Midnight Club: Los Angeles Discussion
UK, October 1, 2008 - When we say Midnight Club is eye-wateringly fast that's no figure of speech. Sitting down with the game for an extended multiplayer session, our eyes narrow and begin to moisten as we push a Lamborghini Gallardo to its extremities, and Rockstar's 60-inch plasma TV almost seems to shake through the sheer speed onscreen.
We'll admit to being initially cynical about Midnight Club: Los Angeles -- the next game in a well-regarded series, there's no doubting that this HD debut is going to be a class act, but so far it has failed to kindle the kind of excitement that other racers have in our petrol-pumping hearts. Our first serious look at the game, however, suggested that it could be well worthy of more serious consideration. With an excellent rendering of the City of Angels, subtly tweaked to allow a tantalising roster of mutated cars to course through its neon-lit boulevards and winding side alleys, Midnight Club: Los Angeles is an open-world racer that struts to its own tight beat.
That's no less true of the multiplayer side of Midnight Club: Los Angeles, breaking cover here for the first time. With an online game that's kept separate from the single-player game, we were hoping that they would be as seamlessly integrated as the persistent mode pioneered in Burnout Paradise, but understandably marrying such a system with the game's newfound narrative would be too tall an order.
Instead, Midnight Club offers an array of options for up to 16 players, all presented with the same neat interface that fronts the single-player experience. We first take to the streets in a standard checkpoint race around the city, and our return to Midnight Club's Los Angeles reaffirms the game's credentials. Winding through the University Pass at night in a bulging Challenger muscle car, the lighting brings a nocturnal LA to life, as Midnight Club takes Grand Theft Auto IV's already impressive graphics engine and embellishes it with another level of sheen. The red lights of our opponents give off a warm glow as they hustle their way from point to point, with each marker laid out by a towering plume of coloured smoke that makes navigation painless.
Within seconds we're reacquainted with Midnight Club: Los Angeles' handling, which gives just enough freedom to allow it to carry the arcade tag with pride, while presenting just enough realism to make the task of handling some of the world's finest sportscars thrilling, and learning the right mix of brake and handbrake as you thread a vicious machine between lampposts and mailboxes soon becomes a compelling pursuit. The ensuing race is tight and violent, the pack sticking closely to each other through the wide boulevards and going door to door as they funnel into narrow side streets.
Our next race takes us to Figuoera and Grand, a jaunt around downtown Los Angeles that takes in some of the city's water canals. It's a chance to sample the bikes for the first time, and their handling proves as adept as their four-wheeled counterparts. Inviting more daring drivers to push to the edges, they're fairly forgiving while still providing a share of spills. Again the point to point racing proves close, as we move from seventh to first, and then thanks to a brief fling with a stubborn lamppost back down to a lowly fifth position where we ultimately finish.
We're witness to a more expansive track in the Laurel Canyon Run, a race that rushes along the open freeways that course the orbit of LA, and in spite of the perfectly adequate signposting that marks each checkpoint, we take a wrong turn and end up hopelessly out of touch with our competitors. It turns out to be a pleasant detour, however, as we take the opportunity to take a more sedate drive around the city. For someone who's to this day still smitten with Liberty City, the prospect of another fully fledged open world city to roam is enough to get our guts fluttering with excitement.
But back to the racing: We return with quite a kick as we're offered up the Lamborghini Gallardo in our first circuit race. Plucked from the upper tier of Midnight Club: Los Angeles' garage the Gallardo is a true beast, daring us to unleash its boost as our thumbs hover reluctantly over the nitro button. It proves remarkably well behaved when asked to corner, however, and behind its wheel we rack up our first victory as two laps of the Promenade circuit flash by. With nitro recharged after every lap, it's easy to be more carefree with boosting, and the racing produces quite an adrenaline surge as a result.
Having witnessed some of the more down-to-earth thrills within Midnight Club: Los Angeles, we conclude our session by sampling some of the eccentric quirks of the multiplayer mode. With the vehicles having access to a number of outlandish power-ups, the last few races of our multiplayer session play out like an urban Mario Kart. Cars are tooled up with weapons that can be picked up on-track, ranging from projectiles that freeze the opponents to blasts of electricity that power down nearby cars. It's not the only diversion from the straight-up racing -- there's a surprisingly well implemented take on Capture the Flag that proves frenetic, as gaggles of cars steam after the flag holder across the map.
Bolstered by a freerun mode, where players mingle and can setup their own races, and the ability to trade cars online, and it's an incredibly strong package that complements a compelling single-player game. On course now for a release at the end of October, there's no reason to expect anything other than the triumphant return of one of the greatest urban racers.
October 1, 2008 - Rockstar's Midnight Club: Los Angeles aims to bring high-octane racing in the streets of LA to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in a just a few weeks. Along with the seemingly-robust single-player experience, the game also promises a ton of online modes for players to compete in. I recently had the chance to get behind the wheel of a few of the game's more powerful rides and run up against a handful of Rockstar's testers.
Just as was the case with the online component of GTA IV (which uses the same engine), online matches can be set up to take part in a specific section of the city, but the whole world is open. So if you want to break off from the race, or go and hide if it's to your advantage, you can go anywhere you wish.
One of the first elements that I got a chance to check out is the race creator. Whether online or not, you're able to set up checkpoints for your own custom race. The cool part about this is that you can do it from the overhead view from the GPS, or you can do it "live" as you drive around the city. When the creator is active, you can simply hit a button to drop a checkpoint behind you, and then if you need to tweak things, you can head back into the GPS view and tweak things from there. Cool stuff.
The game itself will support 16 players online, and, regardless of how full a race is, the game runs very well. Despite the amount of traffic around (which can be a lot), everything works excellently. While 16 players is great fun, some hosts may want to set up eight or ten-player rooms as a full field can get really hectic. Not that that's a bad thing, of course...
Hopping online is a piece of cake, and you don't need to quit your single-player game to start or join a multiplayer game. You just hit Start, pick the Online option from the pause menu and away you go. Everything else is done from the same menu once you're online, creating a fairly seamless transition between online and off.
There are a number of modes available in the game, ranging from things like keep away to capture the flag to straight up races and more. As with the single-player game, races give you the option of either being based on checkpoints, where most everyone will take the same route, or being open-ended, where you decide your own path.
When you first join a multiplayer game or when an event ends, you're thrown into the host's open world to freely cruise around and just cause havoc with other online folks. This of course then gives you the freedom to come up with your own on-the-spot challenges, like perhaps a game of Chicken or a donut contest judged by everyone else in the game.
What's kind of cool about all of the events is that as long as the host allows for it, you're able to take either a bike or a car into battle. Bikes have the advantage of being more nimble and they can get through tight spots much more easily, but they'll also get taken out right away with a slight bump, which doesn't work incredibly well for keep away. Cars, on the other hand, are great for more brute force tactics, like grabbing the flag and piling your way through parked cars.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles is set to ship in just a few weeks' time, and the game looks rather robust from both a single and multiplayer standpoint. What I've played so far has been great fun, so you racing fans should keep an eye out for it.
The Hollywood Hills section of the website is up, it includes:
- video tour of Hollywood Hills
- pictures and video of the Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R V-Spec, 1971 Lamborghini Miura SV, Ducati 999R, 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302, and the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX
- bio of the local competition, Andrew
Multiple checkpoint races where the player must drive through checkpoints in the order that they appear. The first racer to the last checkpoint wins.
Multiple checkpoint races where the racers must complete several laps before reaching the final checkpoint. The first racer to the last checkpoint wins. In a Last-man-Out variant, the player in last place on each lap is removed from the race.
Multiple checkpoint races where the player can complete all checkpoints in any order. The first racer to the unique last checkpoint wins.
Single checkpoint races from one side o the city to a spcific landmark on the other side. The first racer to reach the landmark checkpoint wins.
Players must race to collect a flag and then return it to a drop off point while other players try to steal the flag for themselves. Once the flag has been dropped off, a new flag will spawn and the players must scramble for the next one. The player who has met the score limit or has the most captures when time runs out, wins.
A team-based Capture the Flag, in which each side has a flag that spawns in their base. The goal is to acquire the other team’s flag and bring it back to your own base. The first team to meet the score limit, or to have the most captures when time runs out, wins.
In this variation of team-based Capture the Flag, each side has a base and a neutral flag spawns right in between them. The goal is to acquire the neutral flag and bring it back to your own base. The first team to meet the score limit, or to have the most captures when time runs out, wins.
In this action-packed more, a cluster of flags spawns instead of just one. Players must seize and deliver as many flags as possible from this cluster to a specified stockpile point. Once all of the flags have been captured, a new cluster will spawn. The player who has met the score limit or has the most captures when time runs out, wins.
Note: Be careful, as there is a chance that one flag in each cluster may be a bomb. Players will not know which flag is the bomb-in-disguise until it is picker up. The player with the bomb must transfer it hot-potato style to another player by bumping into that player’s car before time runs out or else your score will be docked.
A team-based version of Stockpile, in which each team has a base and a neutral cluster of flags spawns in between them. Each team must seize as many flags as possible and deliver to the specified stockpile point. Once all the flags in the cluster have been captured, a new cluster will spawn. The team that meets the score requirement first or has the most captures when time runs out, wins.
A solitary flag spawns and each player must race to acquire it. The player who has the flag acquires points that accrue throughout time of possession. Once you capture the flag, flee and evade pursuers so they cannot steal the flag to acquire points themselves. The player who has met the score limit or has the most points when time runs out, wins.
ONLINE CRUISE/RACE EDITOR
Up to 16 players may enter Online Cruise and drive around the open city in a common session (complete with traffic), touring Los Angeles and racing with no rules. At any point, players may request a race (which gets entered into a queue if more than one race is requested at any time). If players do not wish to join the posted race, they may continue in Cruise or enter the online Race Editor without having to leave the Cruise session.
From the Race Editor, players can create custom races by setting waypoints around the city at will. Once your checkpoint path design is finished, simply add this race to the Cruise session queue, or save or exchange it with other players online.
The Beverly Hills section of the website is up, it includes:
- video tour of Beverly Hills
- pictures and video of the Mercedes-Benz S600, Audi R8, Mercedes-Benz S600 DUB Edition, Saleen S7, Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG and the Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster
- bio of the local competition, Booke
October 20, 2008 - Rockstar's bread and butter may be a little series known to some as Grand Theft Auto, but the world of Liberty City isn't the only open world creation the company has up its sleeve. Indeed, Midnight Club has been tearing up the streets of the world for years, and the latest iteration is upon us in the form of Midnight Club: Los Angeles.
The game marks the series' first appearance on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and with it comes some pretty impressive visual work, very cool uses of scale and an extremely quick racing experience. The game has a whole lot going for it, and racing fans would do well to check it out. However, it's not perfect, with a few bumps in the road here and there that keep it from being the undisputed king of the streets. Contender though? Most certainly.
Let's start with the city of Los Angeles. Rockstar San Diego has done a fantastic job of bringing the city to life in the game, a version that isn't exactly like the real thing (the whole city would be boring to drive and just too big), but features all of the highlights that you would expect to see here. If you know your way around LA, you'll feel right at home here.
But accuracy isn't the key, it's how much fun there is to be had, and here the city scores huge points. With plenty of shortcuts scattered throughout the thing, lots of interconnecting freeways and even a smattering of winding back roads, the variety here is about as vast as you could hope to see in a single city. The number of simple squared blocks is kept at a minimum as well, ensuring that you won't just be driving down straight roads for more than a block or so.
Despite all of the landmarks scattered about, it'll still take you a while to learn exactly where everything is, especially with regards to being able to hit the shortcuts in the middle of a race. For the most part, the race markers (the giant blooms of smoke that act as checkpoints) on Ordered Races and the like do a good job of pointing you in the right direction, though there are times where the markers are tucked around a corner when they should have been placed at the corner to help you know you need to make the turn. While you can always refer to the overhead map in the corner of your HUD, you're driving so fast that taking your eyes off the road for a split second means certain death.
Your other alternative to navigating the world is the GPS system, which is practically stellar from top to bottom. When you hit the button to bring it up, the game's camera pans straight up from your car and up into the clouds. When you return to the game, it does the opposite, seamlessly dropping from the sky right back down to your ride again.
From the GPS view, you can zoom in and out to get a closer look at the city to help you find shortcuts. Day and night as well as the current weather conditions are reflected here as well, which gives it that extra little touch to let you know that it's live and not pre-canned. Race markers are shown here, as are events that you can join in, marked cars that you've found and can compete with, and pretty much anything else that you'd want to find.
I do have a couple small complaints for it though. While you can zoom in and out and pan the camera, you can't control its orientation. When you zoom in, the camera automatically straightens out a little bit, making it harder to see where some hidden paths are, especially if they're behind buildings (as the whole thing is 3D). Secondly, though the events on the map are color-coded as to their difficulty, the event selection screen that you can bring up while in the GPS doesn't show you where an event is located, and once you pick it the game puts you right back in the action. Sometimes you want to head to the next closest main objective, and in that case you'd have to rely on the overhead view and ignore the event selection list. Again though, these are somewhat small complaints of an otherwise fantastic menu system.
As for the racing itself, Rockstar San Diego has once again done a great job with the handling, general physics and overall feeling of the driving. Cars (and bikes, for that matter) kick and squeal when you hit the gas, and then take off in a plume of smoke. The controls are intentionally not as tight as what you'd find in Burnout, for example, making you rely more on powerslides for taking turns, and this works extremely well.
The differences between each of the cars in the game is also great. Muscle cars handle very differently from tuners, and both handle very differently than the exotics. Muscle cars are generally the hardest thing to handle in the game, but they're also incredible fun, making the tradeoff from going with a steadier ride totally worth it.
The event variation in the game is generally very good, with everything from time trials to delivery missions (essentially time trials with damage penalties), series events and much more are here. The story is quite basic, as it should be, and does a good job of staying out of the way of your progression. Speaking of staying out of the way, the game keeps you in the seat of the car at pretty much all times. Race results come up in a little pop-up window that pauses the game for just a second, and once you've OKed the results, you're back in control again. Aside from tinkering with the GPS system to plot routes, you'll never feel like you're disconnected from the race experience for more than a couple seconds, which is great. You can even race to the starting line of most every race, which once again helps get you right into the action without any waiting.
You will, however, have to deal with the cops, and they can slow down your experience a bit. If they catch you speeding, you can just pull over and pay a small fine (or choose to drive away as the cop approaches your window and enter a full-on chase), but anything more than this will result in a chase.
This, however, brings me to my biggest complaint, which is a very simple one: the game is just too damn hard. After the first few tutorial events, you'll find yourself having a hard time finishing first in most any event. Even if you do, most events are Series races, which means you have to win more than once to actually win, so you can't just get lucky once and then move on.
The problem here is two-fold: firstly, the AI scales to your vehicle, but pretty much no matter what, they're faster than you off the line. Starting with your beat-up car, you'll get burned, but it may just seem like you need a couple upgrades to catch an edge. Drop some cash on some new parts, and you'll find that the AI has done so as well and will burn you again. Upgrading cars won't help -- even the guys in the opening races will wind up having Lamborghinis and Corvettes if you go out and earn enough cash to have something similar. Even vehicles that shouldn't be able to keep up can -- hopping on a Ducati with lightning-quick acceleration will still get beat by a 'Vette off the line.
While the scaling would normally be fine, it's the rubber-banding that makes the races as hard as they are. The AI will take off and stay a good 500 feet in front of you for the bulk of the race. If you can manage to catch up to them, you'll likely just see them hit the boost and fly right past you again. Even if that doesn't happen, racing anything less than perfect on the second half of the race will result in a loss. While the game may let you catch back up with a crash early on, you'll never get far enough ahead to be safe, and it takes long enough to catch up that you're doomed if there's only a couple minutes left and you bite it.
While that may make it sound like you'll never be able to advance, that's not true. Everything you do, be it escape the cops or even finish last in an event, will earn you reputation points. Rep goes towards earning you new driving titles (like Rookie, Racer or Elite), and also earns you the ability to buy new upgrades and cars. A lot of the content is locked at the start, and will only be available for purchasing once you reach certain Rep levels, even if you have the cash for it. I personally feel like I should be able to buy a new engine any time I'm willing to hand over the cash, especially since the AI compensates for it, but that's how it is.
One way to sort of cheat the system is by way of highway races. To start these, you simply find someone willing to race on a highway, flash your lights and you're off to whatever the goal happens to be, weaving in and out of traffic on your way. You can beat even red (the hardest) opponents in these events by flying up behind them and flashing your lights just before you pass by, and then using one of your abilities to slow them down, like an EMP. It's not incredibly exciting to grind cash and Rep like this, but it does work.
While the single-player difficulty level certainly could have been set lower, your true test of skill is real people, and, fortunately, Midnight Club: Los Angeles has a number of great online options. Getting online is a breeze -- hit Start, select Online and then your preferences from the little pop-up menu and you're off and running. People who invite you to their game or start events will show up on your phone, and you just hit one button to accept their invites and you're all set.
The mode options are as varied as you could hope for, with everything from straight-up races to Capture the Flag to Keep Away and much, much more at your disposal. By and large, the online play is very smooth, but in maxed games with 16 players I did notice a time or two where cars popped off of the screen (with a flag in hand, no less). This doesn't happen incredibly often and seemed to only happen with full 16 player game, but smaller games have worked flawlessly for me.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles is a great racing experience with a few mars on its paint job. The cars handle fantastically, the city is nearly perfect, the GPS stuff is awesome and customizing your ride is great. It is way too hard, however, even right from the start. Rep points help to make sure you progress even if you can't win anything, but it's annoying to keep coming in at the end of the pack and rarely nabbing the top of the podium. Fans of street racing, and especially the Midnight Club series in general, will find a lot to like here, but don't expect an easy time on the streets.
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