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In Memory
Sean Pettibone



    





Rockstarís Midnight Club II is an outstanding sequel that once again takes place in the adrenaline-fueled world of illegal street racing. The deeper storyline, cooler music and improved characters definitely adds to the underground feel. A fast racing engine is enhanced by the more detailed cities that make for a more realistic feel. In addition, Midnight Club IIís scope has been enhanced and youíll race through massive urban environments. In addition to the graphics upgrades, the biggest addition to the series is the ability to ride motorcycles and play online, which adds a lot to the gameís depth and challenge. Even better is the non-linear play which makes this is an intensely addictive racer. Read on as we explain what makes Midnight Club II one of the best PS2 racers to date. 

The first Midnight Club was one of the better PS2 launch titles and this long-awaited sequel builds on the successful formula while adding new play mechanics and online play.  You probably already know that Midnight Club II is an intense street racing title that takes place in three cities: Los Angeles , Tokyo and Paris . Initially, only the LA map is available and youíll be here awhile because the other cities will take some effort to unlock. Fortunately, thereís plenty to keep you busy before you move to the next urban setting. You can select from several modes of play including a cruise mode where you can get the feel of each city.  Once you have familiarized yourself with the layout, you can enter the arcade mode where you race against foes in several different contests. These include standard racing modes as well as Battle Modes. There are two basic types of Battle Modes: Capture the Flag, where you have to reach the flag first and, Detonator Mode, where you have to pick up a bomb and race to the next checkpoint to destroy your opponent. However, if you fail to reach this in time, your car explodes. You can also test your skills in standard Circuit modes. These have varying difficulty levels that range from single races along a short path to long endurance matches that circle the city in multiple laps. Using the shortcuts and avoiding gridlock is essential here, as it is in other modes. However, thereís no risk involved with these circuit races, so they make good practice levels. Midnight Club IIís  default Circuit courses offer a wide array of challenging predetermined routes, but you can also create your own races using the gameís Edit Mode. This is surprisingly easy to use and allows a level of customization not seen in many other racers. You have a lot of flexibility in the design of Edited courses, and using it shows you just how huge the cities really are. All of these modes are cool but the real meat of Midnight Club II lies in the career mode, which is the only way you can unlock additional vehicles and cites.

In career mode, Midnight Club II starts the player at the bottom of the food chain with a humble vehicle. You begin by cruising through the city and then challenging other racers by flashing your lights. Once they have accepted your challenge, you race and follow the other driver to the race start point. If you beat the other driver, youíll move on to the next race. Beating the rival in all their races unlocks their car for you to use. During the race, the next checkpoint is illuminated by a blue light that you need to race through. However, these arenít always immediately visible, so you can also check the arrow on the right side of the screen and your map to point you in the right direction. There are several types of races, in some, you race against a field of other racers, while in others, you can go one-on-one against your opponent. There are also different rules regarding the checkpoints, some can be raced in any order, while others give you a set path. Some of the races also set a time limit between the checkpoints as well. What makes the racing so exciting is that there is no set path to reach the checkpoints, and you can use shortcuts such as alleys and side streets to reach these faster. Players can also perform huge jumps that will cut even more seconds off their time.

In addition to racing against other drivers, youíll have to weave in and out of traffic. Even in the dark of night, the streets are filled with other drivers. Crashing into other vehicles slows you down significantly, and since thereís little room for error, you need to stay focused. Midnight Club IIís worlds are more populated this time around and there are many pedestrians walking around the as well. While hitting these causes little damage to your vehicle, hitting too many of them will draw the attention of the police. They cops will chase you aggressively when they see you breaking the law. If you really get out of line, theyíll set up roadblocks and sic their helicopters on you. So, while there are some points where you canít avoid conflicts with law enforcement, its best to avoid them if at all possible. Youíll also need to avoid objects such as light posts since these collisions will damage your vehicle. While the early vehicles in the game are simple to use, they donít have the special Nitro boost that the more advanced vehicles have. The Nitros propel you past opponents, but their use is extremely limited, usually to a single time in each race, though more advanced vehicles come equipped with multiple Nitro packs. However, when you unlock the advanced vehicles, you can use another technique, called a Slip Stream Turbo that you can use for a boost. In order to perform a Slip Stream Turbo, you simply drive behind another car and wait until the indicator is full, at which point, you can slash right by an opponent. This cool technique allows you to slingshot right past an opponent, and has the added benefit of not wasting a turbo early in the race.

Even though Midnight Club II features fantasy vehicles, there is an excellent variety to body type and controls that makes up for this The tight-as-nails driving is an edge of your seat, arcade style. Mastering the gameís drifting techniques and tight cornering is essential to successfully completing the race. The only problem with the game that might frustrate novice players is the difficulty, you may have to go through each race a few times in order to master the path, and usually only win by making as few mistakes as possible. So far, Midnight Club II might sound like an upgraded version, but two major changes affect the gameplay significantly.  The first major change is that Midnight Club II lets you ride several different types of motorcycles. The bikes control very differently from the cars. When youíre on a bike, you have to worry about transferring weight during turns. This technique is difficult to master initially but once you have the weight-shifting technique down, youíll find the bikes are more maneuverable. They corner fast and can slide through dense traffic. You can also perform cool stunts on the bikes such as wheelies and 180 degree slides that arenít possible with regular cars. However, you need to be more careful on the bikes, since even minor collisions knock you off the bike. The bikes are a great addition to the series and introduce a new type of control to the gameplay while staying consistent with the controls for the cars.  The other significant change is the addition of online play. While this seems like a no-brainer, PS2 owners have been starved for high-quality online titles and Midnight Club II is definitely a welcome release. Using the PS2ís network adaptor allows you to jump online and challenge other racers. There are several types of online play with including standard circuit races plus online versions of the capture the flag and detonator modes. We found the gameplay to be just as fast, furious and uncompromising during our online sessions with little lag time and virtually no hiccups.

Midnight Club IIís graphics have undergone a major upgrade, making it one of the most impressive looking PS2 titles yet. The new and more elaborate cut-scenes allow you to meet your opponents in the game, and their attitude and personality brings tension to the proceedings as they trash talk throughout. The voice acting is excellent and helps to bring the characters to life. Once youíre on the street, the difference is immediate. Gone are the flat buildings and sparsely populated cities, which have been replaced by massive and lively environments brimming with detail. The size of the cities is impressive because it takes several minutes to get from one end to the other. Players will also find realistic traffic patterns, plus loads of pedestrians to run over. This makes the urban environments feel much more realistic and alive than in the first Club. Players will also find many familiar landmarks such as LAX and the convention center in Los Angeles and the Arc de Trimuph and Eiffel Tower in Paris . The racing engine looks sharp and the renderings give the vehicles an excellent sense of realism. Players can choose from multiple viewpoints, including a heart-pounding first person perspective. There are some impressive visual effects such as light- sourcing, weather and, dazzling explosions that add to the realism. As youíd expect from a Rockstar title, the gameís soundtrack is excellent with a good mix of rap and dance music. Thereís quite a variety to the tracks that means it should appeal to a broad range of racing fans. Midnight Clubís nocturnal urban feel is evident throughout, making for a thrilling experience.

Despite itís overall high-quality, there are some areas where Midnight Club II falls a bit short of the mark. The intense racing is exciting and thrilling, but the difficulty level might be a bit much for younger gamers. However, veteran races should find the racing thrilling; with incredibly challenging AI that keeps you on your toes throughout with almost no room for mistakes. Another problem lies in the maps and directional arrows that can be confusing if you arenít familiar with the route, which leads to unnecessary frustration. As you can probably tell, these problems are minor and speak more to Midnight Club IIís hardcore appeal than any desing flaws. These problems will most likely bother the Ďcasualí gamers the most but they donít significantly detract from the overall experience if you have the inclination. The fast, arcade-style racing is quite addictive because the game sucks you right in with its intensity.
Midnight Club will definitely have you going for Ďjust one moreí race repeatedly. One big question on many gamerís minds is how Rockstar would be able to capitalize on the success of the GTA series. Even though Midnight Club II is a much more straightforward and narrowly focused racer, GTAís influence is evident in the attitude of the game characters and its non-linear play. This definitely gives the new installment a fresh and edgy appeal, which makes all the difference. Midnight Club II is an incredibly fast and fun title. Itís graphics and structure are a vast improvement over the original game with tight, fluid controls that put you right in the driverís seat. Midnight Club II is intense, and addictive, making it an absolute must-have addition to any PS2 racing fanís library.




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