Having played the PS2 version of this game I was stoked to get my hands on the X-box version. Well, let me make it clear: on the X-box, this game still rocks! I guess then that it is appropriate that it was brought to us by Rockstar Games (our friends who brought us the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series). In fact, I believe it rocks even harder now. I have gotten pretty leery of a lot of racing games lately. I was excited for this title because it is online capable, but otherwise I didn't hold much hope. Thankfully, I was immediately and pleasantly surprised. This game is a kick in the pants. I honestly can't remember the last time I laughed so hard playing a videogame. Once we got online it degraded into complete hysterics. We were all laughing uncontrollably. You know, the kind of laugh that results in drool running from your mouth and gasping for air. Ok, well that description didn't make it sound real fun, but trust me it is.
I hate to admit it to all our loyal readers, but I kind of suck at racing games. The more realistic they are, the suckier I am. I'm not really the kind of person who is good at being bad at something. My Mother dearest always told me that "If I wasn't good at something the first time, I would never try it again." That must be why my first impression of Midnight Club 2 (MC2) was so favorable. The gameplay is so intuitive. I'm not just talking about the controller setup, but the feel of the game. The way your car drives suits me just perfectly. I was naturally gliding around sharp corners at 150mph like a race car driver, and hooting and hollering like I was on the Dukes of Hazard. I can hardly convey how much fun it is to drive these cars.
Of course Rockstar's trademark irreverence is ever present. While it is not nearly as wild as Grand Theft Auto 3, there are still plenty of cops to evade and innocent pedestrians to run over. Most characters have a bit of a potty mouth as well. It is something parents with younger children may want to look out for, but it should be fine for most gamers.
Pedestrians aren't the only things you can run over. In fact MC2 boasts quite an interactive environment. When you hit a parking meter it will go flying and coins spray back at your windshield. If you see anything with an angle that you can drive onto it can be used as a jump. Heck, you can drive right through a window, into a mall, by all the store fronts, and out the parking garage. Having spent many summers working for a Traffic Department, I was a little disgruntled to watch my roommate knock over traffic light after traffic light.
My favorite MC2 moment: I'm driving at top speed, head to head with my opponent. We are coming up on an intersection and the light is red (in this game everyone except the racers follow the rules of the road). A huge Semi-truck is crossing in front of me and there is no time to slow down. On an instinct I aim for right in the center of the trailer. My opponent crashes into the truck. I speed on towards the finish line, barely sneaking underneath the truck's trailer. This is better than the movies and I didn't even mention racing on two wheels. That's right, you can get on your side to more easily maneuver through tight situations.
The X-box headset is a godsend. In my PS2 review of Midnight Club II the lack of a headset for online play was one of my major gripes. There is just no way to type a conversation at 150 mph. The headset allows for a better interactive gaming experience.
My other gripe is with the non-linear racing. It is an amazing idea-the ability to go anywhere within a city as long as you are the first to make it to the finish line. The problem is that most modes require you to follow a very linear set of checkpoints in order to get to the end. You can't skip checkpoints in order to get to the end quicker. This is fine, but it isn't what I was expecting.
One thing I did find myself really enjoying was the music, especially the hip-hop tracks of LA. They were just the right kick to get your blood pumping for each race. The rest of the sound effects were no slack either and then there are your trash-talking opponents. Some of their quips had me laughing and others made me wish I could rip on them right back. All this and it comes in both Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Interactive.
The Race editor is pretty good. You are given a map of the city with a great number of all ready existing checkpoints. You then choose from the checkpoints to determine the route of your race. It is very easy to pick up, and there are tons of different races to be made. One of the neatest things is that you can then go online and race your newly created track with people across the country. I was a little bummed when the computer spanked me the first couple of times I raced my own track. But like the rest of the game it wasn't long before I was dominating.
The game's difficulty level is perfect. It is challenging yet not too hard. There was hardly a race I didn't need to try a time or two before I could pass it. It always felt possible though. I love the way that the computer racers face all the same difficulties the player does. I couldn't tell you how many times I saw an AI racer go into the side of a building or T-bone another car. It's really these little touches that make MC2 such a phenomenal game.
You are only given three cities to play through (LA, Paris, and Tokyo) but they are huge. There is definitely more than enough racing in these three beautifully rendered cities. LA is the only city unlocked in the beginning; you must earn the other two.
Most of the rest of the game is fairly standard. There are a number of cars you can unlock in the career mode. There are a number of different modes to play including free cruise, a battle mode, and game modes like capture the flag. All of these are available to play online. Surprisingly enough I had the most fun just free cruising online. We would do little mini-races or just smash into each other. It was a riot.
Over all my few little complaints can barely be heard over the hooting and the constant laughter. If you're looking for a racer that is challenging without giving up an ounce of fun than Midnight Club 2 is perfect. Like just about any other game; if you want to pick up MC2 buy it on the X-box. Not even bringing up the graphics or all the other things that make the X-box version superior. The headset alone makes it the clear choice. But one thing is consistent across the platforms: if you need a place to focus your road rage, grab Midnight Club 2 and knock everyone else off of the road.
Matthew James (10/09/2003)
Ups: This game is just damn fun!
Downs: Too bad there isn't more of it.
Platform: XBox (also available on PC and PS2)