Midnight Club has been around for quite some time, but I must confess that the series has sort of flown under my radar in recent years. With series like Gran Turismo, Need for Speed, Forza, and Burnout dominating the field, it is easy to forget about Rockstar’s gem of a series. The Midnight Club franchise has always been known for its open world system and cool representations of real-life cities. As you might expect, Midnight Club: Los Angeles focuses on the street racing capital of the West Coast, and it brings plenty of attitude to the automotive genre, the likes of which has been missing for quite some time.
The game begins with the introduction of an unnamed character who has moved out to LA from the East Coast. He is trying to make a name for himself in his new location and has a few contacts to get him started. The character will receive mission updates on his mobile phone, and new challenges will be posted on a GPS HUD. The game is structured a lot like GTA, and the open world of LA, much like Liberty City, feels like it is right at your fingertips despite being quite expansive. You can mark important destinations or drivers on your map, and the GPS will guide you to new story events and races without being too pushy.
Although Midnight Club: Los Angeles’ story is not that earth-shattering, it bears mentioning simply because it helps to engage you in the world of Los Angeles culture. You’ll meet plenty of interesting characters during races, and each of them will represent a common LA stereotype. The whole thing really connects you with whom you’re racing, which is a trait that is lost in games like Gran Turismo, where you race cars instead of people. This title is really brimming with personality, and that is probably its best quality.
But, enough about the story; the most essential facet of any racing game has to be the mechanics. At heart, Midnight Club is more of an arcade style racer, with an emphasis on speed and racing strategy. However, there are quite a few sim elements included in the game, including an emphasis on precise cornering and powersliding. Still, the controls are very easy to pick-up-and-play despite the game having a very steep learning curve.
While going through the regular story mode, you will encounter many different kinds of races, each tied to specific missions within the game. Tournament and series races are the most prevalent at first and consist of you taking a number of opponents head-on for a small amount of cash. However, as you build your street cred, you’ll be able to participate in wager and pink slip missions, which allow you to put either your money or your ride on the line in the hope that you will get a bigger payoff in the end. However, the most fun race mode in Midnight Club: Los Angeles has to be the “Payback” races, which are similar to the “Marked Man” races in Burnout and have you trying to take down other drivers instead of just passing them.
The online mode in Midnight Club: Los Angeles is very similar to the online modes in Burnout. The menu is accessible in-game and you can choose to play online at anytime during the game, even when you are in the middle of a race! You’ll be able to join a ranked or unranked match immediately from the menu, but to get the full online experience, you can choose to “cruise” online. This mode puts you on a track with up to 16 other players where you can challenge them to custom matches around the city. In addition to the regular races found in the game, there are also special online battle races, including a “capture the flag” mode, where you have to shuttle flags from enemy territory and a “keepaway” mode, where you have to hang on to a very volatile flag. Although these modes certainly are adventurous, it is generally more satisfying to run the regular place-based modes online.
The garage in Midnight Club, while not as expansive as those found in Gran Turismo or Forza, features a nice assortment of muscle, exotic, and luxury rides. Makes include Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Volkswagen, and series newcomers Mazda and Ford. Although there are only about forty cars to unlock, the garage features a nice representation of racing staple cars, and completing your garage is definitely hard work. The game also has three different motorcycles that you can unlock: two Ducati and the ever-popular Kawasaki Ninja.
One thing that I greatly appreciated about Midnight Club: Los Angeles was the way it reaches out to those who find themselves blindsided by the game’s intimidating difficulty. Even though you may routinely come in third or fourth in races, Midnight Club does not punish you for this. Generally, progress in the game is determined by earning “street cred” by racing against certain opponents. So, even if you come in dead last, you will still get credit for actually finishing the race and will not have to re-do the race until you get first place as you would in other titles. Instead, you will just have to participate in more races, which is probably a good thing if you are still adjusting to the game’s difficulty.
The graphics in Midnight Club: Los Angeles are very good, and the game does a great job of bringing the city to life. Different iconic landmarks and buildings throughout the game have been integrated seamlessly, and chances are good that if you know your way around the real LA, you’ll have no trouble getting around here. The cars in the game also look very good and have just the right amount of shine.
However, the crash physics in the game aren’t so good, and the way that your vehicle will take damage is a little unrealistic compared to other titles. For example, if you smash into another car head-on, the front of your car will be completely untouched, however, your windows will shatter, and your car temperature will heat up. Although this is somewhat of a minor gripe, I feel as if the crash physics are becoming an increasingly important component of the automotive genre, and as the current generation of consoles moves forward, you can’t just get by on last console’s rules, even when it comes to minor details like car crashes.
The sound in Midnight Club: Los Angeles is quite good and recreates the unique LA music scene well. The soundtrack consists of tunes from well-known West Coast artists like Nine Inch Nails, Beck, and The Chemical Brothers. Even if the musical artists aren’t exactly your style, the soundtrack really helps get you into the world of the game. The actual automotive sounds are also very good and feature realistic engine and traffic sound effects.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles is certainly an excellent game and has proven itself as a must-own title for fans of the automotive genre. Sure, it doesn’t have the grandeur and scope of the Gran Turismo series, or the freewheeling mayhem of Burnout, but it does bring a style all it’s own to the genre. With plenty of rides, modes, and personality to spare, this title is definitely worthy of having a spot on your automotive mantle, as long as you’re up to the challenge!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Graphics are very detailed, and the city of Los Angeles looks very nice. Car crash physics could have been improved, however. 4.4 Control
Control scheme is fully customizable, and steering mechanics work very well. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack really nails the L.A. music scene and features many rap, hard rock, and techno tracks to get you in the mood to race! 4.5 Play Value
Story mode is very deep, and there are plenty of missions to complete. Online functionality is very intuitive and features some interesting and fun alternative modes. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.