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Midnight Club: Los Angeles

Racing games are an interesting sort, as they involve a fantasy element that isn’t a far cry from something that we do almost every day: drive a car. Rockstar San Diego’s latest entry into the Midnight Club series doesn’t deter much from the basic idea of nitrous-fueled versions of our 4-door clunkers drifting around street corners, but an ultra-realistic take on the city of angels as the battleground gives this West Coast-centric racer just enough personality to eke out a victory.

Based solely in Los Angeles (surprise!), Midnight Club L.A. places players in the oft-recurring role of a smart-ass driver from out of town who is looking to climb the street-racing ladder. Forced to match machines with every urban-city stereotype imaginable, our snarky hero accrues both wealth and reputation on the mean streets of Southland in his quest to live out the MTV-generation’s ultimate testosterone-filled fantasy.

World TourMidnight Club Los Angeles is the first game in the series’ 8-year span which features just a single city as venue. Past titles have included locations such as Paris, Tokyo, Detroit, New York, and San Diego.As far as plot and characterization goes, Midnight Club L.A. fails to deliver anything more than the basic cookie-cutter premise and ensemble that every other modern racing title has stuck to the past ten years. Very little back story is given to the main character or supporting cast, and the option to craft your own wheel man/wheel woman is unfortunately missing from the package. In fact, as far as customization goes overall, Midnight Club L.A. isn’t as fleshed out as other driving games.

Car choices are nominal, but body enhancements are limited to a handful of options as the game progresses, and the ability to switch out jackets and helmets for us motorcycle enthusiasts is surprisingly missing. However, the overwhelming sense of style and speed that Midnight Club L.A. embodies compensates for the lack of depth regarding character and car customization.

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Now I live in California, and resided in the southern half for a good portion of my life, and in such I’ve visited Los Angeles a number of times. Let me tell you this; the biggest port city in the U.S. is nowhere near as attractive as Midnight Club makes it out to be, and not nearly as drivable as Rockstar portrays it. In this we find the ultimate escapism: rocketing down a picture-esque Hollywood Boulevard as tinsel town’s finest dive to avoid the onslaught of racings’ rebellious youth.

Midnight Club L.A. is a very clean game, with detailed vehicle models and a dynamically lit Los Angeles. The action runs at a solidframe rate without any noticeable lag and the online modes, which include a “Rate My Ride” mode as well as regular game types, work fairly well as a “social hub” to the core of Midnight Club Los Angeles. Unfortunately, despite the positives of the keenly rendered Los Angeles, a number of graphical drawbacks did pop up during play.

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While racing throughout the ‘burbs and city centres of L.A. the lighting changes depending on the time of day, from early morning haze to rainy-night headlight runs. The environment itself looks great morning, noon and night, but there are definitely some parts of the day that make street racing ridiculously frustrating.

Early morning racing, somewhat after dawn, and late afternoon racing will often result in a number of unnecessary and often times unavoidable crashes as players have no control over when their headlights are turned on. Darker colored cars are nearly impossible to see in the early evening as pedestrian vehicles don’t switch on their headlights until a short time before dusk, and there is nothing as annoying as ramming head-on into a car just because it was completely camouflaged against the dark Los Angeles road.

“The environment itself looks great morning, noon and night, but there are definitely some parts of the day that make street racing ridiculously frustrating.”Post-dawn racing results in similar crashes, only with lighter colored cars with their headlights still on. It isn’t a graphical issue of any sort, just an annoyance that is unavoidable most times due to the lighting. Aside from the tired habit of these crashes and a few instances of the game having an issue “keeping up” with the texturing when reaching massive speeds, Midnight Club Los Angeles is one of the most attractive arcade racers available.

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Being an arcade-style racer, Midnight Club L.A. douses the flames of physics-based driving with some keen car tricks and breakneck speeds. While vehicles feel weighty and handle accordingly, the ability to pop-up onto two wheels at will, blow out your opponents and slow down time makes Midnight Club very exciting and unpredictable come race time. The only hindrance during the actual competitions rests with a very unforgivable difficulty level.

As an open-world racer, Midnight Club L.A. allows players to roam the streets in search of competition with the aid of a Sidekick mobile and a GPS system which zooms from street level to a satellite perspective of Los Angeles on command. Littered about the city are various icons representing racers, garages and other points of interest. These icons vary in color depending on difficulty: green for easy, yellow for medium, orange for difficult, and red for hard.

“The only hindrance during the actual competitions rests with a very unforgivable difficulty level.”While practice time may allow some drivers to work some of the yellow-themed races, players will mostly stick with the easy routes as computer-controlled cars will almost always rocket past to victory in more challenging races. Despite racing a perfect line during matches enemy vehicles will always trump in speed and acceleration, keeping up-and-coming racers like myself confined to battling it out with the low-level scrubs of Los Angeles.

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But despite a lopsided difficulty Midnight Club L.A. is quite enjoyable, especially if the previous installments hit home. While being stuck within the Los Angeles city limits may seem like something of a step backwards for a series which allowed access to multiple cities in previous installments, the attention to HUD style, menu integration into game play and good-old-fashioned road-racin’ makes for a very solid experience, albeit something of a shallow one.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2008.

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