After tearing up the fictional land of Liberty City earlier this year, Rockstar is returning back to "reality" with the latest releases in its street racing franchise. Midnight Club: Los Angeles hit the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this week (see our review right here
) while the PSP will see a different take on the formula in Midnight Club: LA Remix.
LA Remix is somewhat similar to Midnight Club: Los Angeles proper in that the game takes place in LA (obviously), features many of the same characters, vehicle roster and so on. But once you dig in deep, you'll note that the two versions are different in just about every way possible.
For one, the PSP game isn't incredibly hard. In fact, it starts out as a complete piece of cake. Things pick up as you advance, and the races marked red on your map, which are the hardest for you at that point, are indeed very hard. The game does get harder as you advance of course, but that's partly because of the hardware limitations.
Racing as fast as the game gets on a 4.3 inch screen with only 480x272 pixels can get pretty tricky. It's sometimes hard to see traffic until it's close to you, so the faster you go the shorter your warning gets, and it can get very
short. This also isn't unique to trying to spot cars - seeing shortcuts or straighter routes can sometimes be tricky as well.
Part of the issue here isn't related to the visuals, but rather marker placement. On races with checkpoints, you'll see giant plumes of smoke that have an arrow pointing in the direction of the next checkpoint. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of them, and some of the placement is bad. Instead of being at
a corner to help you know you need to take it, there may be a checkpoint around a corner, and unless you're paying close attention to the map as you drive (more on this in a second), you'll fly right by it.
Also, there aren't as many markers as there should be, so the distance between them can be pretty long. This isn't a big deal in theory, except that when a road curves a good bit and there isn't a marker in the middle of said curve, the first marker points to the next one and it looks like you need to take a turn then
, rather than following the road as it eventually bends.
All of these issues can lead you astray, so it's important to always keep an eye on the map in the lower-left corner of the screen. The game does feature a GPS view, though it's not even remotely as robust as the console versions. It does give you a nice overhead view of the city though, with events and cars willing to race highlighted on the map. In the console games, going to the GPS will pause the game, allowing you to plot your course to the next checkpoint, or perhaps find a shortcut. In LA Remix, the game doesn't pause if you're in the middle of an event, and pressing Select will just pop up a full-screen map as you race. This is pretty much completely useless as it's too hard to drive since it obscures your view so much.
With regards to the city itself, Rockstar has done a reasonable job of giving us somewhere interesting to drive, though the PSP hardware simply isn't powerful enough to support all of the details to really make it feel like LA, and as such I found it to feel rather bland and uncharismatic. Really, there's not a whole lot to make it obvious that you're actually in LA, other than the characters pointing it out and the like. It looks nice, to be sure, but you couldn't really tell it was actually the City of Angels from the buildings and skyline, unfortunately.
Still, there are some pretty interesting shortcuts, and the city itself is laid out well enough to make for some good races. The map isn't really all that big, so you'll find yourself hitting the same streets again and again, but fortunately that gets broken up a little bit into the story.
Indeed, Los Angeles is not your only destination here, as you can also opt to make your way to Tokyo. The city of Tokyo is fairly well represented and perhaps looks a little more like the real thing than this version of Los Angeles, if only because plastering neon signs everywhere is an easy thing to do. But like LA, Tokyo also sports some pretty fun routes to race, though again, you'll tire of hitting the same bits of town after a while.
There are some other aspects that wind up being a little disappointing, such as how a lot of the elements in races are pre-defined. As in, if you start a race and see a bus cross right in front of your path, it's probably not random - restart the race again and it'll be in the same spot. Cops also aren't a very big factor. You'll sometimes find blockades set up and crashing into the cops here may worry you about a possible arrest, but they won't budge. You will find them occasionally hunting down you and the other races, but they're not nearly as big of an issue as they could (and should) be, which cuts down on the intensity of having them show up a whole lot.
While the game is (obviously) far from perfect, it does have a fair bit of stuff going for it. The customization aspects are pretty solid for a portable title, though not as robust as the console versions, obviously. The vehicles handle really well and are all fun to drive, which is great. Hitting the e-brake way before a turn actually breaks to drift around the corner and just
miss the edge to keep in front of the pack is great fun, and fortunately the cars (and bikes for that matter) all respond predictably enough to make things like this possible, especially with practice.
The Ad-Hoc multiplayer options are fun, with a nice selection of mode options that include Capture the Flag, Tag, Paint (which is basically like a game of Graffiti, except that it only applies to predefined makers) and more. Plus, you have the option to use various power-ups, which can throw an interesting wrench into the mix.
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