Midtown Madness

a game by Microsoft
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 7.8/10, based on 5 reviews
User Rating: 7.1/10 - 11 votes
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The popularity of law evasion in driving games is at an all-time high, and now Microsoft are to add their name to the list of growing titles with Midtown Madness. The idea from the start was to create a living, breathing city where you race through the streets of Chicago, avoiding pedestrians, traffic jams and lawmen. You are given the freedom of the city with back-street shortcuts a-plenty and a choice often vehicles, including police cars, Mustangs and an 18-wheeled truck.

When the game is released in June, Midtown Madness will be up against some venerable titles, notably SpeedBusters and Need For Speed 3. Next month also sees the release of Driver (see preview on page 50) and Interstate '82, not to mention old favourites Carmageddon II and Grand Theft Auto.

And There's More...

Grand Theft Auto is to receive its first add-on disc. Set in the London of the Swinging '60s, GTA London hosts a complete set of new vehicles and missions, with music that suits the period. You can take to the capital's winding streets in Routemaster buses, black cabs and, maybe, the first ever Reliant Robin to grace a driving game. Expect the pedestrians to be stoned, the police to be unarmed, and die BBFC to ban it. Take 2 unleash GTA London in April.

Download Midtown Madness

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

In these cynical days of 'reissue, repackage, reevaluate', an original game is about as rare as proverbial rocking horse shit. And when it comes to racing games, you might as well forget it, with most developers showing about as much ingenuity as the average boy band.

Not so Angel Studios, the talent behind Microsoft's Midtown Madness. Instead of pissing about inventing hover vehicles that race on the moon, or resurrecting some obscure sport, what they've done is to take a modern-day city and fill it with authentic vehicles. No guns, no gimmicks, just accurately modelled cars and a meticulously recreated city.

That city is Chicago, Illinois, which to the less geographically minded is somewhere in America near a big lake. Clearly, some kind of artistic licence has been taken, and what we have is a slightly compressed version of the real thing, comprising all the major landmarks. It's very well done though, and effortlessly conveys the sense of being in a fully functioning, living city. Planes fly overhead, traffic stops at red lights, and the police even have their own network.

Sim City

City simulation is a different game altogether though, and what we're talking here is action-packed racing, the game featuring a variety of different modes, with success unlocking further vehicles and tracks. Circuit races are over charted courses, with other roads blocked off; Blitz races take place against the clock; and Checkpoint races involve clearing all points before your opponents. The latter two modes take place with incidental traffic in full effect, often leading to the midtown madness of the title. The police obviously take a dim view of unauthorised street races, and once alerted to a felony will be all over you like a cheap suit. Having a police car slew across your path with the finish line in sight is enough to provoke a wry grin at best, and a volley of foul and abusive language at worst.

However, the cops appear to be graduates of The Blues Brothers' school of motoring, and the artificial stupidity has been particularly well-implemented. There's much fun to be had in giving them the runaround, and great satisfaction to be gleaned from glancing into the rear-view mirror to see a police car drive straight into the bollard that you've expertly negotiated. In fact, in some races you can actually plan your route in order to avoid the busies.

Talk About The Weather

Chicago may be synonymous with wind, but rain and snow play their part here, and driving is noticeably affected by adverse weather conditions. It's a case of horses for courses, and the ten vehicles on offer have genuinely different characteristics in terms of handling, speed, durability and so forth. So whether it's a VW New Beetle for weaving between the traffic, an 18-wheel truck for ploughing through the traffic, or a Ford Mustang Fastback for performing Starsky& Hutcth style turns, all tastes are catered for.

And if you simply want to put your choice of vehicle through its paces, as well as learn the intricacies of the city, the Cruise mode enables you to do just that. In fact it's quite easy to crank up the tunes (see Music Sounds Better With You panel) and spend an hour simply cruising around, either legally or otherwise. Clearly, there's more fun to be had in the latter, and there's plenty of scope for it, be it jumping the odd red light or playing chicken on the freeway. And to add variety, the density of police, traffic and pedestrians can all be altered.

Hateful Luwie

It's a comparison that's been used before, but Midtown Madness is as close as any game has come to recreating ITV's Police, Camera, ActionlJhe carnage is relentless, and although some of it is scripted to an extent, moments of pure comedy occur naturally, although this being a Microsoft game no one actually gets hurt.

Of course, the cynics will dismiss it as Carmageddon Lite, berating the fact that pedestrians leap out of the way instead of exploding over your windscreen like a big bag of blood. However, if pretending to run over pretend pedestrians in a pretend car is one of your criteria for a piece of entertainment, then it might be worth taking a look at what's missing from your life.

Midtown Madness is anarchic fun, plain and simple, as well as being on the right side of challenging. The balance of vehicles is superb, and some ingenious design has gone into the courses. And if you're thinking that the game looks a bit like the forthcoming Driver, you'd be absolutely right, and the inclusion of a classic muscle car provides a further parallel.

We're still expecting Driver to be a superb game (as are GT, having splashed out a million pounds on a TV ad), and judging by what we've seen, it should be.

Until it's released though, Midtown Madness more than fills the gap and is as refreshing a game as its pseudo predecessor Motocross Madness was. We said it then and we'll say it again: Microsoft in good game shock.

You don't have to be mad to work there, but Microsoft do seem to have a worrying obsession with madness. Fortunately not in the form of dangerous psychosis, but with the wacky, zany, knockabout version.

First up was the white trashpleasing Monster Truck Madness - which even spawned a sequel - followed by the majestic Motocross Madness, which proved to be a thing of grace and beauty. The third instalment in the series involves an array of cars and trucks, and as product planner Mike Deardsen says: "It just continues that great off-the-wall racing tradition. We've got a fun topic here, which is unrestricted racing in a real modelled city."

That city is modern-day Chicago, and it comes replete with fully functioning traffic, police systems, pedestrians, trains, planes, automobiles and even retractable bridges, as well as over 80 accurately represented landmarks. Almost every object - including trash cans (rubbish bins), light pools (lamp posts?) and newspaper boxes (no UK equivalent) - has its own physics, which if hit spill their contents onto the sidewalk (pavement). Full weather systems are also in place, and the snow even accumulates in the winter, clearly affecting vehicle traction and handling.

Midtown Madness offers ten different licensed vehicles, including everything from a Freight Liner semitruck to the Volkswagen New Beetle and a classic '68 Mustang Boss 302. There's also plenty of variety in terms of race types: the Cruising mode simply enables you to explore the city; Blitz races are against the clock; Checkpoint races are self-explanatory; and Circuit races involve classic track-racing through the city. We are also promised Online Cops & Robbers, of which details are sketchy, although it could well be similar to Need For Speed III or the forthcoming Driver, a game that Mike Deardsen is aware of but dismisses as having "a criminal element" - unlike Midtown Madness, of course, which simply involves driving recklessly through a heavily populated city.

So, can you kill people? "No. There's no blood," says Mike. "Pedestrians always jump out of the way, so it's a good family title too. The focus is on racing, not destruction. It's really a thinking man's racing game in a lot of ways. A lot of it is strategy; it's not just exotic cars. The more you know the city and the shortcuts, as well as your choice of vehicle, all those are different factors that are gonna help you win." You're clearly breaking the law though, aren't you?

"If you choose to. You can drive accurately if you want, but that wouldn't be fun, would it?"

No, it wouldn't.

Looking for a fresh take on racing games? Check out Midtown Madness, an unrestricted romp through Chicago that'll make your O'Hare stand on end.

Wacker Races

Midtown Madness unleashes drivers into midtown Chicago, which is complete with landmarks like Wrigley Field, Wacker Drive, and the El train. The city lives and breathes, too--pedestrians dive out of your way, law-abiding commuters shuttle to and from work, and police cruisers patrol the streets just waiting for some nutcase to fly by in a Cadillac doing 120 mph. MM's cars range from cuddly New Beetles to muscular Mustangs--there's even the occasional city bus and tractor trailer thrown in. Varying weather and time-of-day effects keep things interesting--especially the ultimate challenge of snowy nighttime races.

Midtown Madness's wide open, race-wherever-you-want-to courses are its greatest strength. You're not only encouraged to choose your own path between checkpoints, but you must also often do so to finish under the time limit. You're rewarded for your exploration in the form of alleyways and shopping-mall shortcuts, Blues Brothers-style. Cruise mode even lets you explore the city and wreak total havoc without any time limits.

Winding Through The Windy City

Graphically, Chicago never looked better. Details include trash cans that spew garbage on impact, shadows from clouds floating overhead, and reflections on cars. However, the frame rate stutters in MM's external views, and the cool effects negatively affect the games performance. The light funk/dance/rock soundtrack is antiseptically pleasant, but skippable. The thickly accented announcer and angry drivers sound nice, but the cops sound like they're reading an eye chart instead of reading you your rights with emotionless quips like "I guess you weren't feeling lucky, huh, punk?"

With its arcade goals and simulation physics. Midtown can be frustrating--you have to drive recklessly to win, but it's hard to finish the race wreckless. Thankfully, you can adjust the physics to make the game as arcadey as you want.

Stay Off The Sidewalk

While the game desperately needs an instant replay feature, MM still satisfies with lots of car carnage--especially in multiplayer mode, which features a fun game of cops and robbers. Midtown Madness is delightfully off the beaten track--it's definitely an effective cure for traditional racers.

ProTips:

  • You'll take less damage from side-swiping a car than from something immobile like a tree or a traffic light
  • When sneaking between two stopped cars at an intersection, use the line on the road as your center guide. With practice, you'll sail right through.
  • When driving the Under The El Blitz race, follow the tracks until the final checkpoint, then cut right across the asphalt and look for a small shortcut tunnel.
  • When cops or opponents set cozy and slide up next to you, steer them into oncoming traffic or roadside obstacles.
  • The police will never arrest you-but they will try to incapacitate your car by force. You should do the same in Cops & Robbers mode.
  • Hit roadside objects like dumpsters and lampposts to impede the progress of anyone following behind you.
  • On the North River Run Checkpoint race, take a shortcut through the raised parking lot between the two checkpoints located on Navy Pier.

Graphics

Midtown Madness's reflections, shadows, clouds, and smooth textures look nice, but they negatively affect the games performance. Your Midtown merriment will greatly depend on the quality of your video card.

Sound

The sterile soundtrack neither hurts nor helps, but the other drivers calling you a maniac is a sweet touch. Still, there's no excuse for those boring

Control

While the sharp, almost too-responsive controls are totally adjustable for a keyboard, mouse, joystick, or gamepad, a force-feedback steering wheel is the only way to go.

Fun Factor

Midtown Madness offers a wild abandon and wanton disregard for traffic safety that no other driving game can provide. Hopefully, this trip through Chicago will be the first in a crosscountry tour.

Overview

Welcome to Chicago. Home of the world’s tallest building, the Cubs, Navy Pier, and madness. That’s right, madness -- and a good helping of it to boot -- boot on the gas pedal, that is. Angel Studios and Microsoft are teaming up to bring us the latest in the "Madness" series entitled Midtown Madness. Choose one of ten different vehicles, ranging from the new Volkswagen Beetle to a Ford F-350 to a Panoz GTR-1 to a city bus and all points in between, to compete in dozens of different races on 80km of accurately-rendered Chicago streets.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Midtown Madness takes place on the bustling streets, sidewalks, parks, baseball fields, drawbridges and hallways of downtown Chicago. After entering your name and selecting one of the 10 available vehicles and colors (although some need to be unlocked first), you need to select one of the four types of races available. The Blitz is a quick race through multiple checkpoints to cross the finish line before time runs out. Checkpoint races give you as much time as you need, but you must be quick and creative to beat your opponents to the finish line by cruising through a series of scattered checkpoints across the city. Circuit races keep you on a set route against many opponents in an effort to once again see who’s fastest. And then there’s Cops and Robbers, where he (or she) who gets the gold to his hideout (or the bank if you’re in the police cruiser) first, scores the most. While the Cops and Robbers race is only available in multiplayer mode, the other races can be played either solo or with other players via modem, IPX network, TCP/IP connection or through Microsoft’s Internet Gaming Zone. Not necessarily in the mood to race? Then you’ll want to select Cruise mode. As the name implies, this mode allows you to drive around the city at your own leisure and explore. It’s also a great way to get the hang of a new car you want to try.

Speaking of new cars, each vehicle has its different strengths and weaknesses (literally) depending on the type of race and weather conditions you decide to take on. Some vehicles, such as the roadster, will not be nearly as strong as the semi truck, but will race circles around most anything on the road. There are many times, however, that staying on the road isn’t the fastest route or best option. Creativity is the key to winning. For instance, the quickest route from point A to B may actually be driving through the mall, a stadium, or the aquarium. So what if you aren’t from Chicago and don’t know your way around? Fortunately, there is an on-screen map that shows your current heading and location at any given time. Even if you have a hard time reading maps, there is a guide arrow at the top of the screen that will always point to the next objective.

The control in this game is subjective depending on which car you’re driving. If you are driving the New VW Beetle you will have fairly good handling, whereas the Ford Mustang Fastback has a very touchy feel by comparison. Each vehicle takes some practice to get used to and they all handle quite realistically. Just when you’re getting comfortable with a particular car, the weather may change on you, which opens up a whole new can of worms. Much like real life, the weather will drastically affect driving conditions. The interface is quite standard these days: simple mouse, keyboard, or joystick/wheel-controlled menus that are easy to read and operate.

Graphics

I was very impressed with the graphics in this game. Each vehicle has its own accurately rendered dashboard complete with working gauges. The on-screen steering wheel also responds to your actions. When viewing your car up close, the shine (assuming you haven’t crashed too much yet) is absolutely outstanding. From pedestrians diving out of your way to trash, newspapers, and mail scattering around to airliners flying overhead, there is almost no lack in the detail department. The overall graphics are very bright which I think really adds to the game -- especially these days with all the dark games that exist.

Audio

Much like the real city of Chicago, this game is also quite boisterous. The various sounds such as the engines revving, horns honking, tires squealing, and crashes are realistic. There is music available when driving around and the individual tracks can be changed on the fly at any given time. What I found most impressive about the sound, however, is that upset pedestrians not only scream at you in English, but in other languages too -- just like the real city.

System Requirements

Pentium 133 w/ 3D-accelerator card, Windows 95/98, 16 MB RAM (32 MB recommended), 300 MB hard disk space, 2X CD-ROM drive (4X recommended), DirectSound 6.0 compatible sound card, mouse (joystick or steering wheel recommended. Reviewer’s note: If you’ve been planning on purchasing a steering wheel, this is the game you’ve been waiting for!). Multiplayer requirements: 28.8K or faster modem and an Internet Service Provider (for Internet play) or null-modem (for direct cable connection) or IPX or TCP/IP network (for network play). To play on the Internet Gaming Zone, you must have Internet Explorer 3.02 or newer or Netscape 4.0 or later.

Reviewed on: Pentium 233MMX, Orchid Righteous 3D (with 3Dfx Voodoo Chipset), 64 MB RAM, CompUSA Championship Racing Wheel (w/ gearshift and pedals—purchased specifically because of this game!).

Bottom Line

This is the most original PC racing game I’ve ever seen. With a fully-rendered three-dimensional city, the courses you can take are virtually limitless. The innovations, such as the non-linear aspect to the racing, add an interesting, challenging and constantly changing environment. I especially appreciated not having to tweak or upgrade the vehicle at all, and that the main focus is not on carnage. With its innovations and broad audience, this game should appeal to drivers of all ages, which is why I give it a score of 95.