Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

When we last saw Rockstar San Diego's Midnight Club: Los Angeles, way back at the Leipzig Games Convention, we walked away impressed. Pissed that we weren't allowed to actually drive, but impressed. Thankfully, E3 wasn't a total bust, given that we got to spend a good hour playing the Xbox 360 version of the newest Midnight Club.

It's really too bad our illegal street racing skills weren't up to the challenge. Sprinting through Sunset Boulevard in a Mazda RX8, then through the Hollywood hills in a late '60s Ford Mustang Boss 302 showed that, while we were thrown a couple of "REP" points here and there, we have a long way to go before actually having a respectable racing reputation.

Fortunately, we looked pretty good, even when finishing fourth.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

That's largely due to the game's deep car customization system, not our (or our in-game driver's) physical beauty. In Midnight Club: Los Angeles' garages, you can spend your hard-earned dollars on new performance enhancements for your ride. Using real world name brand aftermarket parts, you can upgrade your acceleration, handling and speed via the purchase of new electronics, air intakes, nitrous tanks and more.

You'll also be able to tap into your vanity's performance, decking out your car with new paintjobs, new headlights, new doors, even new interior components. Tired of that dull stock steering wheel? Throw a MOMO on it! Those interior changes can be gawked at via the cockpit view camera choice.

I turned a rather attractive stock Aston-Martin V8 Vantage Roadster into a hideous purple and orange glowing beast, complete with vertical doors and every garish accoutrement I had access to. (I had access to everything, via unlimited God-mode funds.)

There's also a rather substantial "vinyl editor", one that let's players create a look unlike any other. It looks to be on par with custom exterior editors found in titles like Forza Motorsport 2, with default stickers and customizable primitives at your editorial disposal.

In the Midnight Club: Los Angeles' garage, you'll also be able to choose your driver's "special moves." These special moves, as described by Rockstar themselves, are as follows.

* Zone allows you to slow down time in order to take sharp turns or weave in-and-out of traffic like a champ!

* Agro will give your car added strength and the ability to damage opponents faster, or sometimes knock them completely 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 electromagnetic pulse that shuts down the engines of the cars around you, bringing them to a complete stop.

We tried out the EMP, the latest addition to the line-up of super moves. Fortunately, the electronics shorting blast radius doesn't affect your ride, so, after creeping up on a cluster of opponents, we fired it off. After seeing the tail end of opponent's rides for a good portion of our races, we took great satisfaction in watching them spin out — perhaps a bit too much, as we went hood first into a building right after.

It might've been the sightseeing that distracted us, actually. Midnight Club: LA's edited down versions of Hollywood, Santa Monica and downtown LA look almost exactly like the real thing, minus the rage-inducing traffic the city is known for.

There are dozens of recognizable landmarks, with stylized versions of the Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills and the Santa Monica Pier chockablock with detail, including billboards of licensed products like iPods and T-Mobile Sidekicks, as well as landmarks like The Comedy Store and even the hotel we were in during our demo.

The city looks so startlingly realistic that I tried to find my way to my neighborhood — not quite the stuff of street racing — but was unsuccessful. While the feel of LA is certainly intact, the roads have been carefully redesigned for a more fantastic driving experience.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Oh yeah. The driving. We took part in a quartet of races, some initiated by simply finding competition on the streets and flashing our headlights. We then sprinted off to a the starting line, having the option to actually race to the starting line. This pre-race race will net you more REP points, used to gain access to higher level races, but is totally optional. The sprint to the starting line can be skipped if you so desire, but we found the spontaneous thrill of beating our competition to the meeting point was worth it not just for the extra points. At the very least, it's a nice warm up.

We tooled all around town through our four races. Our first formal race, Sand and Surf, took us from the beaches to the freeway. Mulholland and Beverly saw us driving through the winding hills of Hollywood before heading down to the Valley. Macarthur Cut took us from downtown to the LA River, a misnomer of a racing venue that might be familiar to fans of Terminator 2's more epic chase scenes.

Each felt unique and frenzied. Midnight Club: LA's dynamic camera, which switches to an over-the-shoulder style view when hopped up on nitrous or coming off a slipstream drafting high, combined with tire-spinning peel outs makes for a white-knuckled rush. It's somewhat difficult to see what you're actually racing toward, it's so fast. Our decked out cars may have had something to do with the feeling of untamed car control, and we'll blame our many crashes and last place finishes on that.

What we didn't get to tackle were Midnight Club: LA's motorcycles or the LAPD, both back in the newest iteration. We'll just have to wait until the game is released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this year to do that. The game hits October 7th in North America and October 10th in Europe.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS

Midnight Club: Los Angeles Hands-OnS