Midnight Club II
By: Matt C. on April 21, 2003
The PlayStation 2 has dozens and dozens of racing titles, but ever so often, a racing game comes along that really blows me away. Midnight Club II is THAT game. The first Midnight Club was a great PS2 launch title and Rockstar San Diego did a very nice job improving and building upon the original.
Midnight Club II's gameplay is a mixture of simulation and arcade, although the arcade portion really outweighs the rest. For instance, many of the cars can almost stop on a dime and insane drifts (a.k.a. powerslides) are possible by simply tapping the handbrake (R1). In addition, vehicles are capable of catching huge air and hang times. That's awesome and all, but are there any simulation elements in MCII? Well, traction and grip is lost when it is raining or when you are driving over shallow water, which is cool. Other than that, the game really isn't for hard-core gear-heads.
As the name suggests, all the races in MCII take place at night, dawn, and dusk. No daytime racing, despite the fact that the sun can obviously still been seen at dawn and dusk. In the arcade mode, you can explore each city on your own, play capture the flag (with the AI), play a game called detonate, do circuit races Gran Turismo style (i.e., no traffic, pedestrians, etc.), or edit your own races by selecting checkpoint locations all around each city.
The career mode is obviously the main aspect of the game and it simply involves competing against some of the best street racers in each city. Much like Grand Theft Auto, you drive around at your own pace and once you are prepared to race, you must find a rival of your choice on the map and challenge him or her by flashing the car's high-beams. If you are having problems defeating a certain street racer, you can go back to the cruising mode and challenge another one. Of course, you eventually have to go back and challenge that person again until you win or you cannot progress in the game.
During the course of Midnight Club II, you will race each of the game's main characters at least 3 or 4 times. Once those 3 or 4 races are complete, its time to move onto another opponent. Most of the competitions involve racing other opponents (usually 9 of them) to each checkpoint in a certain order. What I love about the checkpoints is that they are massive, you can see them from miles away, and each of them have arrows pointing to the next checkpoint so it isn't necessary to take your eyes off the road.
To give the game more variety, there are other types of races -- including one where you gather checkpoints in any order you wish, races against the clock or cops, and more. In one "race," you are driving a police car and you must destroy the other racers by ramming into them. One aspect I like about the game is that you can earn/unlock various moves throughout the career mode. For example, you can "learn" to burnout, which allows for faster acceleration. Eventually, you'll even unlock a move that lets you drive your car on two wheels, which helps you move through traffic since the car takes up less space on the road. You don't have to earn the ability to use nitro, but the first batch of cars aren't equipped with it. As you win more aggressive cars, the more nitro you have at your disposal.
Midnight Club II offers some really smooth controls that makes the game very easy to pick up and play. I typically enjoy realistic racing titles like Gran Turismo 3, but I really love how easy it is to drift in this game. Like I said before, all you need to do tap the handbrake while turning and your car will slide around corners while losing very little speed. When executed correctly, it looks friggin awesome in the replays. Motorcycles can be acquired fairly early in the career mode and taking hairpin turns with them requires a little more effort. The weight transfer button is L1, so you need to hold that button and turn into the corner to transfer your weight accordingly so that you can turn sharply at high speeds -- otherwise, your driver won't lean to one side far enough and you'll most likely crash into a wall.
One aspect I must mention about MCII is that the game is not easy. The last 25%-30% is really difficult. Racing games are my specialty, but man, did this game challenge me. It's not the AI that is frustrating (in my opinion) -- its usually the traffic. In most of the later races, the roads are crowded with traffic. Cars can really haul ass in Midnight Club II, so you need extremely good reflexes to be successful in the game. As a result, you have very little time to move out of the way if a car, truck, or bus pulls out in front of you. Also, when racing against oncoming traffic, some vehicles tend to try and swerve out of the way. This might sound like a good thing, but most of the time they swerve in the same direction as you do, so you crash into them head on. In the end, the difficulty would be much more manageable if the traffic was reduced slightly in the later stages.
Visually, Midnight Club II is one of the best looking racing games I have laid my eyes on. The lighting, such as street lamps, look great. Speaking of street lamps, if you hit one, you will be treated to some sweet looking particle effects. During some races, it even rains, and you can see the lights reflecting in the wet road. Doesn't look quite as impressive than in Gran Turismo 3 though.
The cities themselves (Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo) look nice too, especially since they are modeled after the real locations. I once found the L.A. Convention Center (you know, the place where E3 takes place) and I drove through it. Other landmarks can be found as well, including LAX, the Tokyo and Eiffel towers, the Tokyo Dome, and more. Some of the major highways and bridges around the cities are present too, along with secret tunnels. Ramps are even built into the scenery, which usually provide shortcuts over the top of buildings or through them.
Unfortunately, the cars and motorcycles (about 35 total, give or take) are not real in MCII. Some of them closely resemble popular Japanese models, but enough details have been changed so that the manufactures don't call in the lawyers. If you aren't really into cars in the first place, this feature can obviously be overlooked. However, I love me racing cars, so this is a huge disappointment for me. On the good side, cars are able to take damage in MCII because of the lack of licenses. For some odd reason though, even if you manage to blow up your vehicle, it magically gets replaced with a brand new car and the race can be continued. Sure, you lose a few seconds, but as my older brother pointed out, what is the point of putting damage in the game if you get a shiny new car when the other one dies? Isn't the purpose of the damage to show the player that he or she should drive more careful or risk losing their car?
The music in Midnight Club II really fits the game well. Most of the music is techno and trance type stuff, but a few rap songs (including the main theme song) can be found. To be honest, many of the songs in MCII don't appeal to me, but the music can be changed on the fly by using the d-pad. If you are wondering, I didn't grade the game down because I didn't like the music. Aside for the music, other racers constantly chatter over the radio to either taunt you, or to give you advice. Even when you are winning, they will poke fun at your driving skills and call you names like "asswipe". Funny, but it gets old quickly.
As you probably know, Midnight Club II can be played online, assuming you have a broadband connection. Since everyone has speedy modems and such, the game tends to remain fairly smooth. While online, you can play capture the flag, detonate, or simply checkpoint races. MCII's online mode is better than the one found in Auto Modellista and it adds a lot of replay value once you finish the single player mode.
With all of these great features and graphics, how come I didn't give Midnight Club II a higher score? If you take a look at our review scale, 7.9 is NOT a bad score -- in fact, it is a very good one. However, the thing that really bothered me is that the single-player mode starts to wear thin a little too early in my opinion. I managed to beat the entire game (100%), but before I even beat the final "boss", I started to become bored of racing through checkpoint after checkpoint after checkpoint. I realize that Rockstar attempted to add some variety to the gameplay, but it simply was not enough for me. You can argue that Gran Turismo 3 (one of my favorite racing games of all time) wears thin very quickly too. That's true, but what I loved about GT3 is that you could win money, buy/sell cars, and upgrade the vehicles in your garage. You had a goal to work towards.
In Midnight Club II, you win cars from street racing leaders and such, but sometimes it isn't even worth using the cars that you just won. In fact, I used only used about 10 cars in MCII when the game gives you a whole lot more when you progress through the career mode. I usually did better by staying with my existing car for a couple more races. To me, this gives the feeling that you are not accomplishing much -- just moving from racing boss to boss like a drone. If you could customize or upgrade your car in MCII, I probably would have enjoyed the game a lot more.
Midnight Club II ranks very high on the "shock and awe" scale (hence the first sentence of this review), but once the amazement of the graphics and the adrenaline rush from the sense of speed you get while racing wears off, the game's true flaws start to show. MCII is definitely the most thrilling racing game I have ever played (while it lasted), so I still recommend this title for people looking for good clean fun online or by themselves. However, if you are looking for a driving game that has more depth and allows you to upgrade your car and such, you might want to look elsewhere.
Graphics: 9 Sound: 8 Music: 6 Replay Value: 7 Ingenuity: 6
Overall Score: 7.9 (Very Good)
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