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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Midnight Club: Los Angeles (Playstation 3)

Rockstar's latest underground street racing title, Midnight Club: Los Angeles, brings some fairly interesting technical achievements to the table while delivering the fast-paced action players have come to expect from the series. Taking place in an expansive and surprisingly realistic recreation of Los Angeles, the game allows players to progress up the ranks of street racing underground, create an impressive garage of customized vehicles and take on the police in dramatic chases. Midnight Club isn't the most original game on the market, but it delivers a slick experience with offers exciting, challenging racing action highlighted by a surprisingly deep story mode and excellent production values.

Those who played previous titles in the series will probably find a lot of familiar elements in Midnight Club: Los Angeles. The game's street racing pedigree remains very much in evidence, and some of its trademarks, such as the large flares that dot each racing course have been carried though from previous installments. It's structure and initial impressions are fairly interesting in how they diverge from earlier games. You now have complete control in how the game unfolds and can compete in races and challenge series in your own pace. It's open ended structure immediately sets the game apart and gives you plenty of options. Players can choose to compete almost immediately in arcade mode, or go on a cruise to explore the city. However, racing other drivers and competing in series is the only way to increase you cred, earn money and take vehicles from opponents. You begin racing on the street and can use your GPS to locate other racers and challenge them. Once located, you can race to the starting line of the race or go there automatically. The races themselves offer both point-to-point and lapped courses, along with landmark races and more. When you're driving around, the level of each racer's difficulty is indicated on your GPS, allowing you to choose how difficult you want the race to become. There are single race events, tournament and series modes available. You earn money for each race you win, and can gain additional awards, unlock additional parts and win other drivers' cars by challenging them one-on-one. This gives you plenty of variety in terms of how you race, allowing you to build up your cash and street reputation at your own pace.

The game's slick production values are impressive throughout. For example, Midnight Club: LA's GPS interface is slickly designed and fits in with the game's overall vibe perfectly. It's easy to use and allows you to locate other drivers while you're cruising around the city. It seamlessly transitions during the race and helps to indicate routes you need to take during the race. Players can also use the GPS to find out where the cops are lying in wait when they're on the run from a police chase. While the game's pace is quite fast on the road, it's interface is also quite immersive. Instead of watching a static load screen, the game zooms out to an overview of Los Angeles and zooms back into the action, which makes for a much more seamless experience. Once you get on the road, you can use the vehicles' in-car GPS to find a route, which locates the next marker. It's important to hit all of these sections, so you need to be alert and look ahead. Some of the earlier races are fairly simple, but later on the routes can become a bit more complicated. Once you begin to win races, you can use your money to customize your vehicle in both performance and visual aspects. You start with a low end vehicle that can win initial stages, but you need to trade up to faster and more powerful cars if you want to get anywhere. The game offers a wide selection of vehicle types including production, sports, tuners and bikes, with actual vehicles from manufacturers included, which gives Midnight Club an authentic feel. There are dozens of vehicles and hundreds of parts, so you can create a completely unique racing machine without much trouble.

Midnight Club's open-ended structure is possible because of its impressive recreation of Los Angeles. Every major section of the city from Long Beach to Hollywood and Beverly Hills has been faithfully reproduced and exploring the city's roads, highways and streets shows how richly detailed the environments are. There's realistic lighting effects used for both day and night racing, with excellent reflections on the vehicles' glossy finishes giving the game a slick look. Special effects such as the blurring used when you implement your Nitrous attacks give the game a hyper-realistic feel that creates a heightened sense of intensity and drama. The game's excellent graphics engine never slows down, and its consistent and fast frame rate creates an amazing sense of speed and style that never lets go. Players can select from either in-car or external viewpoints while they race, though the first person views are the most effective. It looks especially fantastic in HD, with the traffic lights and blurring streets popping off the screen. The in-game racing sequences are complimented by extensive cut-scenes and frequent updates on your cel-phone while you drive help to keep you immersed in the storyline, and other drivers will goad and trash-talk you as you drive, which gives you plenty of the Rockstar attitude and humor. Midnight Club: LA's plot and storyline are decent enough with an interesting storyline that unfolds as you win races, encounter other drivers and meet up with the game's multitude of characters. As you'd expect from Rockstar, the music offers an excellent mix of techno, hip-hop and rock tracks which fits the vibe and feel of the game perfectly. These parts work together to create an immersive and exciting street racing experience that mixes believable characters with high-octane racing sequences to make for an action packed racing title with plenty of action and a surprising amount of depth.

Even though many of the elements on display in Midnight Club: LA have been seen in other racing titles, its overall package remains impressive. It's open-ended, expansive sandbox approach allows you a great deal of freedom to explore the city while offering a seemingly endless number of racing challenges. The surprisingly deep vehicle customization options and huge selection of cars gives you plenty of variety. A slick GPS-style interface is easy to use and helps to immerse you into the storyline, while the production design helps to make the already minimal load times seem almost nonexistent. It's the gameplay that matters most, and once you get behind the wheel, you'll find an intense and challenging racer that tests your skills to breaking point as you weave in and out of traffic at incredible speeds. Midnight Club's responsive controls make driving a smooth experience, and it doesn't suffer any slowdown, making for some incredibly fast and intense gameplay. The addition of police chases only adds to the intensity. Midnight Club's immersive storyline where you gradually work your way to the top of the underground only enhances its depth, making this an excellent experience if you enjoy the street racing genre.   

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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