In the late 90s a small studio named Angel Studios wowed the PC audience by developing Midtown Madness
for Microsoft, the world’s first city-based racer. No longer were gamers confined to magical barriers or inane track layouts, in fact the gamer was encouraged to trek his own path towards the goal by any means possible. Thus the street racer was born, and while the grandfather of the genre has since been relegated to the Xbox, its legacy lives on via Rockstar San Diego, Angel Studios’ newly christened moniker.
And while Midtown Madness
redefined the way that gamers looked at racing games the original Midnight Club
was seen as just another mediocre racer. It had some pretty intriguing elements and features but in the end it was just another racer that tried to add on to the MM
legacy. Enter Midnight Club II
, a title that not only builds upon the necessary components but also adds some of its own to add for a unique and entertaining racing experience.
Plot development isn’t exactly the number one concern when it comes to racing games so you’ll be able to forgive MC2
if it’s a little shallow in some areas. Essentially it’s the videogame equivalent of the major motion picture The Fast and the Furious
right down to the seedy characters and the tweaked-out vehicles. It’s not a complete recreation of that movie’s backwards universe so you won’t see Asians rolling around on motorcycles as they wreak havoc on White guys in imports but there are a few Mexicans in Imports so it’s still pretty damn close. We've already delved deeper into the game's premise in our reviews of the PS2
versions so I'll refrain from beating that dead horse.
There are a few modes at your disposal including the requisite Cruise, Arcade, Career and online gameplay modes. Cruise pans out just as you would imagine, allowing you free reign amongst the game’s cities without having to worry about other racers. The Arcade mode allows you to participate in races on either a set of predetermined courses or ones that you create via the in-game checkpoint editor. Then there’s the meat and potatoes of the game, the career mode, which has you racing against other street racers to prove yourself worthy amongst their ranks. To flesh things out there’s also an online component that features a more stable network code than the PS2 and Xbox versions.
Racing in the game consists of roaming around giant cityscapes in search of checkpoints that are sprawled across the landscape. Initiating a race requires you to drive around the city and flash your high beams at one of your rivals. After that you’ll have to follow them to a specific point and then engage in a series of races with them. Beating them in the races will earn you their respect along with their vehicle. As you may imagine, the further you progress in the game the harder and longer the races get. Winning them, however, will yield you a faster and more powerful vehicle than the one you currently have.
When all of the rivals in a city are beaten you can progress to the next city. You’ll start out in a condensed version of Los Angeles, head on over to a better version of Paris and end in an amazingly designed recreation of Japan. The difficulty curve is amazingly intuitive because the prior levels do a great job of preparing you for the next. As you play more and more through Los Angeles you’ll learn tactics and maneuvers that will help you succeed in London and so forth. Personally I haven’t seen a racing title do such an excellent job of preparing the gamer for what lies ahead while giving them an enjoyable experience.
To spice the experience up a bit
Rockstar San Diego has added some outlandish maneuvers that us men drool over in the movies. During the course of the game you’ll receive upgrades that allow you to transfer the weight of your vehicle in the air, prop your vehicle up on two wheels for close quarters driving, nitrous boosts, and a unique take on the drafting element of racing. All of these play a crucial role, especially the drafting which essentially gives you another nitro when performed correctly.
Using a set of physics that were loosely constructed around real-life constraints Rockstar was able to come up with some controls that are realistic yet enjoyable. The blend between simulation and arcade is superb and it lends for a great racing experience that’s both fun and believable. Where the game really succeeds though is in its sensation of speed. Whizzing around a corner at 90mph feels like 90mph and in most circumstances you’ll never have full control of your vehicle as you weave in an out traffic. It’s an exhilarating feeling you’ve probably dreamed of but were never able to feel until now.
The problem here is that the controls were obviously designed with an analog capable joypad in mind. Even the slightest tap on the keyboard will send your vehicle off course. After that it becomes a back and forth tapfest as you try to right your vehicle on the road. It’s also difficult to make turns with any sort of precision and more often then not, you’ll even up in the side of a building instead of on the pavement. Control with a wheel and pedal setup doesn’t improve matters much either. It’s too difficult to steer your vehicle while pressing the buttons required to perform the special maneuvers at the same time. If you’re thinking about picking this version up make sure that you have the excess cash to invest in Logitech Rumblepad, well if you value your sanity that is.
Most of the races are fun but frustrating. Murphy’s Law plays a huge role in the midst of these races because chances are, if anything can go wrong it will go wrong. Whether it’s general traffic ramming you off the highway for no reason or a big rig that happens to block that hard to make turn at the last second, it seems like the game gets off on watching you fail. The latter races are long too and usually fall between five to ten minutes in length. Imagine having to start over because you missed one lousy checkpoint nine minutes into the race when one of your opponents gave you a love tap for no reason. It’s a frustrating experience at times yet an addictive one. You’ll probably find yourself wanting to throw your controller or keyboard across the room but you can’t because you’re so intent on winning the races. I guess it’s a winning combination but I could see it sending a couple of hundred people into anger management classes.
The audio was never a strongpoint in the console variants so it comes as no surprise that the sounds in this version are subpar as well. Support has been included for EAX but to be truthful there’s no noticeable difference between the EAX and Miles 2 settings. Overall sound quality is weak and the music tends to be drowned out by the less than stellar engine effects. It seems like the audio engineers had problems mixing the audio to blend at appropriate levels. In the end the ambient noise drowns out both the engines and the music. Of course this makes absolutely no sense seeing as how 99 percent of the drivers (including the audience that this is marketed to) tend to have their music up so loud that they can’t even hear the sounds of their motors. It's just too bad that the engines don't drown out the obnoxious "taunts" that your opponents throw your way. A nice addition to the PC version is the ability to use your own MP3s. Now you won’t have to be subjected to the game’s second-rate Fast and the Furious soundtrack like those console saps.
Speaking of consoles it’s heavily apparent that the game was ported from the console realm to the PC realm. The process didn’t appear to be a smooth one though as there are some huge problems in terms of optimization. Sure the textures are more crisp and visible on this version but it comes at a huge cost. On the 800x600 setting the game brought my P4 2.4 GHz to its knees and made it its bitch. It’s not that the game is a visual tour de force either, by PC standards this game is well below average. The architecture of the buildings is boxy and archaic while the vehicles, even the player ones, could benefit from a few more polys. All models are of low quality and look nowhere near as good as what one would expect from a PC title. More problems arise with the game’s horrendous draw distance which brings back visions of Sim Copter
to my mind. It doesn’t really have an adverse affect on the gameplay but seeing some lights flicker and objects appear out of thin air can be real distracting at times.
Again with all of these visual deficiencies that game is still an enormous resource hog that completely dominated my system. What’s strange is that the frame rate’s inconsistency doesn’t appear to be triggered by one specific type of object or action. It just sort of happens at the worst possible time, like when you’re trying to make a hard right while going 130mph. It’s not the fault of my system either. If you need a frame of reference my system is fully capable of maintaining some smooth frame rates on Unreal Tournament 2003
with all of the settings maxed out. Again, I wouldn’t exactly consider a title like Midnight Club II
to be on the same visual level as an Unreal Tournament 2003
so you can understand my plight.
I also had a few compatibility problems with my GeForce 3 Ti200 as there was less than stellar performance and an abundance of texture tear and corruption. In another oddity the game would crash when I tried to change my resolution from the default 640x480 setting. Downgrading to the latest WHQL certified drivers seemed to solve the trick but considering I haven’t had any problems with other recent titles the error seems to reside in Rockstar’s technology and not in my video card.
Aside from the control and performance issues Midnight Club II
is still a solid racer that’s worth checking out. Make no mistake about it, it’s a port of the PS2 and Xbox variants and aside from the MP3 capabilities, is nothing more and is somewhat less. If you already own one of the console versions then do your best to stay away but if you’re strictly confined to the PC then you just might want to check it out. Probably not the enhanced port that many were expecting but a decent one nonetheless.