Giant Bomb Review

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Midnight Club: Los Angeles Review

3
  • X360
  • PS3

A suffocating level of difficulty limits the appeal of Rockstar's latest street racer.

Day or night, you can run the streets of LA.
When the original Midnight Club first hit the PlayStation 2 way back in 2000, the whole street-racing phenomenon hadn't really hit the mainstream yet. Heck, The Fast and the Furious didn't even come out until the following summer. At this point though, street-racing video games has become a broad genre unto itself. Midnight Club: Los Angeles has the kind of open-world structure and bevy of customizable licensed cars that are part and parcel for the genre, but it differentiates itself by losing some of the neon-lit glamor in favor of a somewhat more grounded look at the City of Angels. It can also be a supremely difficult, frustrating game, due in part to that open-world structure, as well as some unrelenting racer AI.

Midnight Club: LA puts you in the role of an anonymous East Coast transplant whose only apparent interest is street racing. You'll meet plenty of colorful and often obnoxious characters as your reputation improves, but the game keeps it pretty light with the story stuff, so don't expect a crazy crime epic about dirty undercover cops and counterfeit krugerrands or anything like that. Instead, it's more of a street racing procedural with a focus on methodically working your way up in the scene.

Your character is a bit of a blank slate, but the real star here is the city of Los Angeles. Midnight Club doesn't attempt to map LA block-by-block a la True Crime: Streets of LA, but the general layout--which includes Santa Monica, Century City, Westwood, Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and the downtown area--is quite accurate, and the game features enough real landmarks to capture the feel of the city without being too romantic about it. And not just obvious stuff like the Hollywood sign or the Capitol Records building either, though those are in there too, but also Carney's Restaurant, Pink's Hot Dogs, the Standard Hotel, the Saddle Ranch, the Viper Room, Ripley's Believe it Or Not, and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, just to name a few.

I've totally bought shoes at that mall!
It's a really sharp-looking package, though one of the flashiest bits of Midnight Club: LA is essentially a loading screen. Any time you pause the game to look at the map or jump to a new location to start a race, the camera dramatically pulls up and away from your car, eventually showing an overview shot of the entire city, before zooming back down on your current location. It's a neat trick that lends the game a seamless feel while hiding any potential load times effectively.

The actual driving in Midnight Club is fast and loose, though it's also got some weight to it, something that's accentuated by the game's intense, borderline nauseating camera rattle and a default camera angle that really kicks out around corners. The game features some 43 licensed cars, as well as a few motorcycles. Most importantly, it's not all just late-model supercars, though there are a few of those, and everything features a driving profile that exaggerates that vehicle's strengths and weaknesses. There's plenty of car customization, both performance-based and aesthetic, though there's nothing here that hasn't been seen in other street racers.

Drafting is a big deal in Midnight Club: LA, and if you hang out in another racer's slipstream for a few seconds, you'll earn a quick nitrous-style boost. In probably the game's most ridiculous turn, you can pop your car up on two wheels, which is useful for avoiding scrapes and for keeping other racers from drafting behind you. Actually, more ridiculous than that are the unlockable special abilities, which include the ability to slow down time or use an electromagnetic pulse to disable competitors.

Like past Midnight Clubs, the game doesn't limit where you can drive during a race, though most races are littered with enough mandatory checkpoints that there are usually only a few feasible routes for any given race. You can't always see the next checkpoint from the last one, and the game never shows you more than two checkpoints at a time, requiring you to constantly check against the on-screen minimap to figure out where to turn next.

The online modes can be an awful lot of fun.
While the boulevards of Midnight Club: LA can be very wide, they're also almost always choked with traffic, and splitting your attention between the map and the road all but guarantees lots of head-on collisions and wrong turns. This wouldn't be such a problem if the computer-controlled racers reflected these navigational issues. In most cases, if you make one significant mistake, your chances of catching back up are slim. Exacerbating this problem is the fact that many of the races run pretty long, and any lead you might be able to eke out will often disappear in the closing stretch.

Series races can be even worse, since they're often based on the first racer to win three races. With five racers in the mix, that means you can run 10 races, each of which can potentially run a good five or six minutes, before finally losing and having to do the whole thing over again. You still earn a little bit of money and rep for crossing the finish line even when you lose a race, but it's still a consistently goddamn infuriating experience.

Luckily, there's a nicely integrated 16-player online component that eliminates both the AI and traffic issues. The online cruise mode essentially turns the entire city into a giant lobby where players can queue up different events, kind of like Burnout Paradise, but more democratic. Here you can compete in standard races, a number of different free-for-all and team-based capture-the-flag variants, unordered races, and more.

I really enjoy the look and feel of Midnight Club: Los Angeles, and there's a good amount of content here, but the severe difficulty level makes it all much harder to appreciate. It's punishing, but if you're up for it, there are some sights worth seeing here.
28 Comments
Edited by Kohe321

Great review!

Online
Posted by super_machine

They need to make midnight club Detroit. Where the object of the game is to race out of the city with your car intact.

Posted by JoelTGM

I might rent it one day.  I loved the previous MC games.

Posted by Hexogen

This is a pretty fair review. I personally really like the game, but I understand that the excessive difficulty can be really off putting to a lot of people, even myself sometimes. It's a shame that the series has always been so hard. The difficulty is what stopped me from playing Midnight Club 3, and I'm sure it'll eventually stop me from playing this as well.

Posted by RHCPfan24

Just what I expected. Good review.

Posted by vinsanity09

I thought the game was difficult at first, but as soon as I won that Chevy Camaro, it was way easier.

Posted by killawogg

ive been playing the game and i say the review is right on par

Posted by TheGTAvaccine

Sounds like classic MC action to me.

Edited by BawaTheGamer

I personally could not enjoy midnight club 3 remix dub edition. Ive put that game in my xbox 3 times now and each time within an hour im bored out of my mind. It just never did it for me. Its not that it was hard. I just wasnt having fun with the game. im pretty sure this games sounds an awful lot like that.

So this is probably rockstar's only franchise i hate.

Posted by Bennyishere

I really think people are overreacting about the difficulty. It seems fine to me. It's true that mistakes ruin a lot of your chances, but navigating safely in a race isn't that hard once you get used to the controls. I think this is an excellent racer, especially with the cockpit view. I'd give it a 4/5.

Posted by ferrarimanf355

Midnight Club LA: the Ninja Gaiden of street racers. I like the sound of that, it's better than the NFS dreck EA's crapping out this year.

Posted by lordofultima

Love it when people reference Detroit without actually having lived or been there. lulz.

Edited by KosmoK

I actually love Midnight Club L.A.! Yes, it's harder than your average street racer, but not a lot harder than MC3DE. So if you've enjoyed MC3, you'll defintively enjoy this one. It can be frustrating at times, but even if you lose a race you still get a bit of REP which can save the day and make you not throw away your controller. I'd give MCLA 4.5/5 stars, because it's very good once you get over the first stages, but it's not prefect.

Posted by TomboDemon

"It's generally a really sharp-looking game in general"
almost as redundant as "The NXE Experience"!
:P

Posted by John

This is a game I will buy eventually, maybe early 09. Mainly because of the rockstar social club integration, loved it on gtaiv.

Edited by Nettacki

I've played and beaten Midnight Club 2, so I think I know what it means to play a Hard-as-Nails racer. That being said, I shouldn't have a problem with LA's difficulty.

Posted by Old_Snake864

Thats a bit harsh its not even that hard if you buy new cars and upgrade people just expect to complete the game with the first car they get in the game 5 stars!!

Posted by kuddles

The difficulty turns me off too.  I'm all for a challenge, but I hate how so many racers are like this nowadays: you make one tiny mistake and you find yourself fighting to get to the front again for the rest of the race, but if you do flawlessly it doesn't matter because the AI gets to cheat by gaining enough unrealistic speed and by rubber banding until they're immediately behind you waiting for you to trip up again.

Posted by NickNorman

I'm renting it right now. It's not extremely hard, but it's no cakewalk, either. I'd say it's repetitiveness turns me off more than the difficulty.

Posted by YoungBuck

I'll still give it a rent. It looks good in video.

Posted by StaticFalconar

so its a definite rental

Posted by Aaron_G

I was looking forward toward this game. Too bad it looks like it will be too difficult for fun. 

Posted by newbie

Hey I havent been home to Detroit in a while... are there still Coney Island's open pretty much everywhere in the city?

Edited by JDM006

I don't agree with this review.  I rented the game from Gamefly and really got into it.  I haven't had much of an opportunity to really try out the online stuff, but the single player mode is really good.  Yes, it can be frustrating at times, but the overall gameplay is addicting.  The game plays really fast and loose and the shortcuts and stunt jumps are easy to find while racing to create some memorable moments that you'll want to see on instant replay.  The city feels like it has a life of its own, unlike in Burnout Paradise, and there is plenty of fun stuff to do in terms of missions.  The game is not really that unforgiving.  If you screw up early in the race, the rubberband A.I. allows you to make a comeback into 1st place.  You even can see the computer A.I. make mistakes as well.  This game deserves more than 3 stars.

Posted by HeathCharnock

I disagree with Ryan's view on the difficulty, yes its harder than a lot of other racers but in a world often spoiled by "over consolefied" games (i.e. having way to easy difficulty) I for one appreciate a game that takes time to master. After several hours of play I found it got easier to predict where the race direction smoke markers were going to appear next thus preempting the next turn. I suppose one thing that would help would be to have some on screen arrows or other indicator to help direction management (which could be turned off at higher difficulty levels). I think it would be a shame to not try this game based on it being deemed to difficult, all I can say is give it a try (particularly if you are a racing fan).

Edited by schizogony

Totally disagree with this "review."

This game gets easy quite fast. It seems Ryan didn't get any fast cars because once you've got a fast car, the game is super easy.

Posted by daniel_beck_90

Ryan is the voice of Gamers ,  Good job

Edited by whirlwind201

    Although I definitely Agree with this review, I don't think its fair to drop the score to a 3/5 simply on the complaints mentioned. First off, I give this game a very solid 4/5 because I REALLY enjoy it. I have the most fun just tooling around LA in different cars weaving through traffic and doging cops. I've been to LA, so I recognize a couple of landmarks, but even then I can tell that the city has been recreated in great detail.

   Things I like:
 Open city, heavy traffic. This makes driving a fun experience. Rather than just zipping around a closed track you have to plan your routes and maybe improvise a bit to get where you need to go
  Great Variety. Even if you don't like racing all that much, there are many things to do and ALL of them will earn you rep and/or cash, so you don't have to feel limited into on certain path of ascension.
   GREAT Song list. LOTS of music in a variety of styles. It takes a while before it starts repeating and you can always find a song that suits your mood and tastes.
   Customization. It does all it needs to do.
   Police Chases. I think the LA cops are a good balance. THey're persistent but not unfairly so. With that said I'm a little sad that only three can chase you. NFS: Carbon on the Wii did better than that.
   The game is FUN.

Dislikes:
    A.I. I could accept that the A.I. are better drivers than I am, they've got more experience. The problem is that the A.I. doesn't seem bound by the same rules I am. A head on collision for me is a slow-mo deal that spins me out and brings me to a complete stop. A head on collision for my opponents means a minor inconvenience. SERIOUSLY unfair.
    Collisions: I'm pretty convinced that there is some sort of magnet attached to my car. Any time I'm going at speed if I barely even CLIP a passenger car or building, the game seems to pull me in to a castrophic collision. On the one hand this makes me a better driver, on the other it makes me more cautious when I really should be taking crazy chances.
    Track Layouts. At times, checkpoint races have checkpoints that have multiple turns in between and you can't see the next checkpoint. This requires that I look at my radar to determine the best route. This wouldn't be so bad if A) The computer opponents didn't have intimate knowledge of the course and B) the direction the checkpoints tell you to go in are often NOT the fastest or even the most direct route to the next one. Its a tradeoff. Expect to either get lost a lot if you concetrate on driving or get in a lot of collisions if you concentrate on navigation. This problem is alleviated with practice, though.
     DIALOGUE. I was pretty entertained by the banter between my character and my opponents. The problem is that they like to taunt you throughout the race, and this gets REALLY annoying, especially since you can't respond or shut if off. I find the hispanic characters, who are REALLY, REALLY stereotypical in this game, especially annoying. And if you spend a lot of time in last place, which you will, you will get REALLY tired of their ridicule
    Cars: Theres a good selection, but some classics like the Dodge Viper, Lotus, Cadillac, and other great cars that usually show up in other racers aren't here.

 I would note, however, that the insane difficulty is not all a bad thing. Winning races feels really good, you feel like you earned that win and it makes the game feel longer and more worthwhile. In my case, it drove me to learn the tracks and shortcuts so I could stand a chance. With that said, if they made the computers a little more fallible it would have made the game a little more interesting and not simply punishment.

Online mode is near perfect, however.