'Get your motor running ...head out on a highway'
Let's face it. The Xbox really in all honesty should be called the racing box. It has most certainly become one of the premiere console machines for racers with AAA titles such as Moto GP 2. Project Gotham Racing and Rallisport Challenge just to name a few. Not only that but more are on the way, but fear not because a top quality racer is available now and not only is it one of the best racing games released on the big black box so far, it also features online play.
Midnight Club 2 is about the street racing scene portrayed across three unique cities; Los Angeles, Paris and Tokyo. Your aim is the become the world champion street racer but before this is achieved it is likely that you will endure both highs and lows as well as a few tough racers. This game is tough and as an almost smashed Xbox controller can testify, frustrating at times.
Midtown Madness 2 brings out different comments from different people. Some people love it and some people dislike it. The team behind Midtown Madness 2 are the team behind Midnight Club 2 and are now known as Rockstar San Diego and it shows. There are a few similarities to the Midtown Madness franchise but the game has enough unique content to stand up on its own two feet. For instance modes such as Blitz and Checkpoint racing appear to have been taken from the other franchise but the career mode is all new.
The career mode forms the bulk of the single player game. You start off as a wanna be street racer with a car that could easily be defined as pathetic. To win cars you have to defeat the various personalities of the street racing scene in each of the three cities. If you have ever played Street Rod (an old VGA PC title from about 15 years ago) then racing for pink slips will be nothing new to you. Win the race, win the car but unlike Street Rod if you lose you keep your car. The difficulty in this section primarily stems from the fact that you will be challenging higher performing cars with your inferior model. As you progress through each race and eventually cities, the races become tougher and tougher before culminating in a race against either the city champion or world champion.
As you have probably guessed, using an inferior model car gives you quite a disadvantage. This is why the game encourages using not so ethical methods. Cars can crash through certain buildings, jump off ramps and basically do what they can to win. The aim of the game is to get to the finish line first and the game doesn't care how this is obtained. Before each race, characters will like to give you some smack talk and even once defeated will talk down to you. It's an aesthetic addition that doesn't really offer to much to the overall game other then give the characters of each city a place in the spotlight. To challenge characters, players must cruise the city flashing high beam lights at them, once challenged its on for all money and the race commences.
Other modes include blitz, arcade race and cruise. Arcade race is a stock standard race around a track but does include tracks which aren't included in the career mode whilst cruise allows you to drive around each unlocked city learning shortcuts and other paths on the way to victory. As if that wasn't enough, the game also includes a race editor, however its quite restricted in that checkpoints can only be placed at pre-determined grid co-ordinates. It does add to the replay value of the title immensely however.
Whilst the developers have not licensed cars for this game (primarily due to the fact that these cars can be obliterated), many of the models bare a striking resemblance to some of the more famous street racing cars. Some models look like the Toyota Supra and Nissan GTR. However doing this has allowed the developers to include a fairly robust damage model. Cars will take visual damage but this does not affect the performance of the car. The only time a player will be affected greatly is if the car explodes, it takes around three to four seconds for it to be replaced with a new one. Unfortunately the cars can not be customised at all which takes away some of the realism in comparison to the street racing scene. Midnight Club 2 also features motorbikes for the first time which adds a new flavour to veterans of racing games.
One thing that must be mentioned is just how tough this game is. At first I felt it was a walk in the park but the difficulty level rises very quickly after about three or four races. If you don't have the patience to concentrate for five and a half minutes without error then perhaps its better to look elsewhere. The insane difficulty at the end of the game really does take a lot of the fun out of the racing, which is a shame as up until then it is one of the most addictive racers you will ever play.
Multiplayer is offered in split screen, system link and Xbox Live. Unfortunately with Live not available in the land Down Under as yet (2 months and counting) we were unable to check out this portion of the game, but if the multiplayer split screen is anything to go by this should be one of the more popular titles once the service launches. In split screen the game does seem to cut the frame rate to thirty frames per second and it is quite noticeable in comparison to the single player game.
Midnight Club 2 may not win any awards for best graphics or graphical innovation on the Xbox but the Xbox version is most definitely the superior of the three available console ports. Lights shimmer in the night, nitros burn from behind the cars and damage occurs both in the environments and on the cars themselves. The cities are detailed to the nth degree and look superb. It is entirely possible that you could use a real life map of Tokyo, Paris or Los Angeles and be able to make your way around the cities. Each has major landmarks such as LAX Airport and the Eiffel tower. These landmarks can become crucial during races as they can be used as guides especially at top speeds.
Midnight Club 2 as mentioned before is one of the best racing games for the Xbox thus far. It does become quite difficult towards the latter stages of the game and requires a significant amount of patience, but if you can endure that and love racing games (in particular street racing games) then here's the keys to your new machine.