Racing games are difficult. Track design, opponent AI, and event variation all need to be handled very well because if any one thing isn’t right the entire experience falls flat. Fortunately, Midnight Club: Los Angeles delivers a great replica of the Los Angeles area and a good variety of race events. It stumbles, however, in its single player gameplay because of overly aggressive rubber band AI and opponents who always have the money for upgrades and the ability to beat you off the line when real vehicle stats say they couldn’t.
Midnight Club has never been about realism, though, and Los Angeles is no exception. The replica of Los Angeles isn’t a perfect street for street translation, but the experience is better for it. LA is, by and large, boring to drive in. By compressing the city a bit Rockstar was able to get recognizable landmarks closer together and create routes that are more exciting to race on than the city’s primarily grid-based layout should warrant. Second, vehicle handling lands closer to arcade controls than simulation controls. The big difference here is handling. You’ll be relying more on slides than precision braking to execute turns.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles conveys an incredible sense of speed. Nowhere is this more apparent than in pickup highway races. You can speed up to a potential opponent, flash your lights, and take off down the highway while weaving through traffic. The high speed feel can make it easy to miss the plumes of smoke that denote event start locations, but the in-game GPS view more than makes up for it. When you bring up the GPS instead of bringing up a menu with a simulated GPS screen the camera zooms out to a bird’s eye view of the city and lays GPS information over it, with all effects from the game world are translated to the GPS view – including weather.
It pays to learn the courses as events start at random places on the city map instead of preset tracks chosen from a menu, and until you learn the routes you can count on missing turns and losing races because of it. After you learn the routes you can count on losing races because the AI is absolutely brutal. Regardless of what the AI is driving, it will be better off the line than your top-of-the-line sports car, and it will never lag very far behind. Midnight Club: Los Angeles makes you work for your victories, and it definitely isn’t for the easily frustrated or the chronically unlucky.
Where Midnight Club: Los Angeles really shines is in its multiplayer. Rockstar takes full advantage of the current crop of console’s online capabilities and offers standard races, capture the flag keep away, and many more. Getting into an online match is simple, too. Taking a page from GTA IV, all multiplayer is handled via the cell phone. Either invite your friends or accept invites on the in-game phone, and you’re ready to participate in events with your buddies online. Occasional pop-in was observed during 16-player multiplayer, but it only happened once, and it certainly didn’t make the races less fun.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles is a great racing game with just a few little sore spots. The cars handle believably, Los Angeles is a blast to drive around in, and the GPS menu is amazing. Earning enough reputation to unlock parts for purchase is a good system in theory, but the punishing AI serves to frustrate a bit, and it gets even more frustrating the further into the game you get. Thankfully the online multiplayer is great and fair, since a skilled player can actually pull ahead of the pack and a minor mistake doesn’t guarantee a loss. Fans of street racing are certain to have a great time speeding around Los Angeles, but don’t expect to come in first right off the bat.
ESRB: T for Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Violence, Strong Lyrics – no worse than a Need for Speed title
Pros: great GPS, authentic sense of speed, fun multiplayer
Cons: especially difficult single player
Plays Like: Need for Speed, Test Drive Unlimited