Midnight Club II
Fast and furious arcade racers always have the potential to be wildly entertaining, but can this highly anticipated sequel charge up the adrenaline level? Come on in to find out.
By Ben S. Dutka
The original Midnight Club was released right around the launch of the PS2, and gave owners of the shiny new system something to admire. While it wasn't the greatest racing game in the world, or even the greatest arcade racer, it still had a great deal of appeal for those that had even the faintest interest in the underground world of street racing. However, now that the sequel is here, the competition is stiffer. `
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 and Burnout 2 are two arcade-style racers that will take your breath away and make your palms sweaty after only a few minutes of playing. This highly intensive experience is what I was looking for from Midnight Club II, and I was fully anticipating more speed, more cars, more locations, and more attitude than the original displayed. Thankfully, I was correct on all counts.
As is expected, the graphics have gone through a major overhaul since the original Midnight Club, and everything is crisper and more defined. The detail exhibited along the city streets and in the cars themselves is excellent, and is actually more technically accomplished than the NFS environment. Graphical imperfections are few and far between, although you may notice some minor clipping during massive crashes.
The color and lighting (remember, these races take place at night) in the game is fairly impressive, and the player will have little difficulty seeing the terrain despite the fact that you never have the aid of sunlight. The reflection of the headlights and the bright pools of light thrown by the streetlamps bathe the city in a kind of pleasant, stylish, artificial glow. It can be tough to see intersections and turns ahead, but when you're traveling at 100 m.p.h.+, pretty much anything is going to be difficult to see clearly.
The sound heard in Midnight Club II consists of fast-revving engines, screeching metal-on-metal swipes, and high-speed crashes with explosive consequences. The sounds of the city are dulled a bit by the action, but that is only a trivial problem, as you won't be focusing on street-noise when in the midst of a highly competitive race. The soundtrack is primarily a collection of original hip-hop tracks, although you may encounter some semi-pop/dance tracks as well. All in all, it fits well with the Midnight Club atmosphere.
When it comes to gameplay in such games, you're looking for speed and control. NFS: Hot Pursuit 2 was one of those games that featured mind-numbing speed with solid control, allowing you to actually enjoy your racing experience. Speed without control is just like playing one big car wreck over and over, and quickly becomes very tiresome. Midnight Club II not only offers some good control, but it adds to the typical generic arcade-style racing with a few unique features. The following gameplay features are discovered as the game progresses.
Each vehicle of course has its own specific statistics (i.e., top speed and acceleration), but there are also additions to the gameplay that can be used with most all vehicles. For example, some have a nitrous boost, and this will be the first thing you unlock in the game. By simply pressing the R2 button, you get that little shot of nitrous to send you flying down the street at breakneck speeds. When using the nitrous, you'll be privileged to view one of the coolest visual features ever seen in a racing game.
You will then find a way to "jump-start" your car from the line, executed by holding the brake and the accelerator at the same time. This causes your rear wheels to burn like mad, and when you get the "Go!" signal, just release the brake and watch you car leap! You'll first try this with an old-fashioned muscle car, and the sheer horsepower will cause the front end to lift right up off the ground, a la "The Fast and the Furious."
You'll proceed to get other "abilities," like the Weight Transfer, which allows you to straighten out your car over a jump so you can land safely. Throughout all of this, other street racers who absolutely refuse to go quietly and will constantly test your skills. This game is extremely competitive, and sometimes making the right choice of which vehicle to use makes all the difference.
The speed is indeed fast, although not quite as quick as NFS. On the other hand, it may FEEL faster, simply because of the large amount of regular traffic. The best part about this game is that it mirrors a city at night better than any I've seen before in an arcade racer, and you will constantly find cars everywhere, especially at busy intersections. This can make for some very interesting races, and allow you to get one rush right after another, whether by squeezing through tight spaces or by narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic.
The control you have over your vehicle is good, although it may come across as a bit touchy at times. The better-handling cars will have God-like handling, while you won't be able to avoid power-sliding with the cars that have lesser capability in that area. However, with all of the great new gameplay features, the realism of the city, the intense speed and great control, there are problems.
First of all, the AI is so obnoxious that you may have difficulty restraining yourself from breaking your controller. They will routinely bump and smash you into walls or other racers, simply to keep you from passing them. Also, you will get the worst of such encounters 95% of the time, and if you try the same technique on them, it rarely works. More often than not, you will lose races because your opponents were simply acting like jerks.
But what is possibly more frustrating is the sheer length of the races and the placement of the checkpoints. Before you reach even 30% complete, you will find yourself racing the same race 50 times or more before you can finally conquer the course. The first 10 times will be used to survey the course, and find out where you need to go. The next 25 times will be for looking for the absolute best and fastest ways to reach those checkpoints. The final 15 times will be lost on pure frustration, whether by getting rammed into a wall or by missing one simple turn near the last checkpoint.
This game is all about trial and error, so if you have a problem with that, I urge you to stay far, far away. Races can take upwards of six or seven minutes, and with the sheer number of checkpoints (sometimes numbering around 25), the ferocity of the competition, the complex layout of the city, and the cleverly placed checkpoints, you may have supreme difficulty completing this title. But it may all be worth it in the end, if you believe yourself to be proficient in such games to begin with.
The motorcycle alone will keep you playing for a while, and those special gameplay features really spice up the overall experience. This is easily one of the best racers available, but it's also nearly as challenging as Stuntman in terms of the trial-and-error gameplay. The control is fine, the speed is more than acceptable, and the fun factor is quite high, but the "annoyance level" is through the roof. The good thing is that it's generally entertaining enough to keep you coming back for more.
As I hinted at before, the depth in the game is more than you might expect from your typical arcade racer. With those extra gameplay features, different styles of races, various courses across a couple of cities, and lots of cars to unlock, Midnight Club II has an awful lot to offer. Simply zipping around town while searching for a fellow racer can be oddly enjoyable as well.
As is expected from a game like this, there's some definite attitude and flash; competing street racers will taunt you, on and off the streets, and the soundtrack only adds to the flavor. Throw some cops into the scene, and you've got a very satisfactory street racing experience. However, just bear in mind that you need to worry more about other racers and traffic than the police; they rarely are in a position to actually arrest you.
Overall, the presentation is slick, the technical aspects are solid, and the gameplay is smooth and fast, allowing Midnight Club II to become a worthwhile racer for almost anyone. There is substantial difficulty involved, but the one major flaw is that you will be losing many races due to AI designed specifically to impede your progress. On top of which, you'll need a while to get accustomed to the course. However, it's still a great game with tons of appeal, so if you can withstand some abuse, give it shot.