In the mean streets of Los Angeles, racing legend Trikz ‘T’ Lane crosses moneybags Lidell Rey the wrong way by hitting on his girl Lana Davis, and finds his assets — most importantly his precious collection of cars — repoed upon returning from vacation. Down, but not out, T hits the street racing scene with only the first car he ever competed with left to his name, in order to rebuild his street creds, earn some cash, and to reclaim the cars he’s lost. He’s got the support of his partner, Ty Malix, and his buddies from the West Coast Customs crew to back him up as he sets out to topple Lidell’s empire by foiling his plans, defeating his bankrolled racer Twista, and stealing Lana from him.
The best thing I can say about this entire game is its spectacular crashes. While it’s not a unique aspect in the genre, that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. However, considering T’s cars don’t have any apparent safety features, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wear anything more than a standard three-point seatbelt (if anything at all), this guy should be little more than a gory smear on the road with all the times I got him into 100+ MPH head-on collisions. Instead, he manages to stay glued to his seat, with his arms held up to deflect random flying bits of glass, fender fragments, chassis parts, and engine blocks.
Speaking of crash animation, I found it annoying that I was unable to skip past the sort of slo-mo animation or most cutscenes. By “sort of slo-mo,” when the game enters the crash animation, it’s all done in slow motion, though if you tap on the x-button, you can kind of speed it up a few frames at a time, though it did little to alleviate my impatience during those sequences.
The rest of the graphics aren’t really much to write home about. There are nice reflection effects on the cars’ surfaces, but that’s pretty much standard fare for driving simulators, so that doesn’t earn it any extra points. I did like some of the little details that they animated in game, namely T’s actions inside the vehicle while driving, such as the steering motions and how he turned himself around when driving in reverse. I’ve never seen much more than fragments of the Los Angeles area, so I can’t really say much about the accuracy of the streets’ layout either. I do like what concept car designs I saw out of the Midway collection, but they were difficult to obtain and not really worth the effort to get in the end.
One thing that I feel really hurts the score here is the disappointing lack of personalized customization for the cars in T’s garage. The game uses real-world mod-shop West Coast Customs to pimp out T’s rides, but each car only has a single upgrade and all modifications are pre-packaged. Don’t get me wrong; the upgraded design is nice, and I’m betting each one is specially designed by the WCC crew, but there’s nothing in the game that gives the ability for the player to say, “This car is mine.”
I’m not exactly up on my urban street slang, but thankfully the game kept its use at moderate levels. I don’t fault the game for using this particular American English dialect since that’s what works best with the game’s setting, but I did find the voice acting to be fairly weak overall. The voices of the principle characters were sometimes so emotionless, it felt like I was listening to a meteorologist giving the five-day forecast on the morning news. The random voices (AI barks, as I recently learned they were called) of the pedestrians that you could never run over, the plethora of normal drivers on the road, and the patrol cops that were waiting at every street corner were very limited in scope, and it didn’t take long before you’d heard them all.
Also, while I can appreciate the game using the actual team from West Coast Customs to provide the voices for their in-game personas, Midway should have taken a little more time to give those guys some voice training. Listening to some of them speak in-game was at times conniption-inducing, since they often used awkward inflections and syllabic emphasis. It made me painfully aware of the vast differences that can arise between a trained voice actor and an amateur.
The other jarring voice was the race announcer. Not only was it one of the more emotionless voices, but it is the only notable voice I can think of (with the exception of AI barks) that did not have a pronounced accent or use street slang. It felt somewhat disassociating from the rest of the game, and was sort of damaging to the overall immersiveneess.
The sound effects seemed to be appropriate as far as I could tell. I cannot attest to the total accuracy of the different engine rumbles for every car, but it felt right at least. The effects used for the crashes seemed pretty generic, but they lent well to the overall excitement of the smash-ups, though I could have done without the heartbeat during those sequences.
There are three different music genres to choose from in the game’s soundtrack: hip-hop, techno, and rock. Personally, I am glad that the designers decided to go with multiple genres, since the default hip-hop music isn’t exactly my cup of tea. However, you cannot change the music setting in-game during story mode. If you ever get tired of listening to the same half-dozen tracks in one genre, you have to exit out to the main menu, change your music setting, then reload the game.
For a driving sim, I found the controls to be fairly responsive. It took a couple of tries to get used to the sensitivity level of the analog controller, but once I got a feel for it, I was able to weave through traffic pretty well. I also appreciated that the game supported the use of the the Logitech Driving Force’s force-feedback functionality. The wheel had a significantly higher learning curve in-game, but it adds a bit to the fun factor.
Though this is more of an ancillary complaint to controls, but the instruction booklet actually confused things quite a bit. First, its labels for the buttons to use for manual gear shifting are wrong. They list it as the directional buttons, when the game is programmed to use R2/L2. The control scheme in the booklet would work far better with the Driving Force wheel, but the programmed method works best with the standard controller. It was a bit confusing at first, but it wasn’t difficult to figure out. I ended up choosing to use automatic after a while anyway, since it was so uncomfortable to shift gears when using the wheel.
Unfortunately, this game suffered from many fatal flaws, and has little redeeming value. The first problem is that it was too boring. If it was just going to be a driving sim, I could have done without all the pointless wandering around the city in between races. The wandering does little to help prepare for a race since you never know what the route is beforehand. If things were going to be mission-based, there could have been a wider variety of things to do. In the end, even though the game encompasses both features, it delivers poorly on both of them.
Another fault that I found with the game ties in to the lack of visual customization that I noted in the graphics section above. Each car’s performance modification is already designed for the player’s convenience. It’s more of idiot-proofing, I suppose, since this way you can’t accidentally mess up your vehicle by trying to install a supercharger into a naturally aspirated engine or something like that (not that there’s any game that lets you do that — I’m just using an example). But again, it takes away the player’s ability to personalize a vehicle and turn it into something that they can call their own.
I also had a problem with the AIs for the normal civvie drivers and cops. In a word, they were stupid. For example, I had just run into a line of cars stopped at a red light, and launched several vehicles into the intersection in front of traffic in the opposite lane. The light turned green in the middle of the crash animation, and those cars accelerated… right into the wreck.
The cops often dished out more collateral damage than I did during high-speed chases. They ran through more light poles and fences than I could ever hope to accomplish. And if I steered headlong into a wall, they (as well as the badguy vehicles in retrieval missions) would gleefully follow, adding a few more steel pancakes to the plate. I found it amusing that the police AI would actually steer off overpasses, through guardrails, as part of their interception protocol — this resulted in having patrol cars literally falling from the sky around me as I drove by.
I found that if you’re being chased by cops during a standard romp about town, it’s better to completely trash your ride than get caught. It costs nothing to repair the vehicle when you trash it, but if you’re caught by the cops, they arrest you and fine you for speeding or something. After you respawn from a wreck, sometimes if you don’t move, you can sit there for a long while as patrol cars circle around in confusion and eventually forget about you. Otherwise, you can use the reprieve to duck into a side street or alleyway, and they’ll probably never find you.
I also felt that the pedestrians on the streets, while they provide a nice touch for adding to the city’s atmosphere, were mostly just a waste of CPU cycles, as they added nothing significant to the game itself. You can’t interact with them in any way and you can’t hit them with your car (when the two manage to collide, they just clip right through the vehicle model skin). They just move randomly and scream harmless epithets in your direction if you force them to run away as you careen through the sidewalks.
Trees had a powerful gravity field around them that nudged the car off to one side to keep the vehicle from giving it a big hug and the tree from embedding itself into T’s face. Light poles, however, fell apart if I nicked them with my side mirror.
There were also times when the game would suddenly pause, and spit up a “Please Wait…” notice. It may be that it happened when I crossed into a new section of town, but I could never really tell. While roaming around, this was only a minor annoyance at most, but it was became a huge distraction when it happened in the middle of a race.
There are plenty of cars to unlock, races to be run, and sidequest missions to be completed. You need to be able to place in a race to unlock it in quick-race mode, and you need to complete certain races and missions to unlock new cars and progress the story. Some of the missions, especially stunt mode, were quite frustrating to run, and not really worth the effort. Money could be easily obtained by running the same race over and over again, so that never became an issue, and upgrades were a one-shot per vehicle, so the incentive to complete everything was never really there. I’m normally a completionist, but I found myself skipping several sidequests just to get on with the game. Compounded with the lackluster gameplay, and the total value and replayability of the game simply isn’t there.