Midnight Club: Los Angeles has one point: racing. Not the closed course GranTurismo kind, not the road course Need for Speed kind. MC:LA is about racing through the city of white, winged creatures almost any way you want -- the same way you'd actually race through an actual city, if you did such a thing, but you don't because that's illegal.
And more than time and money, MC:LA is about the reason that real street racers do their things: reputation. And you get the reputation you want by winning.
The next in the series of Midnight Club racing games has settled in one city, but in its scope and detail, it's plenty. To be precise, the LA we're talking about is the rectangular space bounded by the ocean on the West, the 101 up north, the 110 on the east, and the 10 on the south.
Rockstar, the developer and publisher, spent a lot of time creating a city that could be identified as the real thing, even down to specific buildings and traffic patterns. It's not photorealistic -- flying down Beverly Boulevard you'd be forgiven for thinking, "Hey, I don't remember that picturesque, grassy alley being there..." But as a guy who lives in LA, it was neat knowing which streets I'd take to win a race.
The cars in lead photo are headed south on the 110, coming up on the exit for the 10 freeway. The signs over the northbound lanes are the signs you'd see if you were actually on the 110. Blaze eastbound on Sunset past Crescent Heights, and you'll flash by Chateau Marmont on the right, The Standard hotel on the left. The Standard's sign is even upside down, just like on the real deal. Granted, it's not the moon landing, but it's pretty cool.
Rockstar even studied traffic patterns, and time of day factors into the game as well. Traffic gets thick during rush hour. Take your car to the garage at noon and play with it for a long while, and the sun will be low in the sky when you come back out to resume racing. Admittedly, back to that pic above, the 110 is never that empty during daylight hours, but sometimes reality is overrated. And remember, this is about racing...
There are twelve different kinds of races, some of them being get-to-the-finish-anyway-anyhow, some of them with checkpoints you have to pass. Even with checkpoint races, how you get from one checkpoint to the next, or in some races, the order in which you pass the checkpoints, is up to you.
As the game begins, you're new in town, and you have one burden: win. Or at least finish races so you can get reputation points that will unlock cars and goodies, and cash to buy parts and upgrades. You get rep points no matter what position you finish in, which means you will never race in vain. And at the end of hours... and hours... and hours of racing, you'll end up LA's head cheese racer. Or you might end up with some sore thumbs, maybe a broken controller, and a new record for 4-letter words.
When you're ready to throw down, you choose the kind of race you want, then start it by cruising the city until you find another racer. They're identified by icons that hang over their cars, and it won't take long to find one. Flash your lights at him or her, and it's on. If you're in for the full fat experience, you'll race your new foe to the start line of the official race. You don't have to, and it won't get you any cash, but if you do it you'll get rep points. At the start line, you'll be doing one of these things:
- Circuit Races: Ordered races with multiple laps.
- Unordered Races: Checkpoints in these races can be cleared in any order you want. When all checkpoints are cleared, a final red checkpoint will appear. First one to the final checkpoint wins.
- Freeway Races: Freeway racers exclusively race on freeways. You simply need to match their speed and flash your lights to immediately start a race.
- Time Trials: These are events where the same vehicle is used to set the best time for a particular race.
- Tournaments: A tournament is a multiple racer event where points are awarded depending on how each opponent finishes. At the end of the tournament, the racer with the most points wins.
- Red Light Racer: Red Light Races are one checkpoint races that start at the nearest red light and finish at a landmark on the other end of the city. There are no checkpoints, and racers can take any path they choose to the finish.
- Series Races: Series Races are collections of races run from Hangouts across the city. The first racer to win 3 races wins the series.
- Wager Races: These races are a way for the player to bet money on races. The amount wagered will set the difficulty of the race. Wager races are one-on-one races.
- Pinkslip Races: Pinkslip races allow you to bet your vehicle against opponents. You cannot engage in a pinkslip race unless you own more than one vehicle, and if you lose, you can always win back up to three of your vehicles from the Hangout.
- Delivery: Deliver cars from the Hollywood Garage to their owners within the target time to receive your payment. Be careful not to damage the car though, as the damage you take will affect your delivery fee. A perfect delivery will double your payment.
- Payback: Help the mechanic pay back clients who have come up short on their bills. Borrow the mechanics vehicle from the Beach Garage and inflict damage on the target's vehicle.
- Telephone Challenge: These challenges are received on your T-Mobile Sidekick. If you accept the challenge, you get to see the details and layouts of where to race through your GPS. The challenger will meet you there.
There are forty cars in four classes: tuners, luxury, exotics, and muscle cars, and there are motorcycles as well. The cars are rated based on acceleration, speed, and handling, which means that, again, this isn't about GT5 levels of physics reality. You can upgrade your car to the limit of those three characteristics, as they apply to that car. For instance, the fastest Gallardo will be faster than the fastest Mazda RX-8.
Damage registers on the car, but it doesn't severely affect performance. Remember, the point is to race, and Rockstar knows you'll just restart things if your Z06 starts to handle like a jalopy. Major damage can be fixed at any gas station, but to get all of the guardrail scrapes out and refresh the paint you have to return to the garage.
There is a damage meter, and if you let it get completely red, your car stops and your race is over. But it takes astronomical abuse before you get to that point, and if you flip that many times in one race you should probably put the controller down.
Special moves have carried over from Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, but in MC:LA you can choose any special move for your car, rather than linking moves to car types. The moves are:
- Zone allows you to slow down time in to take sharp turns or weave in-and-out of traffic
- Agro strengthens your car and means you can damage opponents faster or knock them out of the race
- Roar sends a shockwave that clears your path by pushing cars off to the side of the road
- EMP is an shuts down the engines of the cars around you bringing them to a complete stop.
There are also police. Pass one going the speed limit, and it's all cool. Fly by one -- or dive down by the LA River -- and they're all over you. But they aren't only after you, they're after any racer. Outrun them, and you'll get more rep. Get caught, and you pay a fine according to your speed. The best part: if the police are chasing you when you cross the finish line, the race might be over, but the police chase isn't. You might have come in first, but if you get caught you'll be spending that dosh on your ticket.
The car customization garage is broken in two sections: the performance shop where you can tweak acceleration, handling, and speed by buying parts; and the paint shop, where you can custom design the look of your car inside and out with an absurd number of options and colors, and a vinyl editor.
Two last notes on that: the many of the parts in the performance shop are branded -- for instance, you can have your tires say Bridgestone or Pirelli on them -- but the brand doesn't affect the performance of the tire. MC:LA has also added a cockpit view to the game -- the Vantage we played looks just like the real deal -- with just as many options for customization. But since this is about racing, it all comes with a saving grace: the purple-into-black metallic fade Vantage with the V8 vinyl on the side, yellow and red interior, and riding on 24s, was just as fast as any other Vantage out there. But it looked faster.
MC:LA looks so good, we've already ordered our own PS3. Now we just need a game to play on it. (Hint, Rockstar...)
Midnight Club comes out October 7 in the U.S., October 10 in Europe, for the Xbox360 and PS3.