From the first second we glimpsed the scabby, multi-coloured Volkswagen Sirocco that would become our four-wheeled friend for the foreseeable future, we knew that we were going to love Midnight Club Los Angeles. Not just because we owned something pretty similar, with its primer-painted doors and scratched bodywork, when we first got hold of a driving licence, but because when we finally got the opportunity to fire up the seven-litre V8 of a $580,000 Saleen S7 it would be all the sweeter…
Getting to the stage where we could cane such high-speed exotica through a highly-detailed recreation of LA, of course, requires something very important in the world of Midnight Club – reputation. A currency that can only be earned by taking on and beating the best street racers the city has to offer in point-to-point, traffic light or circuit races. Or by leading a troop of police Crown Victoria’s on a merry chase – occasionally on two wheels – through back alleys, shopping malls and parks in order to evade a spell behind bars.
If this sounds familiar to previous Midnight Club games then guess what – you’re right. While other titles in the street racing genre may have been nipped and tucked and turned into something different each year, Midnight Club Los Angeles is definitely an evolution rather than a revolution. Developers Rockstar San Diego obviously knew they had a winning formula, so have been perfecting their art of free-roaming street racing for the best part of a decade. And you can tell.
That’s not to say that Midnight Club Los Angeles has rested on the laurels of its success with Midnight Club: DUB Edition. In fact, as this is the first in the series on current-gen technology, Rockstar San Diego have been given the perfect excuse to make Midnight Club Los Angeles the best in the series.
Most notable are the impressive production values. DUB may have been a rappers delight of bling-tastic proportions, but MC LA has been given the full GTA treatment, extending beyond the use of its RAGE Engine; a full cast of characters in storyline cut-scenes, a pounding soundtrack and an eclectic collection of cars and bikes that most of us would be more likely to have as posters on our walls rather than, sadly, in our garages.
You also won’t fail to notice the seamless gameplay. Rockstar San Diego have clearly worked hard to provide an uninterrupted gaming experience. Okay, so the freedom to zoom out from your car to a full city overview in order to locate your next challenge might have been something we’ve already seen with the likes of Test Drive: Unlimited and Burnout: Paradise. But Midnight Club Los Angeles has presented a game with loading screens you can count on one finger and only the briefest of pauses before you enter your garage or plot-driven event.
Either way, you’ll be spending a lot of your time down on the tarmac and in the action. Here, you’ll not only be driving through every hour of the night and day but through different weather conditions too. If you don’t know the streets of LA already, you’ll soon start to – even though they’re streamlined versions created for optimum racing entertainment.
Obviously, these new additions would count for very little if the driving experience was underwhelming. But if you’ve ever played a Midnight Club game before, the arcade handling will be more than familiar.
Po-faced simulation is nowhere to be seen. Instead, outlandish power-slides, outrageous handbrake turns and seat-of-your-pants traffic dodging is combined with a weight to the cars that requires a degree of driving skill that prevents MC LA being written off as a lightweight racer. Something that’ll be further reinforced after you’ve hung onto a screaming superbike and darted through obstacles that threaten to turn you into man jam.
Adding an extra layer of strategy to events is the return of ‘power-up’ skills from DUB Edition. Only this time, Zone, Agro, Roar and new skill EMP (which briefly disables surrounding cars) can be applied to any vehicle. So, if you fancy a bike that can smash other vehicles out the way, well, there’s nothing stopping you…
Some might argue that the ‘street racing thing’ peaked a couple of years after The Fast And The Furious and every publisher with two pennies had a game where you could stick neon lights under a car. But think about it – how many are there now? The original Midnight Club not only pre-dated the aforementioned film but has survived since relatively unchanged – something only a truly competent racing game could do.
By sticking to its roots, Midnight Club Los Angeles may not be a master of innovation, but as one of the most polished, finely honed and adrenaline-filled racing games, you won’t find any that do it better. You’ll love your time in the City of Angels...