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Midnight Club Los Angeles

Name recognition can be a fickle thing in the video game industry. On the one hand, gamers instantly associate your name with a particular title that launched your company into the limelight. On the other hand, it can sometimes cause other projects you release to receive little attention. Luckily, depending on your point of view, for Rockstar, their name brings instant attention to any game they release. Known mainly for the Grand Theft Auto series, Rockstar has put out many titles worthy of attention and praise.

The Midnight Club series started out in 2000 with Midnight Club: Street Racing. After a couple sequels, we are introduced to their newest entry in the family, Midnight Club: Los Angeles.

While Midnight Club shares some similarities with their flagship series, GTA, it does add in other aspects to the game. Offering a wide-open and expansive world, LA offers a lot of adrenaline infused racing as you rush through the streets making a name for yourself and trying to avoid the cops.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles brings the world of underground street racing to life in a gritty and adrenaline filled presentation. You enter this world as a rookie from another city looking to prove himself and earn some street credibility. You are introduced to the man with connections and information who seems less then impressed with your being there. Agreeing to give you a chance, you are given a slow, beater car and told to win a few races to prove you can hang in the racing world. The plot is pretty thin and really does not add to the game anything of value.

As in the world of real racing, you are only as good as the ride you drive. Once you start to win races and earn money, you can enhance your vehicle by buying all sorts of modifications. You can buy new tires or sleeker body panels, to just about any thing you could want to make your car look and race better. Combine that with some nitrous canisters, and you have the makings of an intense, speed machine.

However, coming by that money is going to be something of a challenge as the computer controlled AI is relentless in its desire to win at all costs. You will find yourself restarting many races thanks to the AI rubberbanding itself into first place the moment you take any sort of lead. Of course, you will need to find yourself in the lead for that effect to take place. Thankfully, you will find that difficult as well as the computer racer is almost always going to take off from the line faster and break away before you even get a chance to see what happened. However, if you do manage to take the lead, you will have to ensure that you take every turn perfectly and do not run into anything that will slow you down. If you do all of those things right, you might be lucky enough to finish the race in first place. More often then not, you will finish in any other place and find yourself restarting the race hoping for a lucky break so that you can finish first.

As if worrying about your route while you are racing isn't enough, you also have the cops to worry about. If you do not alert them to your illegal activities, the cops will not be a bother to you. However, if they catch even the slightest hint of anything out of the ordinary, they will start a full-on high-speed chase with their goal to take you down. When faced with a police pursuit, you have two options. You can either run and hope that you lose them enough for their interest gauge to go down so that they stop chasing you. Or, you can pull over and let them arrest you. If done right, the former can result in keeping your money intact, as long as you do not damage your vehicle too much. While the latter will strip you of much of your hard earned cash that would be better spent on upgrades to your vehicle.

One thing that the game does a nice job on is the small GPS display on the screen. Not only does this tool provide invaluable information about where you are, it also displays where other races are as well as events that you can take part in. The other useful part of the GPS display is that of the police interest meter. When the police are close by, the meter will change colors. As you pique the interest of the office closeby, the display will turn a brighter color.

The introduction of different special abilities throughout the game add in a unique aspect as you deploy them in hopes of maintaining a lead or overtaking a competitor. There is an EMP pulse which can help you create a gap in the traffic so that you can make up some ground or widen the lead you possess. These special abilities are also included in the multiplayer, but are expanded to many more.

Even with great depth in the single player mode, multiplayer capabilities always seem to draw in more weight when considering one title over another. Midnight Club offers a variety of modes in which to play against friends or random strangers. Doing away with a lobby type system, Midnight Club borrows a successful method from other games and allows you to load up the city and invite friends, or random players, right into your game with you. Once you have people in the game, you use your in-game cell phone to issue challenges and race for bragging rights. In addition to typical street races, there is a capture the flag game as well as a game type called Keep Away where the goal is to collect a flag and keep all other players away from you as you rack up points. Each of these modes offers a different take on the typical street racing as you strive to secure the objective and ensure a win for yourself. In addition to those modes, you can also create your own races and share them with others who then can vote on them and play for themselves. If the game does not lose its target audience, there will be a wide range of races available from the community to check out and race in for some different experiences.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles looks stunning in its presentation on the 360 console. The streets are lush with vehicles, people and a fairly faithful representation of the real city of LA. Even driving by at breathtaking speeds, the city still looks alive and real. While it would be a lofty goal to recreate every square inch of the city, Rockstar has done a spectacular job in its representation.

As is the case with many racing games like Midnight Club or Need For Speed, the musical offerings cater to primarily one genre of music. It would have been a bit nicer if there was some variety in the game, but that is a minor fault in an otherwise satisfying game. The rest of the sounds you will hear while racing your way through the streets are all very well done. The roar of your vehicles engine as you blow past opponents and other vehicles really give you a sense of the speed you are racing at. Realistic sounding effects as you apply the break result in tires screeching, or if you are unlucky enough to crash into something, the crunch of metal as your vehicle takes on damage. The only other fault I can find in the games audio offerings is that of the voice acting. At times it just seems uninspired as if the voice actors are bored reading their lines. Other times, the dialogue is repetitive and flat. However, listening to the dialogue is not why one would be playing this game, and as such, I cannot hold it too much against Midnight Club.

With a lot of competition out there for these types of racing games, Rockstar continues to contribute with its Midnight Club series. Relying as much on their Rockstar name and logo in addition to the loyal following of legions of fans, Midnight Club: Los Angeles offers up some serious racing and an enjoyable experience. The surroundings are beautifully recreated and accurate, for the most part, as Los Angeles is digitally represented on screen. The vehicles are responsive, customizable and handle well as you race at blinding speeds through the intricate streets of LA. Minor faults such as flat voice acting or overly agressive computer AI cannot stop this from being an enjoyable release.

Fans of the series will no doubt feel right at home in this iteration and continue to support the franchise. Those new to the Midnight Club line or those looking for a new racing game to pick up will still get a great deal out of this game. Sure, it is not perfect, but then again, what game truly is? There is enough good going for this game that the few faults are outweighed and in the end result in a fun gaming session.