|Two years ago, Microsoft released Midtown Madness, a solid
arcade racer that wasnt quite enough of either for our tastes. It just didnt
have enough wacky fun in it to be an arcade game like, say, Speedbusters, and it wasnt
realistic enough to be a racing sim. It didnt help any that the game was a little
short--or that it was set in Chicago. Now, dont get me wrongI love Chicago,
but its just not the most architecturally intriguing city in the world, and the
racing suffered for it. Midtown Madness 2 does a good job of addressing these problemsfirst
of all, its a much larger game, with two terrific settingsLondon and San
Francisco, both of which are much more interesting (at least for racing) than Chicago. In
fact, one of the reasons we like MM2 so much better than its original is because London
and San Francisco offer much more potential for over-the-top motoring mayhem than the
Windy City. For instance, in MM2 youll find yourself racing through the London tube
system, splashing through the Serpentine in Hyde Park, and launching your ride down
Lombard Street. The narrow streets and
circuses of London and the hills of San Francisco challenge you in ways that the Dan Ryan
As in Midtown Madness, you can choose from three kinds of racesBlitz, Circuit, and Checkpoint. Blitz races pit you against the clock as you wend your way through the city, Checkpoint races pit you against other drivers, and in Circuit races youll race through cordoned-off courses against some very aggressive opponents. As you successfully complete races, youll unlike ever-more formidable cars and flashier paint jobs. Dont expect too much realismthough different cars handle differently, the emphasis in MM2 is on action. Youre able to hurtle over the hills of San Francisco like McQueen in Bullit, crash with relative impunity into other cars and buildings, run through department store show windows for shortcuts, and generally wreak havoc on the traffic code. Microsoft has also added a new crash course feature, a series of mission-based races in which you take the role of a California stunt driver or a London cabbie. These races are challenging and interesting, and are intended to serve as a sort of tutorial. Initially, youll be requested to complete missions that require you to master basic skillsturning, using the handbrake, controlling a skidbut as the courses progress, youll find yourself performing stunts right out of movies. And of course if you just want to kick back and see the sights, you can choose to race in cruise mode, which allows you drive around and scout the routes at your leisure. One suggestion, though; in cruise mode, it seems like every cop in town has a vendetta against you. Make sure you turn cop density way down unless you wish to be pulled over (that is, run into) incessantly.
Though the car models dont look all that much different than those in Midtown Madness, the environments look much better. Too much of the original was made up of nondescript buildings interspersed with the occasional landmark. (Look, theres the water tower! Look, theres eighteen blocks of warehouses!). Midtown Madness goes out of its way to make you feel like youre in San Francisco and London, even when youre not in Trafalgar Square or crossing the Golden Gate. Of course it helps that each of these cities has a distinctive style, but its clear that Microsoft put more time into modeling these cities, and it pays off. While not state-of-the-art, the graphics are generally good and sometimes spectacular (sunset and fog effects are particularly excellent). There are occasional clipping problems, though, and I once or twice found myself driving through a wall and into graphics hell. And one should be warned that while the graphics look very nice, it takes a big machine to run this game smoothly. Expect some chop even with the recommended configuration.
As for vehicles, MM2 includes all of your favorites from the original and nine new cars. In keeping with the London theme, youll be able to drive the Mini Cooper (useless) a London double-decker bus (useless but fun) and the Aston-Martin DB-7 (awesome but takes a while to unlock). The other new cars include two kinds of VW beetles, a fire truck, the Audi TT (personal favorite) and a Light Tactical Vehicle (a Humvee). As the game constantly reminds you, you have to make sure you pick the right car for the right race. Courses that take you over San Franciscos steeper hills will call for a car that can take some damage, and races through the narrow lanes of London place a premium upon handling, though I must admit that once I unlocked the Audi I never looked back. Fire trucks and double-decker buses wont win you many races, but theyre fun to tool around in.
Though I usually dont pay much attention to sound, its worth commenting about it MM2 for several reasons. First, the engine, skid, and collision sound effects are very watered-down. I mean, its as if someone said, OK, we went way over the top with physics models and collisions, so lets even it out by toning the sound way down. Big mistake; this is the kind of game that cries out for excessive sound effects (and a kick-ass sound track; given the musical backgrounds of both these cities, Im surprised that the music in the game is so nondescript). Secondly, during most of the racesusually at the beginning and endyoull hear some voice-over comment about the race. The London ones are pretty good, or at least inoffensive, but the San Francisco commentators include a stock flower child voice that just sucks and is like, so thirty years ago that you have to wonder if whoevers in charge of sound has even been to the city since 1968.
Finally, though the cars usually drive pretty consistently, there can be some problems with control, especially since dont have much choice in how you can configure your controller. I also had problems getting force feedback to work consistently. Sometimes it would, sometimes it wouldnt.
Overall, this is a solid, fun effort. Multiplayer is very good, and with two cities and the added crash course feature, MM2 is a marked improvement over Midtown Madness.