Jul 24, 2008

See that fast-approaching blur in the rearview? That’s Midnight Club: Los Angeles, about to pull into the garage of an Xbox 360 or PS3 near you. So rather than bore you with a standard hands-on preview, we broke MC:LA into 10 bite-sized chunks of awesome we found impressive. Give it a skim, busy reader. You’re bound to find something that gets your motor a-runnin’.

1. This IS LA...
Like it or loathe it, the photorealistic City of Angels is yours to tear through. Sure, it’s gorgeous, with all the next-gen glitz we’ve come to deserve, but the devil is in the details. As much as we generally bitch about in-game ads, the actual billboards, vendors and landmarks provide authenticity, creating a living, breathing city that, say, Burnout Paradise lacks. Populating the city with actual people doesn’t hurt, either. You can stay in touch with vocal competitors with an in-game cell phone that helps organize events, and there are even pedestrians to avoid. Or not. (“I think I just ran over Harvey Weinstein!”)

On a personal note: During E3, I spent my some real time in LA after my hands-on with Midnight Club and was shocked to find myself recognizing spots from my demo. It’s hard to believe a game could act as a tour guide, but there I was uttering crap like, ”There’s that Coffee Bean I almost crashed into.” and “Oh crap, I’m standing in a shortcut!”

2. LA is f****ing huge!
The ads are just as unobtrusive as the ones in GTA, so before you go screaming about capitalism run amok, understand that they also do wonders for helping you recognize exactly where you are in this sprawling metropolis of a racetrack. Midnight Club’s Los Angeles is roughly the same size as the last game’s three cities combined! Only now, those pesky load times are a thing of the past. If you see some hot-shit wheelman cruising around anywhere, hit him with your brights and cue a race at any time. Which brings us to...

3. Streamlined, baby

We’re not talking about just the cars. Once any challenger pops up on your radar, you flash them with your headlights to start up a race. We spotted a hotrod on the freeway, flashed him, and a high-speed Freeway Race started lickety-split. However, most Street Races require you to zip to a starting location.

Don’t care to race to the race? You don’t have to. You can skip straight to the starting line, although careening to an event location offers more opportunities to gain Reputation points, which are used to unlock tracks, missions, etc. And hey, you don’t have to complete every event to progress, so no pressure.

4. Arcade/Single-Player Synergy
You know the drill: You’ve got a single player campaign that lets you roam around an open-world environment with some story elements for immersion’s sake, and an Arcade mode that lets you jump straight into events. Well, now you don’t have to worry about starting over from scratch in one after playing the other, because they're integrated together. All the money, cars and Reputation points earned in any of the 10-plus race types are transferable to and from either side. Plus, Arcade mode lets you customize stuff like time of day and traffic flow, and there’s a nifty Hollywood-esque cam that throws you seamlessly from a satellite-view into the driver’s seat. Whoosh!

5. Oh yeah! There’s cars.

Carrying over a welcome tradition from Midnight Club: DUB Edition, MC:LA’s got plenty of licensed cars. Forty of ‘em, to be exact, under the categories of Tuner, Muscle, Luxury and Exotic. And as in previous installments, we’re also getting bikes this go-'round.

We got to test-drive an Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster (Exotic), and an exquisitely tricked Mazda RX8 “Shinka” (Tuner). But for a more delicious treat for car geeks, we got to paint the pavement with the spiritual twin to Steve McQueen’s ride from Bullitt, a '69 Mustang Boss 302 (Muscle, derr).

6. DUB All-stars
Just because this edition doesn’t come with the legendary custom-car magazine emblazoned across the title, it doesn’t mean they’re not involved. DUB magazine will be contributing as-yet-unnamed whips, tricked out exclusively for Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Downloadable content has never seemed so likely.

7. Gas up
Ordinarily, no one is ever happy to pull up to the pump, but breezing through one of the many stations scattered about LA can repair a damaged vehicle mid-race, as well as refill nitrous. But you’ll have to go back to your Performance Shop for intensive repairs, and/or any fine tuning.

8. Ye Olde Performance Shoppe
Think of Midnight Club’s gas stations as a quick fix, like dressing a wound on the field of battle. But oh, the Performance Shop. Accessible from two garages, this is where you’ll finely hone your vehicle to the highest of specification. Splurge your hard-earned cash on premium parts and tires to enhance performance, or sufficiently pimp your vehicle with the ridiculous amount of cosmetic customization. Spoilers, decals, vinyls - it’s all here. Plus, you can stretch, skew, alter and affix designs to your heart's content.

Even the interior of your car has absurd amount of custom options. Of the numerous camera settings, of course there’s an adequate view from the cockpit. So, if you want a mahogany steering wheel with neon-pink seats, that’s your business, mister.

9. A little bit Special
Midnight Club sits comfortably between hardcore sim and arcade racer, but what else could they do to expand the appeal? Well, MC:LA’s got some field weapons (though luckily nothing as asinine as a blue turtle shell). The three Special Abilities from DUB are returning, only this time they’re interchangeable with any car, one at a time.

To refresh: Zone lets you slow time for impossible weaving, Agro turns your car into a brutal melee weapon, and Roar sends a shockwave that shoves cars off the road. But the newcomer, EMP, gets all technological and emits an electromagnetic pulse that temporarily shuts down the engine any chump unfortunate enough to be around you. It’s like having “the pinch” from Ocean’s Eleven nestled snugly under the hood.

10. Take it online
Since Midnight Club was one of the first console racing games to do the genre justice online, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network support is a given. Rockstar is tight-lipped about how it will take shape - but they’re Rockstar. That’s their nature. However, you can expect the Rockstar Social Club to double in usefulness. The Rate My Ride feature will let you compare and critique customized creations. Particularly jealous of somebody else’s car? Lack any inkling of artistic talent? You can buy designs off other people online using in-game cash.

In case you couldn’t tell, Midnight Club: Los Angeles has us excited. We’ll have more info for that ass as we get closer to the release date; the game streets Oct. 7 in the US, and Oct. 10 in the UK.


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