With a popular and established set of street racing games under its belt, the Midnight Club series has come a long way to reach its 2008 iteration, Midnight Club Los Angeles. The draw is wonderfully straightforward - make one of the most engaging racing games out there in one of the most detailed recreations of a city created. The result is naturally... dazzling.
Singing the LA blues
Midnight Club Los Angeles is about the marriage between course and car. The emphasis on making the City of Angels a suitable place to race, with numerous parts taken from the real place and mixed with artistic licence makes for a refreshing blend of excitement and true to life recreation. Places such as Mulholland Drive and Santa Monica come to life with their various nuances, fine-tuned for playability.
While various billboards and shops are instantly recognisable, Midnight Club LA achieves a lovely level of detail and smoothness that draws you straight into its world. Simply put, the city looks alive, with all its bustling civilians, street light illumination, flora and landmarks, all of which can be explored at your leisure in the free roam mode.
The environment does its best to envelop you as well, with day and night cycles, weather than can change at any moment (and thus change the conditions of the race) and traffic levels that are affected by the time of day. Complimented by excellent lighting to give head and tail lights a neon streak, and motion blur to help convey a convincing sense of speed, first impressions of Midnight Club LA are impressive.
The basic career mode puts you in the metal pedal pushing shoes of an unnamed protagonist looking to make a name for himself by taking on other drivers in a variety of races. Success means higher rep points and money - leading to more missions, story progression, and a greater class of cars to try out and enhance.
The police are around to make sure you don't ruin this lavishly portrayed city, too. Break the law in front of them and expect a high speed chase as the fuzz attempt to pull you over. They can be evaded with some skilled driving - it just may take longer than you expect as they pull out reinforcements and pile on the pressure, making things difficult for you and rival racers.
And given the wealth of competitions to compete in there's a strong chance you and the police will be having rather frequent conversations. The layout of the city means contests can be anything from a race to the nearest red light to a blistering freeway checkpoint battle, as well as taking part in tournaments, delivery missions and spontaneous challenges from passers-by over your mobile phone. The open nature of Midnight Club means any number of these can be available at one time with varying levels of difficulty, so it's your choice as to what you want to tackle.
The size and variation of Rockstar Games' title means there are a number of elements in it to keep you racing. Cars make way to unlockable bikes, vehicles can eventually get power-ups to give you an edge, other modes such as the Goal Attack and Race Editor (where you can create your own custom checkpoint races) are engaging, and the online mode is deep in both gameplay and game types, offering regular matches, Capture the Flag, and even a Rate My Ride feature to see how your machine stacks up against others around the world.
Nice touches such as the radio banter between drivers as they pass each other and stylistic moments of slow motion for big crashes add to the polished package, strapping you into the game's slick world and taking you for an enjoyable spin.
Midnight Club Los Angeles comes equipped with a wide range of vehicles, a well realised location, lovely presentation and fast, playable gameplay. It certainly packs a challenge, too. The engine is all revved up, the paintwork gleaming and the streets are ready. Midnight Club LA is just begging to be driven. Don't let it down.