Midnight Club II
Oh, look at us, we're Rockstar, we're a bit dangerous. Following the success of their various brutality 'em ups, that would appear to be the edict of the burgeoning publisher. This is clearly evident in Midnight Club II, which bills itself as 'The Future Of Illegal Street Racing'. How so? Well, take the pedestrians for instance. Instead of leaping out of the way - as in, say, Midtown Madness - they are fair game for your bumper, and ending their sorry lives results in no more than a dull thud, like the sound of someone kicking an empty wheelie bin. No penalty incurred, and it's simply pointless violence.
Hang on, did someone mention Midtown Madness? By Angel Studios, the developer now known as Rockstar San Diego? Cue the sound of a penny dropping. The clues are a there - the destructible scenery, the vague approximations of major cities, the police on your back, the ambient traffic, even the pedestrian animations are uncannily similar, except this time round they're not so quick. Freed from the family values of erstwhile publisher Microsoft, this is simply the latest incarnation of that studio's driving concept, infused with a healthy dollop of Rockstar attitude.
As such, it's a very good thing. Tearing around Los Angeles, Paris or Tokyo in a variety of fictional cars (and some decent motorbikes) is highly entertaining, with the Al drivers proving particularly able opponents. There is a lengthy career mode to undertake, with vehicles, cities and various extras becoming available only after completing some fairly taxing challenges. The urban nature of the settings means tha different routes can be taken between the checkpoints, and intimate knowledge of the cities can reveal some handy shortcuts. The Arcade mode lets you enjoy the spoils of your career, and as well as straightforward circuit races, there are also Capture The Flag and Detonator modes, all playable over a LAN or the Internet.
The cars appear to be loosely based on actual models, and while the handling errs on the side of arcadey, an analogue controller is a must, as it proves far too twitchy for the keyboard. Graphically, it's solid if unspectacular, and setting the action at night has at least spared them the need for great detail (after all, let's not forget that it's a PlayStation 2 game). That said, anyone who has visited the cities in the game (smugly, I've been to all three) will instantly recognise certain areas, and there is value to be had in simply sightseeing in the Cruise mode.
Not a bad addition to the driving oeuvre then, and while not in the same league as the GTA games, there may be room for it in your collection if you fancy something a little more orthodox.
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Rockstar screwed up royally this time-- the title's all wrong. It should be Visine™ Presents Midnight Club II, because after bombing through Paris' narrow alleys at 180 mph, running over cafe tables, and then jumping clear across the Seine, you'll need to get the red out of those dry, unblinking eyes. I usually prefer my racing to be of the simulation variety rather than wacky arcade-style, but Midnight Club 2 is so much fun, my inner sim-driving geek sits down and shuts up. As in the original, the object is to climb the ranks by challenging drivers, winning intense races, and earning faster cars. There are also cool special moves to unlock--and motorcycles. The cycles are quick but hard to handle, and they're a favorite target in multiplayer games, as a little nudge will send you head-over-heels into oncoming traffic. The sprawling cities--LA, Paris, and Tokyo-- are actually a little smaller than the first game's in square-mile terms, but each has a clever network of underground tunnels and wild rooftop routes that significantly increases their overall size. Some of the later races get unbelievably difficult, though, requiring you to learn every shortcut (usually through trial and error) to even be competitive. I've saved the best for last: This Club is online, too (assuming you've got a broadband connection). The range of multiplayer games and user-created race routes means near-limitless replay value and the chance to earn cred on a much larger street.
As Demian said, MC2 offers an unrelenting sense of speed and a total disregard for realistic physics. The motorcycles are a blast; their unique strengths and weaknesses are perfectly balanced against the cars'. Sadly, too-strong "glue" (computer opponents sticking close together) blights the single-player experience. If you fall behind early on, the A.I. drivers kindly hang back, allowing you to catch up and take the checkered flag. However, wipe out late in the race and your long lead means zip--the herd streaks by and you finish dead last. Ah, but the online options save the day! Create new courses by remixing checkpoints, play capture the flag, or zap competitors with power-downs like inverted steering and insta-stop. MC2's excellent online racing provides near-endless replayability.
Demian pretty much nailed it on the single-player stuff-- MC2 is hardcore, high-speed craziness that appeals to gearheads like us as well as those who just crave a quick race. The gameplay dynamics change dramatically online thanks to entertaining and combative power-ups that promote strong rivalries between players. For pure entertainment, it's significantly more fun than Auto Modellista and consequently, infinitely more addictive. It also bests Capcom's effort by boasting sublime control that mixes the visceral grip and feel you want from a sports-car game with the twitchy controls you want from an arcade experience. Overall, the best racer since Hot Pursuit 2.
Midnight Club II introduces an impressive game to the limited racing selection available to Xbox owners, giving race fans a chance to throw out the course map and choose their own paths through several cities as they race to win props and new cars. Like the Playstation and PS2 versions, the best thing about MCII is the total freestyle openness. You can literally drive anywhere on the streets of LA, Paris and Tokyo and there are even a few stores you can drive through.
The game features two modes of single play: career mode and arcade mode. In arcade mode you can choose to cruise the city at your own pace, checking out the sights, looking for better routes through the city and testing the handling and limits of your new cars. In circuit races you can test out your routes and cars in a more structured environment, running laps through the packed city of your choice as you try to make all of the check points first.
The heart of the single player game is career mode, where your skills count and you can unlock all of the games features. Instead of a set structure for this mode, Rockstar chose to leave some of the direction of the game in the players' hands. Basically you want to race people for their cars and to unlock tricks and maps. To do this you get to cruise the city at your own speed looking for a handful of cars marked as racers. When you find one you want to race, you pull up and flash your high beams at them. As soon as your beams flash the other car takes off and you have to prove yourself worthy to race them by keeping up. Pass this test and it's on to the races that count. The career races involve a nice selection of different styles of racing. Some are just one on one street races where you have to get through a series of single check points that pop up one at a time, whereas others include loosing cops or being the first to make it through a street circuit in a pack of racers. Once you win the race you get access to the other driver's car or a new trick. Win a bunch of races in a city and you get to take a trip to the next city. This system works well, breaking up the monotony of running race after race in the same city against the same faceless drivers.
The graphics are just totally unbelievable. The high-gloss wax jobs on most of the cars reflect a liquid smooth city rolling by as you jam through packed streets. Damage to your car and the streets and buildings of the city you're racing are quite realistic and stick around throughout the race. The aesthetics of MCII are what all racing titles should strive to model themselves after.
The audio is smooth and the variety of voice acting adds a lot to the races. Each main racer has his or her own distinct voice and personality. Typically they spend much of the race mocking, insulting or threatening you, which just makes you want to win all that much more.
Career mode might be the heart of MCII, but multiplayer is the soul. It features cruise, circuit and battle modes as well as a race editor that allows you to lay down your own course. The Xbox Live broadband requirement helps keep this game from slowing down, though you may still run into some slow connections that will cause strange ping anomalies. Unlike Midtown Madness 3, MCII doesn't allow you to race any of the game's cars. Instead you only get access to the cars you've unlocked, which is both a curse and a blessing. Best of all, online play comes with a start chart that ranks the online racers using a relatively complex scoring system described in the back of the instruction manual.
MCII is the best racing game to hit the Xbox, but unfortunately that just means it beats out a handful of other games. Despite the lack of competition in this genre, MCII is a must have game with superb graphics, fun single player action, and multiplayer modes that will keep you gripping your controller for months to come.
Ever since the launch of the PS2, a myriad of racing titles have made their way to video-game retail shelves across North America. For any game developer looking to join the already crowded market, this means one of two things: either come up with something really special, or bow out gracefully while you still can. Refusing to take the latter approach, Rockstar San Diego proudly presents Midnight Club II (their sequel to Midnight Club: Street Racing). Among other things, Midnight Club II features solid visuals as well as fast and furious racing action for solo play or online multiplayer mayhem. And while the game is far from perfect, Rockstar has once again come up with a winner.
The game features an Arcade Mode as well as a two-player split screen mode. But, as with most racing games these days, the real meat and potatoes of the game lies within the Career Mode. Here you'll race from checkpoint to checkpoint through the city streets of Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo against a host of slick and slippery competitors. You'll start out with one car and by winning races you'll unlock other boulevard beasts of both the four-wheel and two'wheel variety (uh, that's motorcycles, folks). With a never-ending combination of fearless foes (including end-level bosses) and changing weather factors (wait'll ya dig that fog), the challenge factor remains quite high; so to gain the upper hand, plan on investing a serious portion of your time in pursuit of shortcuts, hidden alleyways, side streets, and underground ramps.
As you progress, you'll also earn an assortment of newfound abilities such as nitrous, turbo boosts, wheelies and the like. As you could have probably guessed, control is strictly of the arcade variety, so physics freaks need not apply. Hey, considering the fact that the majority of your ride consists of flying around in excess of 130 mph in busy traffic, this is a good thing indeed. For those of you who have a broadband connection (dial-up is not supported), and the PS2 network adapter, you're in for quite a treat. The game supports up to eight simultaneous players for online racing thrills like you've never seen before. Combine this with a race editor that allows you to reconfigure checkpoints for your own customized races, and what we have here is a game with replay value that flies over a ramp and off the charts.
On the whole, the graphics in the game are very good. However as with most games, certain areas are stronger than others. On the plus side, the racing environments are crisp and colorful with a rather generous amount of detail. Unfortunately, as compared to other PS2 racers, the car models themselves appear to be constructed with a relatively low number of polygons and sport a minimal amount of detail. Overall, the frame rate is fairly smooth and remains solid throughout most of your venture. For the most part, the sound effects come off somewhat generic sounding, including the obligatory engine noises and tire screeching. You'll also hear a good dose of assorted yelps from your opponents as you make your mad dash to the next checkpoint. The music offers a mixed bad of hip-hop and techno selections that, depending on your taste, you'll probably either love or hate.
Midnight Club II will probably never quite reach the same level of mass appeal as the highly successful Gran Turismo series. But the way I see it, it does deserve a permanent place in your PS2 library for two reasons. It features super-fast high-octane racing action and it delivers an online experience unlike any other racer before it. Trust me, illegal street racing has never been this much fun!