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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Game Review - Midnight Club: L.A. Remix

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The Good:
Both LA and Tokyo look fantastic * LA feels different from Tokyo * Dynamic weather effects * Strong visuals * Robust vehicle rooster * Deep customization options * Single-player game is long * Huge variety of race modes * Power-ups

The Bad:
Red-marked races, supposedly the hardest, do not scale accordingly to the vehicle you drive, making them easy if you have a very fast vehicle * Lack of cop element * Terrible marker placement * Ridiculously reckless civilian vehicles

It has been a while since we loitered around the streets of Liberty City on the PSP, but in Midnight Club: L.A. Remix, Rockstar Games has returned to what it does best – open-world games. While L.A. Remix on the PSP is understandably not as big in scale as it is on the Xbox 360/PS3, the game still offers a rather impressive portable street racing experience – certainly one of the best on the PSP.

The premise is simple. You are a newbie who appeared out of nowhere in LA and as per de rigueur of street racing games, are forced to climb the ladder of reputation, with the goal of eventually becoming the champion of the city. Unlike Need for Speed Most Wanted or Carbon, there isn’t any intricate plot here (though it would be wonderful to have one), but when it comes to street racing, nothing really matters except the action.

On that count, L.A. Remix succeeds, but not with a few flaws that hinder it from becoming the perfect racer. The game starts out really easy, but as you progress, races get expectably more difficult. L.A. Remix is unique such that there isn’t any difficulty level to select from. Instead, the mission map throws up several races at once, with green-marked races being the easiest, yellow-marked races being trickier, and red-marked races being the most testing. Therein lays the problem: The difficulty does not scale to match the vehicle that you’re driving. In other words, red-marked racers may be hard at first, what with its several sharp turns that require precision driving, but if you get into a Lamborghini later in the game, red-marked races may not be that hard afterall since you would be speedier than any of your opponents and would easily win races if you take advantage of straight roads and pull far ahead of your opponents.

Part of the reason why red-marked races aren’t as difficult as they should can also be attributed to hardware limitations. I am assuming that these red-marked races get ported over from the Xbox 360/PS3 version, but what’s almost missing from the PSP version is the cop element – something which makes the red-marked races in the Xbox 360/PS3 rightfully challenging. Sure, they are still cops in L.A. Remix, but it is befuddling why they don’t give chase even after you have rammed through their road blocks. In fact, they don’t move at all, BUT that is not to say that the cop element is totally missing from this game. During a handful of races throughout the entire game, the cops do become aggressive and it adds a whole lot of fun to the race when that happens. It is a pity that the framerate dips when cop chases happen, though.

What I have done so far is just nit-picking, however. Both the aforementioned are due to the hardware limitations of the PSP – take, for instance, the lack of the cop element – considering that the framerate is already suffering minor hiccups when there are 4 to 5 cops chasing your vehicle, there is no doubt that the PSP wouldn’t be able to handle any more than that, so it’s probably a wise choice to keep the cop element to a minimum lest it impedes the enjoyment of the game. However, there remains one flaw that isn’t caused by hardware limitations and that COULD be changed.

In a step away from the conventional practices of racing games, L.A. Remix does not employ barriers (think neon barriers for street racing games like Need for Speed Carbon) to guide players on the right track for circuit races (or Point A to B races). Instead, in a circuit race in L.A. Remix, yellow markers with arrows pointing the direction to the next marker would be placed throughout the area to ensure that players stay on track for the race.

The problem is: There aren’t enough of these markers and some of them are placed very far away from each other. For instance, you see a marker at the edge of the mini-map and that marker makes it seem as if you need a turn at the next junction, but in fact, all you need to do is to follow the curve – and that would eventually lead you to the next marker. Why can’t there be a marker at the junction that points out that you need to go straight?

Furthermore, the placement of markers is terrible. Instead of having a marker at a junction to let you know that you need to take a turn, some of the markers are placed around a corner. What this translates into is that you need to keep your eyes on the mini-map at the top left hand corner of the screen while racing – so that you won’t miss a turn. And more often than not, you would be too fast that taking your eyes off the action for a second to look at the mini-map could mean a collision with either another vehicle or building (more on that later). It isn’t any surprise that I often make a wrong turn or miss a turn and speed past it. While markers mean that you are allowed the freedom to take any route to the next marker (so there could be plenty of shortcuts and alternative routes to take), I’d prefer neon barriers to keep me on the track rather than incoherent markers.

But what’s worse than unclear markers? The civilian vehicles, of course. While I understand that placing civilian vehicles on the roads of LA does make the city more realistic and lively, it’s just plain ridiculous the civilian vehicles act more like lunatics attempting to cut you off from your ride than like ordinary civilian vehicles. Civilians drive carefully, but here in L.A. Remix, reckless driving is all over the city. Imagine that you are approaching a junction and are supposed to drive straight, but suddenly, a city bus crosses the road perpendicular to yours, either blocking you off entirely or GET THIS, RAMMING straight into your vehicle! Or you could be at a junction, and a truck suddenly swerves into your lane. Or you could be taking a turn and you don’t know what’s around the corner, but when you realises what’s around the corner, it’s already too late because a pick-up would be ramming into you. Or you could be on a straight road, and suddenly you realise that all 4 lanes ahead of you are jammed by civilian vehicles, leaving you no choice but to crash through them. This is TRULY ridiculous – civilian vehicles are NOT supposed to ram into you. There is no denying that Rockstar is trying to inject ‘environmental hazards’ into the game, but this isn’t right – it is cheap.

But enough complains – because L.A. Remix does have some really sweet things going for it. For one, I have to mention that the city of LA looks fantastic. While it is smaller in size when put into comparison with the LA of the Xbox 360/PS3 version of the game, the LA here is still big enough to qualify this as a really open-world street racing title, and there are still plenty of shortcuts and hidden routes to discover. The feel of LA is not only captured via the distinctive roads and buildings, but also the impressive visuals which aid the city in being more realistic – one of the best I have seen on the PSP.

The surprise package comes in the form of being able to race in Tokyo as well. After you have reached a certain point in your LA career, the Tokyo career gets unlocked. Fortunately, rather than being a dumbed-down bonus city, Tokyo is as rich in details as the city of Los Angeles, if not more stunning. Both cities feel very different from each other: LA feels tighter and more urban, while Tokyo features more open areas and feels less urban. This fact alone provides the game with a much-welcomed layer of variety. Both cities are complemented by dynamic weather effects – it’s remarkable to view both cities in day and night, as well as in a rain – something which lends to the overall visual package of the game.

The robust vehicle rooster here also ensures that your ride matches the opulent cities. While the variety of vehicles offered here isn’t as great as that offered in say, Forza Motorsports 2, there’s still a pretty decent selection of vehicles. All of them handle great, with the higher-end Lamborghinis and Audis allowing tighter control, and the muscle cars sacrificing handling for speed. And let’s not forget that there ARE bikes here as well. But regardless of whether you are driving a car or a bike, fun driving is something that’s always present.

The game continues to surprise me with its deep customization options. In fact, the customizable options here are so deep that it would be hard – very hard – to find another racing game on the PSP that offers the same kind of customization aspects. In addition to tweaking the performance of your vehicles, you would be able to slap on decals, alter the colors and even swap the default bumpers, hoods and other parts for the various other fancy ones.

The single-player game is a long one. It took me about 42 hours over a period of 2 weeks to complete both the LA and Tokyo career, but there’s still an ad-hoc multiplayer option to jump into after the single-player game is complete. With power-ups like the ability to slow down time and go into slow-mo to make that all-important dodge and the ability to crash through traffic without damage at the expense of speed, races are all the more enjoyable.

Final comments
Midnight Club: L.A. Remix provides a solid racing experience on the PSP – albeit with a few flaws, both minor and major, that preclude it from being perfect. But nonetheless, it’s still a recommendable title as there are some truly impressive aspects such as the mind-blowingly marvellous production values of both LA and Tokyo, the robust vehicle rooster and incredibly deep customizable options. The long single-player is populated by a huge variety of race modes, including circuit races, Point A to B races, time trial, delivery (time trials with damage penalty), to name a few.


Blogger aza1 said...

i enjoy mid club l.a do i wont to clock it 20 somthing times like i did with mid club 3 NO for all its visual magic its just a car vertion of grand theft auto if rockstar put those griaphices on the old game with a futureristic thyme at would have be magic. mid club l.a is still cool but i would have gone in a more ture to the game it self.

11:56 AM


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