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There isn't really any story to speak of, but that is probably a good thing. You start out with a pretty standard car in LA and then work your way up the ranks by beating the best the city has to offer. When you beat the city champion, you move on to Paris and then Tokyo. You earn new cars and new special moves as you win races, but the game starts out fast and just keeps getting faster, so there isn't really a feeling of waiting until you get the "good" cars. In between races your opponents will talk smack about how crappy your car is compared to their car, but since nothing of any importance is said there isn't any story to concern yourself with.
The way you start a race is by following the marks on your map until you find an opponent. Once you find them, you flash your high beams at them and then you have to follow them as they tear through the city. Once they have determined that you are good enough, you'll enter into a series of several races with them with the end result usually being that you have won a car or two from them. The races usually consist of driving through a series of checkpoints while trying to stay ahead of a pack of as many as eight other computer-controlled opponents. Some races are point-to-point races while others present you with a large number of checkpoints that you can go through in any order. There are also one on one races as well as scenarios where you have to avoid the police before you cross the final checkpoint.
In all of the races there are several different ways to get through the checkpoints due to the open nature of the cities you are racing in. The AI drivers all take different paths and it is up to you to figure out which one is fastest and capitalize on it. Usually the best way to figure out a new course is to follow the other drivers and learn just what to expect. Memorizing each new course is essential but, like I said, you can learn a lot by watching the AI drivers so starting a new race never feels too overwhelming.
The cities in Midnight Club II are all very different, and that makes learning the layout of each of the three cities a fun and interesting experience. Los Angeles is your first stop, and it doesn't have too much traffic on the roads and most of the routes through the city are fairly obvious. Something especially cool about LA is that there are actually roads that take you up into the hills away from the city. That is cool and shows you just how big these levels are. Paris has a lot more traffic, and the streets are a lot narrower. There are also a lot of back alleys and hidden passages to keep things intense. Tokyo features long, straight sections of road where it is easy to get up to full speed. The police in each city behave differently as well. In LA the cops aren't much of a threat, but in Paris they will spin you out every chance they get, and in Tokyo they like to just get in your way and try to drive you into telephone poles or into traffic. All three of the cities are huge and detailed, so it is a thrill to explore each one and try and find hidden passages or just drive around to see the sights.
To help you get through all of the races, you learn a few special moves along the way. You can perform a burnout at the very start of a race to help you get up to speed as fast as possible. You can use a limited number of nitrous boosts as well, and using them the right way usually means the difference between winning and losing. Another very useful move you learn is the slipstream turbo. When you follow closely behind other cars, you build up what amounts to a free nitrous boost. Other moves include the ability to shift your car's weight in midair, and you can also get your car up on two wheels so it is easier to fit through narrow gaps. All of these moves are easy to pull off and are vitally important if you want to win.
The cars in Midnight Club II aren't licensed, but it is pretty easy to tell what real world car each one is supposed to represent. MCII does a better job than the first game of giving you more Japanese-style import cars (you may call them rice burners if you're an ignorant twit) to play with, which is what most of the whole illegal street racing scene in this country revolves around, but there are still Porsche and Ferrari look-alikes as well. Despite the arcade theme and jumps where you literally fly a mile, the cars really feel like they should. They grip the road and handle like they have some weight to them and feel like a car should feel.
The motorcycles that were added to Midnight Club II are a nice idea, but they are too much work to really be worth using. They accelerate faster and generally have a higher top speed than the cars, but they are a pain in the butt to control. You have to press the button for weight transfer whenever you want to turn sharp (which is almost always) or when you want to pop a wheelie to pick up more speed. The camera shifts whenever you use the weight transfer button, so trying to dodge traffic or make a simple turn around a corner is made much more difficult because you are seeing it from below and to the right of the bike. When you get used to them, the motorcycles are fun to play around with, but I found myself using cars through just about all of the races.
The races are difficult, though, so some people may be turned off by the fact that the game punches you in the face with difficulty from the third race onward. This isn't the bad kind of "impossible odds" difficulty, though. This is the kind of difficulty where you know what you're doing wrong so you know exactly what you need to do in order to win. That is what makes MCII so addictive. You know you can win so you just keep playing, and before you know it, several hours have passed. The later races in Paris and almost all of the races in Tokyo are very difficult the first couple of times you try them, but the game is so fun, and it is so easy to learn what you're doing wrong, that hopefully people won't get turned off by the difficulty too quickly. The pure satisfaction of winning races and beating the game is completely worth all of the swearing and controller throwing you have to do.
Just like its console cousins, the PC version of Midnight Club II features an online mode. Playing online is a fairly smooth experience, and the battle modes and capture the flag games are very fun. There are the standard races, and you can also run your own custom courses. While I was playing this game for review, finding servers was a bit difficult, but that should change the longer the game is out and the more people that play it. Playing online rocks, simple as that.
Using a keyboard in MCII will get the job done, but I highly recommend using a controller with an analog control stick instead. You get much tighter handling with a controller and performing all of the special moves is a lot easier. It seems as if there are almost too many controls in MCII. You have to assign a button for weight transfer, nitrous boosts, acceleration, brake and reverse, camera control, headlights, emergency brake, and a button to switch your music. Every button on my Logitech Wingman was used to play Midnight Club II, but the controls become second nature after a while.
Graphically, Midnight Club II is outstanding. The cars are nice and shiny and detailed, and the city environments are realistic and have a lot of little details. The only bad things are that the people walking on the street (which you can run over, by the way) only have about four frames of animation, so they look pretty weird. You are usually driving by them too fast to notice, though. Also, there are some frame rate issues when a lot of stuff is happening even on my machine, which has more than enough power. It doesn't slow down enough to make the game unplayable, but it does slow down enough that you definitely notice. Make sure you have the newest drivers for your video card, though. If you don't, the city streets will look like absolute crap and you get a funky checkerboard effect as textures flicker in and out or some textures are brighter than others.
The sound in Midnight Club II is fairly well done, but it isn't spectacular. The engine sounds are pretty good, and the "whoosh" when you use a nitrous boost is great. The music, however, is absolute trash. It is all techno and trance and trip-hop and it doesn't mesh very well with the action on screen. The music they chose is repetitive and annoying and I can't stand it. Luckily, you have the option of importing your MP3s into a special folder and then you can listen to them and switch between them in the game. This made the game a lot more bearable.
Overall, Midnight Club II is a great racing game that is definitely worth a purchase if you haven't already played the Xbox or PS2 versions. Most of the problems I had with it at first were forgotten by the end. Those problems were funky graphics due to not having the newest drivers, crappy music, and difficulty finding servers online. But all of those problems are easy to solve, so there really isn't anything to complain about with Midnight Club II. Online play is every bit as excellent as it is on the consoles, and this game is well worth the money just so you can play online. If you haven't already played it, Midnight Club II is worth a purchase. At the very least, try out the demo.
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