best to avoid them altogether, as occasionally I have been stationary and one will swing round and arrest me for no reason at all. You get a lame little scene, which looks like the film from a “Police Camera Action” TV show, and you can choose to drive off but it’s really not spectacular and pointless.
The bikes are better to drive to the extent that you will stop using the cars. The bikes are really rewarding, to the point that when you buy one you will eventually come to the conclusion that they are actually much more fun and easier to use than the cars. They also cost a fraction of the price to buy and tune and are faster and easier to drive than their same tier four wheeled counterparts. The chances are you won’t go back to the cars at all for the rest of the game once you have raced one. Every time you jump back into a car it feels sluggish and slow, so does that not defeat the point of the game? Why not make it about bikes and tuning if the game is better off that way, rather than cars? A car racing game that makes you not want to own the cars is very strange indeed.
The problem is, is that this is a good game, it’s just going to drive you mad. As much as there is too enjoy, there is to hate. I like the fact you have the whole of LA to race around in, I like the cars and especially the bikes. The visuals are pretty good, and once you get on a winning streak the racing is really fast and exhilarating. But the difficulty, the gear changes (in particular), the police, the limited customising etc really do test your will to play. Rockstar are clearly trying to muscle in on EA’s NFS franchise and they have done a good job, but not a great job. Considering how EA is slowly choking the NFS franchise game by game, each one crapper than the last, then you would expect this to blow NFS out of the water. But it just doesn’t. If you liked any of the previous Midnight club games then you will like it. If you love cars and customising, you will like it, although you won’t love it and it will drive you mental. If you are a diehard NFS fan, you will hate it. If you don’t like really challenging games, you will hate it. If you lose your temper easily, you will hate it. If you (like me) are 50/50 on NFS or MC, then you should probably rent both before making a decision or get neither, and wait for either franchise to make a better one. Take from that what you will. If you simply have to tune and race, and considering the current competition in the market, this is the game to buy. I personally however, would recommend “Race Driver: Grid” if you really want to race cars, as it is much better than NFS and MC. It doesn’t have street racing, free roam and customising as such but if you are an appreciator of cars and racing you will enjoy Grid a lot more. Either that or wait for what the future holds for racing games. CA.
Is it user-friendly/easy to get into? – 9.0
The city of LA is vast and detailed. The maps all look good, especially the zooming in and out of them, and in game menus are easily navigated. Controls and car handling is easy to “pick up and play” as well.
Is the story any good? – 5.0
The story is pretty pointless here, and adds nothing to the experience. None of the characters you meet are engaging and there is nothing to really grab your interest. It doesn’t really matter though as it’s not the reason for playing.
How does it look? – 7.5
Generally good quality. Occasional slow down, but all landmarks and cars are detailed and look how they should. Take a close look though, and you will see that details and quality are a bit bland.
How does it sound? – 9.0
You don’t really get a chance to notice the sound, but the tune line-up is excellent, and you can choose which songs are played and when. Vehicles all sound good and it really sounds like a bustling downtown LA.
Is it good to play? – 7.0
Cars are easy and fun to handle, but the difficulty, the gear changes, the relentless cops and crappy “special abilities” will drive you mental. This is not one for the intolerant.
When will I get bored? – 9.0
There is a huge amount to do, race and tune, and (if your dedicated enough) you should not tire of it quickly.
OVERALL – 7.5
Review created by C. Armstrong.