The criticism that has always been leveled against this type of racing game is that with so many different city streets (and hidden shortcuts) it's incredibly easy to get lost or accidentally make a wrong turn. Unfortunately this is still the Achilles ' heel of Midnight Club: Los Angeles. On one hand it's a double-edged sword; you want the city to be fully realized and full of intersecting streets and shortcuts, but the more complicated the city is the more overwhelming the experience can be when you're driving at breakneck speeds. It's hard enough to keep control of the car and dodge traffic without having to also look at the tiny map to make sure you didn't miss your turn.
Some recent open-world racing games have managed to find ways of getting around this impediment. Burnout Paradise, for example, featured a number of visual and audio cues to help you navigate through the city at full speed. This is not the case with Midnight Club, instead you're forced to pay attention to one of two different maps or try and memorize every street and intersection of Los Angeles, California.
This problem goes from bad to worse when you find out that your opponents are insanely difficult to beat. If you've played a racing game in the past twenty years you already know about "rubber band A.I.," the artificial intelligence that somehow allows the other racers catch back up no matter how far ahead you are. Unfortunately this is done to the nth degree in Midnight Club: Los Angeles. In truth you can never get too far ahead of the pack, by the time the finish line is in your sights you'll have the rest of the racers right on your tail. This can create some really tense finishes, which can be very exciting to play. However, at the same time it's a little too easy to accidentally mess up and not be able to recover in time. Worse yet, since every race is close at the end, this means that the only times you would use your limited power boosts is if you crash and need to regain speed or right at the finish line. The way the computer-controlled characters race is a real problem, it turns an otherwise fun experience into something incredibly frustrating.
The good news (if there is any) is that after awhile you stop noticing the game's unfair difficulty. After a few hours of play you'll start unlocking newer, faster cars and know the ins and outs of the city. By the time you buy your first motorcycle you will have all but forgotten the difficulty. Unfortunately you will be reminded of it here and there, but for the most part the hardest segments of the game are right up front. Even if the game does still have all of the AI problems late in the game, you will barely notice them when you're unlocking new vehicles and taking control of the races.
Contrary to the title, not all of the street racing happens at midnight. Instead this condensed version of Los Angeles has a standard day cycle, which includes the sunrise to the sunset and everything in between. Although you can race during the day, Midnight Club: Los Angeles feels a lot darker than what we had in Burnout Paradise. However, that may have more to do with the fact that at the time I reviewed Burnout Paradise there was no day/night cycle, but rather one sunny day locked in place. On top of the different night and day lighting, Midnight Club also features the occasional rain storm, which definitely looks cool and can affect your car's stability.
The graphics in Midnight Club: Los Angeles are good, although they are a little less polished than some of the visuals found in the competition. For those who have been to Los Angeles, there are plenty of cool real life surprises found around this virtual city. The overall graphics definitely fit the tone of Los Angeles, from the color to the landmarks. What's more, by including a lot of the outlining areas you are able to race through a lot of different looking environments. For example, it's always fun to go from the claustrophobic corridors of downtown L.A. to the sandy beaches of Santa Monica and then up to the long and windy hills of the Hollywood Hills. Even if we're not visiting far off parts of the world, the developers at Rockstar San Diego have done an excellent job of making each section of the map feel unique.
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