Midnight Club II is the sequel to the Playstation 2 launch game. Created once again by Rockstar San Diego (they were known as Angel Studios when the original came out), this game attempts to bring the feeling of the Fast and the Furious movies to the video game world. I think they have succeeded quite well. A street racing game at night with cars on the line and cops chasing you. Yeah, this game sounds pretty exciting! Let’s get into the meat of the game though.

The graphics in Midnight Club II are good, but not great. The cars may not be perfect looking (they are based on real-life cars/motorcycles, but with no license for them they have to be renamed ala the Grand Theft Auto series) and there are a bit of jaggies no matter how far or close to the car you are in camera view (there are 5 views, ranging from far to inside the car with no hood). Where this does well is in showing damage on your car. It can get pretty extensive as you keep hitting people and hard objects. Your trunk may even start flapping up and down if you hit it enough. Maybe it is somewhat of an homage to the GTA series, but I would say the graphics in this game are better.

The biggest plus for Midnight Club II is that it runs at a constant 60 fps with no slowdown at all regardless of the jaggies present. The only slowdown you may see would be in online LIVE games, but that has more to do with a certain player’s latency to the other players than anything else (I get into more of this in the Value section). It is also quite cool with the rain and fog effects and they both affect your driving performance.

The character graphics of people you are racing against is pretty good, but they certainly don’t look like your normal Joe or Jane from the street. The tracks themselves look quite good as well. There are lots of cars to drive through and around, but with it being so dark in this game there are not a lot of colors that this game has to push or any elaborate building/track designs. In fact, I dare say the buildings look too blocky, but it’s nothing you notice as you are flying by in excess of 150 MPH. This game probably won’t win any graphical awards, but it does well with what it has. This game was obviously built to run at a constant rate and it does that admirably.

Lots and lots of techno music is the best way to describe what Midnight Club II brings to the plate. I don’t hate techno music and it certainly belongs in this type of high-octane game. As for the sounds, the in-game stuff was pretty good. Pumping the game through the Dolby Digital 5.1 system certainly had me going. You can hear the cars coming from behind and to the side of you. Excellent use of the surround system in my opinion. The coolest thing to hear is when another car fires off its nitro.

Another good part of this game are the voiceovers. They are done quite well and you even hear some lines as you are driving. The only problem is getting caught on a track for a long time since you haven’t made your objective yet. In this case you happen to hear the same lines over and over again. However you get to another mission against the same driver and there will be different lines said. You also have the option of turning the volume up and down on pretty much anything (voices, music, effects, etc.).

Control is excellent in this game. There are multiple control options to choose from (4 automatic and 2 manual I believe). I did not like the default controller settings as I like to have my acceleration on the R trigger and braking on the L trigger. Luckily there is an option for that. The key added controls are Nitro (commonly the Black button), handbreak and weight transfer. The latter two are quite important to give you somewhat of an edge against the relatively perfect driving computer players. When you turn around corners you want to use the handbreak and weight transfer to have tighter turns that may make up for seconds of lost time.

As in most racing games, each car and motorcycle handles differently and it will take a while to get used to each one. Driving a car at the beginning is a heck of a lot easier to handle than a sports car towards the end. Going into a turn at 150+ MPH is an exciting feeling until you find out that you didn’t apply the break or handbreak at the right time and thereby smash right into a building. Speaking of crashes, some of the crashes are quite awesome in this game. They just are not to the levels of Burnout 2 in this respect…then again, even though they are both arcade racers, I argue that they bring different things to the table.

This is where the game is great. For a racing game, this is a pretty damn fun game. That is always what I am looking for in arcade racers personally…fun. You can go through the big mode, career. In this mode you go through several missions in Tokyo, Paris and LA. As you win the group of challenges you add cars (and motorcycles) as well as special parts/abilities (such as SlipStream Turbo where you draft a car until the right bar is full and then you push your acceleration in and you speed by the opponent) to your inventory. The big problem in career mode is that the farther you get the more difficult the game gets. You’re saying, “Isn’t a game supposed to get harder as you go along?” Yes, it should…but this game pushes you to the nigh impossible level of difficulty. The computer drivers have good AI to them. You certainly won’t see them taking the same way every lap like they do in Gran Turismo 3 for example. No, the difficulty comes in the package of the computer players being adept at missing cars and even missing crashes that happen right in front of them. I think a slight tweak could have helped the difficulty: be able to use the nitro more than once in a race/lap. This would have given you a chance in many races as you get toward the end. I have yet to blow through everything and this game is certainly addicting enough for me to continue to beat the levels. For many they may get frustrated though.

There are other modes as well. There is a circuit mode where you race in a circuit. There is a straight race mode where you just race and there is even a race editor mode where you can build your own track. The cool thing is that you can race it both off and on-line. Another cool feature in this game is the physics engine. Everything seems to react in the correct manner and not in a unrealistic way.

This game will take a while to beat because of the difficulty levels. There are also a lot of missions to go through as well, so this game is no cakewalk. The true value in this game is found in its online component. I played a good 5 hours of this so far on Xbox LIVE. You can have up to 8 players playing the game at the same time with no lag (except for those people whose latency is low…then you see them disappear and reappear or jump on the screen). There are a variety of game modes you can play: Career mode, Circuit Racing, Cruise mode, Capture the Flag (where you can have 2 teams), Detonator and you can even create your own racing track to race on along with many other things.

The first few LIVE games I played were enjoyable, but I got my ass kicked because I had not unlocked any of the cars. This is the big problem with the LIVE play. You’re stuck with the cars you have unlocked in the career mode. This means if you haven’t unlocked anything you are most likely going to lose unless the other people choose the same type of car. This is a mistake I can forgive, but I can just imagine how much better the game could be if you could choose from all the cars and at least have a decent race with like cars instead of the high-end fast ones lapping the slower and earlier cars.

Overall the enjoyment in LIVE is immense. The single-player section is nothing to laugh at either. You will spend countless hours in both, but the LIVE play is an added value to an already great value.

I have a funny story with this game. My first LIVE game with Midnight Club II was me creating a new game. I had a few people join and then we started up. The three other players started saying such wonderful things as, “Are you gay?”, “Do you suck cock?” and “Shut up, you faggot”. Needless to say I didn’t say a word and they were talking amongst themselves. I quickly ended the game as I didn’t want to hear from the peanut gallery anymore. I was glad when I got to my second game…there was a much better group of people and anyone that did dumb things like the people above were summarily booted out of the game by the host. Another cool thing was that the host was more than willing to help people new to the game (like myself). Ah, the wonders of LIVE, eh? Idiots come out of the woodwork constantly.