Midnight Club Los Angeles Review: The Fast And The Infuriating

Midnight Club, now in its fourth major release, lands on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, giving us Rockstar San Diego's first foray into flashy, illegal street racing on current-generation consoles. The series heads to the west coast with Midnight Club Los Angeles, bringing with it a new, realistic representation of southern California's smoggiest city, which happens to also be Midnight Club's biggest location to date. With a more open-world environment, "next-gen" graphics and extensive online integration, has Rockstar given us a reason to renew our membership to the Midnight Club?

We pay our dues to see how Midnight Club Los Angeles finishes the race in our review.

Loved
Perfectly Mutated LA: From the dirty, sun-bleached streets of downtown Los Angeles to the sandy beaches of Santa Monica, Rockstar San Diego has almost perfectly captured the visual essence of the city, slightly mutating it into a workable race track. The roads are wider, the traffic more manageable, and everything is self-contained, comfortably rounded off. In-game marketing, like the T-Mobile Sidekick you'll use to chat with other racers and billboards for iPods and Bulgari, is well implemented and largely inoffensive.
Easy Upgrades: Look, I don't know from cars. Swaybar? Wuzzat? Fortunately, Midnight Club Los Angeles makes upgrading your ride easy — there's even an auto upgrade option if you can't be bothered to peruse your clutch, gearbox or electronics improvements. Cosmetic tweaks won't affect the speed or performance of your cars or bikes, so go nuts with the extensive decal and paint system.
Cars Feel Great: Tuners, muscle cars, bikes and exotics each have a distinct feel, letting you choose which type of ride best suits your driving style. Vehicle upgrades are surprisingly noticeable, too.
Excellent Online Multiplayer: Hashing it out online with 16 other Midnight Clubbers can get a bit hairy, but capture the flag modes like "Stockpile" and "Keepaway" make for hectic, trash-talking fun. Straight up multiplayer races will keep you coming back after the single-player storyline has run its course.
Thrilling, White Knuckle Racing: There are few races or tournaments easily won in Midnight Club LA, making for heart-pounding, fist-pumping finishes. The "cinematic" camera angle — which we eventually turned off for the "classic" — provides an awesomely kinetic perspective on the action. There are no license tests here, there's just pure speed. However...

Hated
Maddening Difficulty, Ruthless AI: ...the game is arguably just too damn hard. Midnight Club titles aren't known for their simplicity — and who wants to win all the time? — but your competition in Los Angeles is ridiculously good. Always. Tournament races can be especially frustrating, as two wins, followed by a series of crushing defeats at the hands of insanely good CPU drivers, may make you throw the controller. Fortunately, race restarts, which don't penalize, are quick to load.
Awkward Map Interface: Zooming from bird's eye to street level view is a fantastic visual trick. While it's aesthetically pleasing and simple to use for waypoint setting, bringing up a workable map of the city either obscures your view of the road or must be fiddled with to suss out the proper path.
Where Am I Going? What's That Thing I'm About To Crash Into? It's often difficult to determine what's in your car's direct path. Is that a ramp? A train car? Nevermind, I just crashed into it at 90 miles per hour. Sometimes there's just too much visual noise on-screen, resulting in horrible, placement-killing crashes, something that never, ever affects your AI competition. Further adding to the frustration is the often obscured visual marker that tells you where you're going next. With no time to look at the mini-map, a single blown turn can take you from first to worst.

Rockstar's kinder, gentler, street-level criminal series may be short on plot and light on the number of cars included, but it's nothing if not a solid, arcade-style driving game. Its production values ooze style while managing to provide a solid iteration on an aging series. Midnight Club Los Angeles is not for the easily frustrated, though, as the game's intense difficulty can't be overlooked. Should you have some open space on your pre-holiday gaming calendar, it's worth looking into, but only if you don't mind a Ninja Gaiden caliber challenge.

Midnight Club Los Angeles was developed by Rockstar San Deigo and published by Rockstar Games, released on Oct. 21 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Retails for $59.99 USD. Played single player mode to completion and tested all online multiplayer modes on Xbox 360.

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