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Midnight Club Los Angeles


Rockstar may have gained the most notoriety from their Grand Theft Auto series, but Midnight Club is their other successful property. Though GTA may be all about doing whatever you want in an open-world environment, Midnight Club follows many of the same principles. There's a certain drive anywhere, race anywhere mentality that feeds the gameplay. Oh, and of course cops don't like you much in this franchise either.

Midnight Club started back in 2000, and just eight year's later we are finding ourselves still jumping behind the driver's seat for the fourth installment. Has the series evolved much in between cycles? Is it fresh enough to hit the streets and race to the finish with other properties such as Project Gotham Racing and Need for Speed? It may not be a perfect ride, but the engine in Midnight Club: Los Angeles definitely has enough horsepower to be a contender.

Gameplay


First and foremost, I have to say that Midnight Club: Los Angeles offers up a breathtaking representation of its namesake city. Real locations offer the sense that this game is a viable digital interpretation of the city of angels even if it's not 100% accurate. What GTA's latest title did for a farce version of New York, Midnight Club does for Los Angeles, but only with more detail, polish, and finesse. If you live there you're going to notice the differences more than someone who has never been or has only been a handful of times, but no matter how you look at it the gaming environment is very slick.

Navigating through LA can be somewhat challenging to begin with, but thankfully you're packing a slick GPS assistant to help guide the way. While it's not the most useful tool ever, being able to zoom to an overhead view of the city helps in most situations. There are times when it is a little disorienting and it can be challenging finding your way on occasion, but overall it's a solid addition.

Street racing is the main focus here just like you'd expect it would be, and the gameplay this time around is every bit as refined as it was in the previous titles. Rockstar San Diego has once again brought a fine amount of polish to the racing controls. Turning, accelerating, and braking all handle like you'd expect they would if you're coming from a previous Midnight Club title, but it's not quite as sharp as some of its competition. The somewhat loose nature with turns and drifting takes away the straight-out arcade feel of the controls. It adds a necessity to build skills such as sliding through turns and whatnot, but there's no denying that the style takes some getting used to. Then again, maybe I'm just a terrible driver...

Once you've got a hang on the controls it's time to dig into the various modes, missions, and races to be had all over LA. There are so many things you can do at just about any moment that, in all honesty, you'll probably never get bored. As you play through the Career Mode and rack up Rep Points and cash you'll also be able to unlock cooler things to enhance your game. From new race and vehicles to various upgrades for your ride, points and money play a big role in the game. Unfortunately it also means that you can find yourself trailing the competition if you don't spend your money wisely. There's certainly a trial and error mentality to this component, especially if you are new to the franchise.

Some special abilities help break up the pacing in the Career Mode as well and they lend themselves to an enjoyable arcade feel, even if the controls themselves don't. Using Agro to knock cars out of your way, Roaring your engine to create a gap in traffic, and blasting an EMP all help alleviate some of the frustrations from time to time. Sources of these frustrations come from getting used to the controls, incredibly challenging AI, and cops.

For starters the AI is relentless with its slingshot ability. You can be lengths ahead of the competition when all of the sudden they will inexplicably zoom past you with a boost of nitro. Likewise if you try to catch up in kind they will just blast even further ahead. The game gives you absolutely no quarter and if you make even one mistake on a course you're basically out for the count. There's definitely a level of satisfaction gained from beating the competition, but getting to that point will lead to lots of frustration.

Further frustration sets in when you get the cops on your butt too. A handy radar detector on the HUD alerts you to the presence of police, but they're inevitably going to get involved. This leads to one of two scenarios: you pay for your fine and go to the police station or you run, either way it's a pain. Taking part in a police chase can be very difficult and it almost never ends well. This element adds a "real world" feel to the game, but I can't help but feel that the experience would have been more enjoyable if running from the cops wasn't such an issue.

After you've played through some single player, Midnight Club: LA has a robust online mode that is definitely something you'll want to tinker with. Not only can you build up and show your sweet rides to the competition, but you can sell them as well. The game also supports up to 15 other players online with various modes such as Capture the Flag, Keepaway, and Stockpile. You can also edit your own races and post them for others to play. Midnight Club has the potential to build a strong online community with all of these elements, but it may not be quite enough to knock down some of the reigning multiplayer champs.

If you're into street racing, then Midnight Club: Los Angeles should definitely be in your rotation. The game isn't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a solid "next gen" entry for the franchise. The problem is that while it does bring some new elements to the table, it doesn't offer a very refreshing experience. Flaws such as rubber-band AI, obnoxious cops, and touchy driving mechanics keep this title from realizing its full potential. It's still a fun ride though, and the online mode is definitely something to behold.

Graphics


Midnight Club: Los Angeles hits the PlayStation 3 with support up to 1080p. As you'd expect the game looks phenomenal with loads of detail all over the place. The environment in particular stands out the most and though you'll be driving by most locations at 200 mph, they all look amazing. Rockstar San Diego really put a lot of care into every nook and cranny of the city. It's also worth noting that the city goes through day and night cycles as well as offering weather effects.

Unfortunately they didn't pay nearly as much attention to the car models. Granted they all look slick, but we've seen better already with this generation and with the amount of detail put into the environment, some lacking autos kind of stand out. Even so, Midnight Club: Los Angeles is a solid looking game all around and the sense of speed is truly unmatched.

Sound


Considering this is a racing game, the sound is rather limited in terms of what it can actually offer. As far as effects are concerned the material from the road is solid with realistic sounding engines, satisfying crashes, and the lovely screeching of tires. If you have your system cranked up you'll definitely feel the sense of immersion this game offers. The voice acting isn't quite up to snuff though and there's a fair amount of repetition during races. The soundtrack is mostly decent, but as is the case with most racing games it all depends on your personal taste in music.

Conclusion


Midnight Club: Los Angeles is an awesome racing game that is weighed down by a few frustrating flaws. The biggest offender here is the AI in the single player which doesn't allow for any mistake. Be prepared to lose many a race because the CPU decided it didn't want to lose, which naturally means you have to restart. Once you've had enough of the Career Mode though, Midnight Club really comes to life online. The multitude of modes and things you can do is quite staggering, but the fact that racing other players means you don't have to deal with the AI is another plus.

If you're looking for a good street racing title, then this is definitely one to consider. It's not perfect, but there are enough positives to put it neck and neck with some of its competition.