Sunday, October 26, 2008

Midnight Club: L.A. First Thoughts...

I developed an unexpected love for Midnight Club: Dub Edition when it came out a few years ago. I'm not a racing gamer at all, but decided to check it out because of the rave reviews and good sales.

I blew an entire weekend pimping out my stable of cars and playing the heck out of the game. It blew me away. The arcade nature of the game, the use of special moves and map knowledge to win the race instead of having to understand a realistic simulation, and the over-the-top beauty of the cars really kept me going.

The next iteration: Los Angeles is a more highly polished version than the previous version. Cars and landscapes are beautiful. I'm sad they don't have Venice Beach (the southern border of the game is I-10) as I would have liked to drive through the neighborhood I was hanging out in last weekend. They've definitely captured the L.A. feel. The cut-scenes are as good as those in GTA IV -- maybe a little weaker in terms of story and character, but visually amazing. Driving around is fun already, and will get even more fun once I unlock cooler cars.

As an initial experience, I felt like the pacing was decent for a sequel (at least for folks like myself who played the previous version). However, I still managed to dig myself into an uncomfortable hole early on through various crashes and police chases. I'm not sure if I like the police chases and am desperately trying to remember if there was a similar element in the previous version. 

I also wonder about the realism in the game and hope that we'll still have some of the insanely cool across the rooftop races and 500+ yard jumps in souped up cars. I haven't explored the map that much, but I'm crossing my fingers.

One of the most interesting things they've done with the game is to make all transitions seemless by default, including going from game play to back button menu and from single player to Live Cruise mode. It's really pretty cool in terms of how the back button menu works and even though the rapid camera shifts occasionally feel a little nauseating, it's nice to quickly orient yourself to the game when you're dropped back in.

When I selected Quick Cruise from the Xbox Live submenu (off the start button) basically the AI cars dropped out and were replaced by people just driving and hanging out. We were all quite content to zoom around the map in 2s and 3s without purpose even though there were a handful of options to engage in more organized competitive play. I still remember my first online trip in Dub Edition. I bumped into two people who were trying to jump their SUVs onto the roller coaster tracks. It was pretty funny to watch.

I've heard multiple rumors about racing MMOs in development and I'm thinking that if someone were to cross Warhammer with Midnight Club, there might be something to it. I like the idea of having my single player world populated with other people (some of whom have similar goals, some of whom have independent goals, and some of whom have opposing goals). Not only can this be fun in terms of observation and interaction, but it can also be helpful in terms of having a helpful buddy provide tips and tricks. It was also super cool to be driving around in my old beater and see more advanced drivers whiz by me in their fancy looking cars. I kind of get the same feeling when I watch high level characters in an MMO. They visually stand out and look cool -- and inspire me to keep plugging along.

I'll need to do a bit more analysis of the initial experience. It seemed like it offered a nice way to ease players (experienced vs. newbs) into the game, but as an experienced player I'm not sure what affordances it provided for people who struggled with the first couple of races.  Maybe I'll watch Liza play the first 30 mins or so. Also, as I noted above, I was allowed to go into debt quickly (by damaging my car and getting arrested) which made the beginning drag on longer than it had to (and kept me in a less cool car for longer than needed).

I'm looking forward to spending some more time with it. And with Dead Space.

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