Midway has made significant strides in the past two years to create solid, entertaining, and innovative games ranging from NBA Ballers to The Suffering. Even with older franchises, such as Mortal Kombat, the one-time pinball publisher has breathed new life into the series by creating a knock-out co-op experience in Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks.
Revising the Rush series, Midway has tried in earnest to bring the series up to speed, transforming it from Rush 2049 (a low-selling game with diehard fans), to a dynamic, streaming, hip-hop-flavored arcade-racing endeavor. To our dismay, LA Rush is indeed a hip-hop-flavored, streaming racer with a huge environment, but it's neither a Rush game by any means of the imagination, nor is it fun. Fact is, LA Rush is a me-too product that's frustrating, often cheap, and repetitive. But that's not even what hurts the most. What ruins the experience is that aside from a jump, ramp or side-street here or there, LA Rush bears no resemblance to the Rush series of the past, with the heavier cars, the crazy, long roof-to-roof stunts, or the insanity of the Dreamcast multiplayer game.
LA Rush is a giant game. Using Los Angeles, Ca, as its backdrop, Midway has re-created a large, and at times, accurate street version of the City of Angels, coupled with a mixture of interesting and not so interesting routes in and outside the city boundaries. You take on the role of Trikz, an African-American street racer who's made it big. You upset a big-time crook, Lidel, who uses strings to rob you of everything you own, from material items to the priceless collection of cars now somewhere out there in the street of LA.
Your job is to win the races and tournaments he's holding to win the cars back, earn money, upgrade cars, and to basically show who the real racing master in town is. You're also vying to steal his girl, Lana. It's a story about restoring order, and it's not bad, compared to Need For Speed Underground's story, which was poor, but it's filled with a whole lot of yo-yo-bling-bling chatter, which seems both artificial and forced.
Bettering EA's game in the size department (it's also got better and more useful freeways), LA Rush offers a lot of race types, from basic Street Races, to Acquire Races (where you locate one of your old cars and if you can make it from point A to point B without the enemy destroying it, it's yours), to Retribution Races, Stunt Races, Endurance Races, Cross-town Races, and Bonus Races (designed especially for tricked out cars). You'll race across Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Venice, Compton, Carson, South Central, Long Beach, Downtown, and other areas too. The locales are different in verticality and structure, and you'll have to learn each new section as you enter and race through them. (The GPS system is also very good, adding on-the-fly lines to direct you to point B.) But size and the resemblance of variety aren't really the issues. LA Rush has size, and on the surface, good variety. However, several basic elements suck the fun out of everything.
First, Midway's arcade-style racer drives with a light touch. Unlike the heavier cars of the former Rush series, these cars are easily destructible, lightweight (except for the few SUVs), and instantly responsive. On their own, these qualities might work out, but compared to any previous Rush game, you actually feel as if you're not playing a Rush game at all. In fact, Midway could have easily called this LA Roads, or LA Blast, and done us all a favor. That way we wouldn't compare this to previous Rush games. But, that's not the case.
Let's pretend that this isn't a Rush game for a second, eliminating the comparison. It's not too hard to do, anyway. On the surface, the lightweight cars have a decent to good sense of speed, especially from the right camera perspective (there are four angles -- one inside, three outside). As more cars are unlocked, you'll find the sense of speed increasing, and better handling cars, including Lotuses, the 350Z, the Saleen S7, and a series of concept cars. On their own, they're OK to play with, but in a race? Things careen downhill fast.
No matter what kind of race you enter, the game is filled with traffic and cops. The traffic serves a decent purpose, to create obstacles and tension, but there's actually too much of it. It's constantly getting in the way, and even if you're a skilled racer, the randomness of the traffic ruins any kind of groove or skill you've amassed in the 15-plus hours you'll need to beat this game. I don't know how many times I YELLED obscene things in my house at this game while playing, but the room was afoul with anger, frustration, and very nasty words aimed at LA Rush.
The Xbox version also doesn't have the technical glitches that appear in the PS2 version. The first load time on PS2 is about one minute, and several times during my experience, the words "Please Wait" stuck on screen, while the game loaded in. "Please Wait" is not what you should see in a game that aims to pump up your adrenaline or give you a thrill. In the PS2 version, cutscenes stutter (and yes, the disc was clean), and pop-in is available regularly.
The traffic is part of the problem, but not all of it. The AI is also guilty of being super lame. The first four hours I had one strategy: Kick this game's ass. Learn the way it handles, study up on the AI, and beat it. Poor strategy. The yelling all happened in the first five to six hours of play. I took some time off, watched the 49ers lose, and then played some more when I was in a better mood. I decided to not to lead the pack. Not to race like a winner. But to race like a cheater.
So, I hung back and stayed in second or third place for three-fourths of the race, saved up nitros, and then, when I glimpsed the red flashing icon at the race's end? I nitro-ed my way to first. With the exception of random traffic getting in my way every so often, I could beat every single race that way. This problem was solved in Midnight Club 2, which introduced random-path AI, so you had to forge your own path each time. In LA Rush, this makes the racing formulaic, the winning cheap, and the AI practically worthless.
Third, once I figured out there isn't that much skill required, the rest of the experience was dull. You can hang back, collect nitros, and generally achieve second or third place and still progress the story, making the game repetitive and uninteresting. I earned enough money, despite having to constantly spend it on repairing my car in Acquire Races (which is stupid), and, despite the good variety of races on the surface, the racing grows less and less fun each hour.
The cops are equally annoying. They don't ever really do anything worthy of being cops. Sure, there must be some balance -- if the cops were too hard, you'd never finish a race. But these cops are way too easy, and the only purpose they serve is to increase the annoyance and anger. The cops yell dumb things. The first time they shout at you, they might say is, "Driver, we're warning you for the last time." What? Last time? They yell that the first time around, and then they yell it several times more. If they arrest you, a fine is paid and you're on your way. Rent-a-cops are more valuable then these chumps.
Course design is also a factor in LA Rush's many failures. Many of the objects here are destructible. Which ones? It's hard to tell. Fences and lamp posts, some trees and hydrants are all breakable. Some walls and bigger objects are too. But in the heat of a race, when the last 100 yards are there, and you take a shortcut and slam into a wall, a corner, or building that doesn't break? You'll grow an incredible large and quick distaste for LA Rush. There are shortcuts and ramps, too, but they don't play nearly enough of a role in the way LA Rush is designed, and the game doesn't play, look, or feel anything like any previous Rush game.
Lastly, perhaps the most annoying part of LA Rush is the non-skippable crash scenes. OH MY FREAKIN' GOD. Each time you crash, and that's a lot no matter your skill, you have to watch a crash cutscene. These serve one purpose: to show off the particle engine at work. It's cool the frist time; every time after it really stinks. You can fast-forward through some of this cutscene, but that's not enough. When you crash, you want to get back into the game as fast as possible, and these scenes linger for no good reason on your failure, even rubbing it in. Sure, Burnout has slow-motion crash scenes, but in them you affect gameplay. Here, you just suffer.
Whether you call this LA Rush, or LA Rash, this game is not worth your while. The more you play it, the less fun it gets. This game tarnishes the Rush brand by having nothing to do with the previous series, and it retains none of the fun elements to lift it into the future. If you're a big Rush fan, you'll be disappointed by this one, but even more to the point, if you own Midnight Club 3 or Need for Speed 2, you won't need to buy this, because it's not as good as either of those.
Midway's game does some things well in the visual department. First, the cars show off good reflections. The use of sunlight and reflection in LA Rush is well done. Midway captures the sunny, palm-tree-laden feel of LA nicely. If you know LA, you'll recognize the Santa Monica pier, downtown, some streets in Hollywood, the Hollywood sign, the airport, and even the Third Street Promenade. Driving past these replicas might even make you smile.
Special effect-wise, there is just enough blur and soft-focus touch to increase the sense of speed and to give the game a sense of polish, despite its enormous size and heft. On both PS2 and Xbox, there isn't that much pop-in, and for the record, LA Rush is better than GTA in this respect. On the other hand, the textures are generally plain and forgettable, and there is a certain generic graphic quality to the landscape. LA Rush is significantly better looking on Xbox and features much more reasonable load times to boot.
For all of the games that boast the coolest hip-hop, rap, and whatever else is trendy right now, and you can tell I'm not up on my bling talk, I have to say that his selection of music is my least favorite. I'm personally more into alternative, rock, punk, new wave, and blues, but I'm willing to listen to anything. Compared to Need for Speed Underground 2 or Midnight Club 3, this selection is hurt my ears from the start-up theme music to the end.
In contrast, the game delivers good voice-acting. You'll notice that the West Coast Custom (Pimp My Ride) guys continue to show up and talk cool, and the smack talk occasionally reaches levels approaching a laugh. The most incongruous, most nonsensical part of the voice-acting, however, comes from the seemingly random announcer. This guy seems to have somehow crept in from the old Midway games with a voice that sounds more apt for a country fair than a heavily licensed game with and MTV's Pimp My Ride.
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