Reviewed: November 16, 2008
Released: October 20, 2008
Rockstar’s Midnight Club series first hit the scene shortly after the launch of the PS2, a precursor to the release of the industry-changing Grand Theft Auto 3. That first title – simply called Midnight Club Street Racing – was a groundbreaking title for the racing genre, eschewing the linear gameplay of most racers of its day.
Over the course of the subsequent three releases; Midnight Club II, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, and the Greatest Hits expansion Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix, the series moved from being an over-the-top cartoon-style racer, to a dark and gritty street tuner’s dream featuring real-world rides and hundreds of combinations of performance enhancing upgrades. The latest generation of Midnight Club comes in the form of Midnight Club: Los Angeles, and the subject of this review; the PSP optimized Midnight Club: L.A. Remix.
The first thing gamers will notice about L.A. Remix, is that the game looks fantastic on the PSP’s small screen. True, it might not touch the artistry of the current console releases – but L.A. Remix looks every bit as good as a PS2-era Midnight Club title, and moves even faster.
Both playable cities – Los Angeles and Tokyo – look realistically gritty and feature highly detailed backgrounds. Both cities hide a ton of unique shortcuts to help shave seconds off race times, as well as numerous hidden nooks and crannies in which the developers have hidden bags for those of us who have a jones for collecting.
On the sound front, the game features a full soundtrack of licensed rock, electronic, and hip-hop tunes organized into radio stations that can be selected and/or combined at will. The game also features a slew of voiceovers that react to action onscreen – berating you for sideswipes, and laughing at misfortunes. As these quips need to be loaded from the UMD, they often lag far behind the actual events, and it is not unheard of to be in first place and have an opponent three cars back informing you that you need to catch up.
The racing itself is fast and fluid – encouraging gamers to be heavy on the handbrake in order to achieve efficient drift lines around the sharp corners. The gameplay starts off a bit on the easy side, but quickly ramps of the difficulty as the gamer amasses cash and Reputation points.
The races come in a variety of forms ranging from simple start-to-finish open world races, to start-to-finish checkpoint races, to lap-based checkpoint races, to unordered checkpoint races, and a few more to boot. Races are initiated by either driving to designated intersections, or finding challenger vehicles cruising about town – a simple flash of the headlights, and the race is on.
While the Reputation points are a definite necessity for progressing through the career mode, most gamers will be attracted to the cash – which is used to purchase and trick out vehicles in the in-game garage. The game features dozens of real-world rides (a feature that was only recently afforded to the Midnight Club series), and the modification options are fairly staggering – ranging from simple appearance based changes, to a wide variety of performance upgrades. It only takes a few races to save up for significant changes, but many of the upgrades are only unlocked through gameplay – which forces gamers to keep progressing through the racing stages.
L.A. Remix is not all roses though – there are a few thorns that can put a snag in the fun. Not the least of which comes from a very unexpected feature; Midnight Club: L.A. Remix is too fast. What? Too fast? Yes, too fast. Maybe not at the beginning, with the initial VW Rabbits and Honda Civics, but once the gamer hits the point where the game is doling out sports cars and supercars, the game gets so blindingly fast that the gameplay becomes an old school bumper-car game. This is not helped by the fact that the oncoming traffic is often very difficult to see until the final moments before impact. Sure, the game has some nicely rendered crash scenes, but seeing them every five seconds of race time becomes a drag.
The other snags are fairly trivial; long and frequent load sequences, an awkward map and GPS setup, and a complete lack of infrastructure (online) multiplayer. While the first two are more the fault of the hardware limitations, the lack of online multiplayer falls completely on the hands of the developers. And it is a shame that this feature was omitted, given the active online communities that sprang up in the previous Midnight Club releases.
There are a handful of Ad-Hoc multiplayer games – all of which are a blast – but finding one gamer, much less three gamers, in the area with his or her own UMD, is all but impossible. Maybe if the developers included an option of Gamesharing – Race Driver did, folks – then it would be forgivable. As it stands, L.A. Remix’s multiplayer is a flop.
Still, all gripes aside, handheld racing games do not get much more impressive than Midnight Club: L.A. Remix. If our major complaint is that a racing game is too fast – well, that’s something most hardcore gamers are willing to live with.