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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

 

 


   

 






Rockstarís ambitious Midnight Club is one of the most impressive and enjoyable of the initial PS2 launch titles. While itís arcade-style play mechanics, bare-bones physics and mission structure seem a bit too simple, reminiscent of a watered down Driver, Midnight Clubís main claim to fame is itís incredible environments and the gameís overall attitude. With near-full scale models of New York City and London and some impressive special effects, the game offers players the chance to scream through realistic urban environments while dodging police, oncoming traffic, pedestrians and other obstacles. Are Midnight Clubís detailed environment enough to make playing fun for an extended period?

The dark streets of London and New York are the setting for an outlaw group of daring racers known as the Midnight Club. Skirting the law with their dangerous battles, the club is quite selective in their membership and new recruits must face a battery of skills tests in order to be accepted by the group. While there are other modes included in Midnight Club, the main meat of the game is its career mode Ė whatís cool about this is that there are two entirely separate careers, one for London the other for New York, both of which offer significant depth and challenge in their parallel paths. Starting with a lowly taxi-cab, you start the game at the bottom rung and can work your way up the ladder by challenging and subsequently defeating other members and winning their vehicles. Taking the career path is a fairly straightforward option, but it works well because the path to success is quite clear and simple to understand Ė just as in the best arcade games, the emphasis is on gameplay not bells and whistles. In addition to the career path, Midnight Club also features an arcade mode, which is stripped down an consists solely of the race challenges. Finally, there is a cool free-run mode included where players can familiarize themselves with the layouts of each area.

During the game, your main mission is to beat the rival drivers, who taunt you throughout each race. You do this by completing missions, which generally involve racing them to a series of checkpoints that are well-marked by large spotlights. The cities are realistic in structure and also have traffic and pedestrians to contend with along with alerted police cars which can slow you down. The traffic patterns are impressively realistic with stop-lights and flow implemented in a realistic manner in the levels In addition, players have to watch their cars damage indicator and can also be taken out of the race if they crash off the top of a building or make a mistake and end up in a river or lake. Rival cars are incredibly aggressive throughout the gamer and there is very little room for error. This is a bit frustrating in the earlier levels, as your taxi is quite limiting and beating rival racers is a chore at times While the learning curve feels a bit steep and Midnight Clubís aggressive AI makes playing seem impossibly difficult initially, things become much more enjoyable as you master the  handling and your abilities increase when you unlock more powerful vehicles later in the game. The AI offers a stiff challenge throughout the game and consistently ups the ante as the checkpoints and rival vehicles become much more aggressive with trickier layouts and courses in the later levels. Still, the gameplay is fairly simple and most players will have little trouble getting through the gameís levels.

In Midnight Club, the playerís skill with their racer is paramount over considerations such as realism and physics handling Ė this allows the game to emphasize fun. The cars control very well, however and have just enough grounding in reality to suspend the playerís disbelief. The arcade physics means that you should be able to pull off some impressive turns and spins, though this also means that there are a lot of exaggerated crashes and outlandish jumps that can be accomplished as well. Midnight Clubís damage system is fairly lenient and allows you to make quite a few major mistakes before your car is totaled. As mentioned earlier, if you jump into a river or lake, you immediately total the car and the race ends. This doesnít apply in free-run mode, where you are simply reanimated in another location when you hit the water. Controlling the car is simple and straightforward: using the PS2ís dual shock controller, with the 2 Dual shock analog pads used to steer and accelerate. Players can also use the standard cross digital pad and the analog buttons, but either way Midnight Club offers simple and responsive control.

Visually, Midnight Club is one of the more impressive Playstation 2 titles released to date and suffers little from the jaggies that plague other racing titles. The game runs at an good frame rate with little slowdown evident. As stated earlier, players race through semi-accurate representations of New York and London. While this may seem a bit cheap for some players, the fact that most of the levels take place at night gives the game a nocturnal atmosphere that underlines the outlaw feel of illicit racing. While the individual cars are pretty plain in appearance, there is a lot of variety to them and they also showcase some impressive lighting effects as they shine and glimmer while they speed under lights. The actual building elements look fairly solid, if plain. Aside from the fact that the proportions have been a bit compressed, (The PS2 isnít that powerful), the cities seem to be very close in scale and layout to the actual physical locations with most areas in their proper place. Additionally, Midnight Club does a good job and includes some of the citiesí major landmarks. Players can race through Times Square Grand Central Station and will also pass the UN building  in New York and can also look fly across the Thames River, pass through Trafalgar Square and Big Ben in the London area. The areas are vast and impressive in scope , with both showcasing plenty of lighting effects. Whatís impressive is that there are a variety of realistic and somewhat authentic structures which come in a variety of sizes and designs. The engine is quite versatile and allows you to traverse parks, smaller buildings and huge skyscrapers that loom in the distance, giving the player an excellent sense of scale and proportion . Midnight Club also impresses due to itís special effects which include realistic rain, outstanding light sourcing and reflections which combine with the level layouts to heighten the realism of the engine.  Whatís even better is that the buildings and other objects in the game gradually come into view with little pop-in evident. There are also short-cuts and secret areas to explore which adds even more fun to the game. The cities are in a word, absolutely huge, with a vast area to drive through making for quite a visceral racing experience. While the individual elements may not sound impressive, the sum is greater than itís parts and the overall graphics engine is very impressive, especially considering that Midnight Club is the first game of itís ambition level to appear on the PS2 console. Despite itís good points, Midnight Club still a little rough in spots, mostly it feels a little plain especially in the vehicle design department. This isnít really a big problem, and players should consider this title is a tantalizing taste of even more impressive things to come as programmers come to grips with the hardware.

Midnight Clubís game environment and graphics are impressive enough on their own and this is complimented nicely by the titleís soundtrack and in-game dialogue which enhances the atmosphere and makes things that much more immersive. During the game, youíll hear rival drivers taunt you and make comments throughout. These characters serve to motivate the player and add some tension to the proceedings. The off-color remarks showcase Rockstarís trademark attitude with exaggerated characterizations and accents highly reminiscent of the humorous approach seen in the companyís Grand Theft Auto series. Midnight Clubís dance music soundtrack makes for good background and doesnít overwhelm the action. In fact, the music is played it a bit too safe because a more lively score would have made the experience much more intense. So in the end, while the structure and missions are simple, what really makes Midnight Club stand out are itsí impressive environments mixed with its no-frills racing action. Players looking for depth and rich simulation aspects are advised to look elsewhere because the main appeal of Midnight Club is itís streamlined gameplay and incredibly rich graphical environment. In fact the experience of driving in the quasi-accurate cities is the main appeal of the title. Itís not very deep and itís threadbare plot pales next to games like Driver, but Midnight Club does offer an exciting, challenging and fun title that while not offering the deep storyline or configurable vehicles many would like, is a solid effort. Midnight Club isnít perfect and shows evidence of ďFirst-GenerationĒ syndrome most evidentially in itís lack of depth. Still, itís an extremely enjoyable game that points tantalizingly to the potential and promise of future PS2 games.  

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