Once you have your ride pimped out like you want it, you can jump into the in-game map and use the GPS to set a course for one of the races around town.
You can take on other racers cruising the streets, or attend race meets at certain locations. When you see someone cruising you simply flash your lights at them to initiate a challenge and away you go.
Races are divided up into checkpoints, circuits, point to point races, time trials and freeway races. You will be able to race in tournaments and series, for pink slips or for money. Let's be straight, this all sounds a bit like any other street racing title, so what’s new other than the spectacular environment and graphics? Well, Rockstar has included power-ups for online and arcade modes. You can either race with them or without them, but they are surprisingly fun. These include Ice, Nitro, Pulse, Reverse Steering, Shield and Stealth amongst a few others. Basically the effect of these is to slow down or hinder your opponents, but they are implemented so that the effects are not too overwhelming, so as not to ruin the racing.
During the normal career mode you also have a number of special abilities. These are Nitrous Boost, Agro, Zone, EMP and Roar. Nitrous is self explanatory and can be refilled by passing through a petrol station. The others refill from good driving without contacting other cars. Agro allows you to plough cars out of the way without taking damage. Zone slows time and allows you to dash through small gaps. EMP disables the competitor's electronics, and finally Roar sends out an engine rev so loud that traffic will move out of your way briefly, which is very helpful on the freeway. What is clear is that given the AI you're up against, you will need all the help you can get.
The AI in Midnight Club: Los Angeles is very challenging. They are not that hard to beat if you race a good clean race and know your courses, but a mistake which leaves you spinning out of control may well mean race over. If it happens early enough in the race it does seem as though you can claw your way back, but in the final stages, you're done for. We found we were winning a substantial number of our races, but we were using the race restart function almost as much. Then again, who says an AI has to be a walk in the park? They race competitively and strongly, but they do make mistakes as well - even if it does seem that they recover substantially faster than you do. It raises the entry curve for this title just that little bit higher.
Multiplayer is accessed from the smooth in-game menus and allows you to get into a race in a very short time. This seems to have been modelled on Burnout Paradise’s online mode to a large extent. Basically you can race anywhere in the city, or simply cruise the streets with some friends challenging them as you please. You can create your own races by setting up the way-points, meaning the game has an endless array of possibilities in this respect. There's a spectator mode for when you are waiting to join a race, and some interesting game modes such as "Capture the Flag", "Basewar Capture the Flag", "Stockpile" and "Keep Away", amongst others. We published a more comprehensive look at these a short while ago, so you can get up to speed here. All of these are flag based game modes, but very different variations and they should keep the online mode very interesting indeed. The games we were able to have mainly off-shore with Americans were relatively lag-free and were easily playable. Much like with the AI however, a mistake can be fatal and it is difficult to come back from it.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles is an excellent street racing title. The world is simply enormous, and the graphics are jaw-dropping. The game is like a merging of Burnout Paradise and the Need For Speed series. The customisation comes close to that of Forza 2, with even more body and interior modifications. The game itself however seems to have very little to it that is unique or innovative, despite the fact that the cars feel exceptional. The question is, when the environment and the cars are this hot, does it need to be? We think not, and if you can get past the challenging AI it is an excellent title that will provide you with many hours of entertainment.
We have several videos available for Midnight Club Los Angeles - head over to GP Downloads to take a look.