Midnight Club 2 Review
Arcade-style racing games are becoming more and more rare on the PC; there are the usual number of racing sims or rally games, and there is the genre of "illegal" street racing games that Midnight Club 2 falls into. The difference, though, is that the glut of street racers are mostly budget titles that are only a bit of fun for a short while. Midnight Club 2 is a fully featured game with great graphics, a solid racing system, and plenty of action in single- and multiplayer modes.
Midnight Club 2 is made by Rockstar San Diego, the company that brought us the Midtown Madness games before Rockstar bought them out. You will see some of that style here, but you will also see a bit of Grand Theft Auto when it comes to the game world. The cities in MC2 are all large, seamless playgrounds of a sort, and the engine does a great job keeping the frame rates up while showing us plenty of eye candy.
The frame rate on lower-end computers was not too great - an Athlon 1GHz with a Geforce 2 and 384MB PC133 memory served up sluggish speeds at anything but the lowest resolution and lowest detail. But on the machine I list above, the game runs absolutely great with all detail turned on at 1280x1024. I found Midnight Club 2 to be technically very sound; there were no bugs I could dig up, and the game didn't crash a single time.
Midnight Club 2's menu interface is quite disappointing; this game was ported directly from the PS2 and it shows. The multiplayer interface is a bit unwieldy, and the rest of the menus are a hassle to work with. I was able to easily hook up a PS2 controller via a PSX to USB converter, and it worked perfectly in the game - all controls were easy to set up.
There's certainly something that must be said; even though this is an arcade racer, the need for analog steering (either by gamepad analog sticks or from a steering wheel) is pretty important. You can get away with using the keyboard, but the game is hard enough when the controls are spot-on. Get some analog steering one way or another.
The streets of Midnight Club 2 are full of little details, much in the way that the streets of Liberty City or Vice City in the GTA games are. There are also three full cities to traverse - Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo. There are plenty of details thrown in to make each city unique, and they all have quite a few ramps and other structures to jump off of or do stunts in. The cars themselves also look great, and the large amount of traffic & pedestrians you will weave through all blend together to make the cities come alive. The nighttime city lighting reflects off of roofs and hoods very nicely, and all of the animation is fluid and convincing.
Some of the visuals in Midnight Club 2 actually look better than those in the GTA games, which is quite a feat in my opinion. There aren't as many minor little details to explore and find, but after all, this is a high-speed racing game.
Even though this is an arcade-style racer, Rockstar San Diego knows that players pay attention to things like physics and handling. MC2's cars handle extremely well to an exaggerated degree, but the handling is predictable and can be mastered to a high degree. The physics come into play mainly during the stunts that you will need to employ to beat some races, and it all feels solid and real - if a bit overdone.
Most of the game takes place at night; you start off with an introductory couple of races, but after that you are let out into the streets to find someone to race. In this way, you can skip a tough race, win a different car from one of the other computer opponents, and come back with a better chance at victory. Speaking of opponents, they're all unique, although they tend to get on your nerves after a while - especially if you've lost the same race for the twentieth time. The cops can also complicate things in some races, and they are at least a threat some of the time. They aren't especially persistent, but they can screw up a race for you if you're not careful.
There are several types of races, most of which involve driving through a series of checkpoints. Some of races require you to drive around in sequence, while others allow you to pass through the points in any order. To win, though, you will still have to plot a course; the game supplies a ton of shortcuts that your opponents use (and therefore, you must use).
My biggest problem with Midnight Club 2 is that it is a maddeningly difficult game; many of the later races require five minutes of impeccable driving through a ton of unpredictable traffic. During some of these, one screwup at the wrong time means you lose; since first place is the only way to progress in Midnight Club 2, I found myself retrying many races upwards of thirty times or more. I'm not the greatest player of these games, but this game is beyond just being tough. It turns out that there is a difficulty option, but it seems to only be available via a cheat code. At the very least, the AI cars will make mistakes pretty often, which can also give you a lucky break at the right time.
MC2 also includes motorcycles, which can easily out-accelerate any car in the game but also make it far easier to crash. Some unique stunts can be done on motorcycles which are quite a bit of fun to play with.
For those who already own the Xbox or PS2 versions of the game and are considering the PC version, know that the graphics are better but you'll need a nice control setup to really get something out of MC2 for the PC. If you've got that, the improved visuals and custom MP3 soundtracks could be just enough to warrant a purchase.
Midnight Club 2 does offer up a pretty fun multiplayer game, with several modes - some are your normal races, others, like CTF and Destruction, aren't so standard. I did have trouble finding opponents for internet games, as there never seemed to be a whole lot of games going at once. Still, what I did play was quite fun, and lag wasn't much of an issue at all.
LAN multiplayer is even more fun, and highly recommended for a nice alternative to Counter-Strike at the next LAN party. Of course, I think that people will need to have some sort of decent gamepad or steering wheel to really enjoy MC2 for any longer than a few minutes.
Midnight Club 2 does have some voice acting for the computer opponents, although you will probably hear quite a few phrases repeated a bunch. Cars and motorcycles also sound very satisfying to drive, which is not always a given for even the best of racing titles.
The music is all brand new rap and dance-style stuff that somewhat matches each city; overall, the music is far better than what you might expect from a racing game. The custom MP3 soundtrack from the GTA games also made it into Midnight Club 2; while I commend Rockstar San Diego for putting in randomization of tracks and even next & previous song buttons, they missed one thing. Unlike GTA, Midnight Club 2 requires you to actually copy MP3 music into the game's music directory - you can't just right-click and create shortcuts to the music. Those players who want to access their whole music library in-game will need quite a bit of extra hard drive space for that second copy of their files.
Midnight Club 2 is a great arcade racer that should make any racing fan happy. The high difficulty is a bit of a problem, the interface is a bit too console-like, and the multiplayer internet games could be set up a bit better, but it's still a fine game. Grab it for the stunts, great racing, cool cities to explore, and the multiplayer mode for your next LAN party.