I really have no significant knowledge about cars. I know how to keep them clean, put gas in them, and air up my tires. For some reason, getting into the nitty-gritty of automobile mechanics has never really interested me. Because of this, I prefer more acardey style racers than true sims. Midnight Club Los Angeles fits this bill a lot better than other racers, but overall suffers from a higher difficulty setting.
Marking the first appearance on a next gen console, the game contains a high amount of graphical detail although the core gameplay has remained mostly unchanged. Sticking with the free roaming aspect, players are free to travel around a very realistic portrayal of the popular city on the west coast. Although not 100% accurate, the developers have done a remarkable job implementing the look of the city into the game. This aspect is even further enhanced through the use of a day and night cycle. Cool looking weather effects act as a sturdy feather in this game’s cap as well.
Like in previous Midnight Club games, the player cruises around the city, looking for races. When you find a potential race, the player must flash your headlights, and in some cases, even race to the starting line. All the typical race modes are here: race from Point A to Point B, finish first in a time trial, checkpoint around the city, damage other cars by knocking into them, etc. Doing these tasks may be fun, but just like in real life, the cops will chase you down if you do something illegal like speed, hit another vehicle, or drive erratically.
Completing races earns the player money, and above all, respect. Earning enough respect rewards the player with more challenges and new vehicles (cars and motorcycles), more “pimping” abilities, and other upgrades. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time, patience, and effort to unlock new items. It won’t be uncommon to play for a couple hours without unlocking anything.
One of the biggest flaws with this title is the disproportionate difficulty. The game tries to color coordinate challenges according to difficulty, but challenges that are designated as “easy” are usually just as trying as the “hard” ones. This balancing issue has a lot to do with AI behavior. Rarely will your computer controlled opponent make a mistake, often reaching the finish line with a flawless run. The player, on the other hand, will constantly collide with other vehicles including ones that are parked. More often than not, this will cause the player to do a 180 degree turn, giving your opponents an impenetrable lead. Even the smallest of driving errors will assure that the AI takes home the gold.
One big part as to why the computer AI dominates is due to the fact that the player does not have access to a functional mapping/radar system. Having the game zoom out from an overhead view of a GPS and taking it down to the street level is impressive, but the GPS system never gives the player directions on what street to turn on or where to go…which actually defeats the whole purpose of having a GPS system in the first place. This mapping system only tells the player your current location and where the final goal is. If there was some type of breadcrumb trail option, like the one found in Fable 2 for example, then the AI difficulty might not be as challenging. Because there is no good way to plot your course from Point A to Point B, the player is left with one of two options: just wing it, or constantly pause the game after every turn. This puts gameplay more on the tedious side.
These problems are only present in the single player mode, however. Participating in one of the many online multiplayer modes is bound to provide a more evenly challenging match as everyone is at the same disadvantage. Besides the typical racing mode, online mode opens up new matches like CTF, Keepaway, and Stockpile. There is even an option to create your own style of multiplayer matches. But perhaps the game’s biggest user generated bragging rights lie within the car showroom mode. Here, players can upload their pimped out rides where other online members of the community can rate, and even buy, your vehicle online. I personally found it hilarious that my first car, which is composed of the two ugliest colors the earth has ever seen, get rated better than some tricked out rides.
I found the game’s built in soundtrack to be a little more on the offensive side. The over abundance of hip-hop music started to make my ears bleed within the first 20 minutes of gameplay. Depending on your personal tastes, you make want to create your own custom playlist by ripping music to your console’s harddrive, or by having a radio or CD player nearby.
If you like fast paced racers that are more on the arcadey side, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t give Midnight Club LA a try. Just be warned that the gameplay formula has not really changed so veterans might find that been-there-done-that flavor quickly entering their taste buds. The challenging AI cannot be overlooked either, making this game one that is not for everybody. But if you can look past the gameplay flaws and enjoy implementing your own custom soundtracks, then you might find cruising around LA an entertaining experience, especially if you take it online.