Racing games have been a staple in the arcades.  Since the original Pole Position, it wasn’t surprising to see other racing games like Hang-On and OutRun provided alternative gaming experiences.  You could even find a futuristic experience in S.T.U.N. Runner.  The Need for Speed series has been around for a long time, first starting out racing along streets in high-powered cars.  However, there was a set route that the cars used.


Eventually the Need for Speed series started focusing on illegal street racing with the

MC:LA uses the same engine as GTA4.  This means that MC:LA has a good foundation graphically.    Each of the buildings have their own distinct feel to it.  The buildings have a lot of detail, giving the seedier area a coat of grime, while the higher-end areas look pristine.  You can easily see which areas of LA have money and which ones don’t.


Since MC:LA is based off of Los Angeles, Rockstar San Diego has gone the extra mile to make the game look like Los Angeles.  They haven’t recreated Los Angeles exactly, but you can see several landmarks.  I’ve been to Los Angeles a couple of times, so there are a couple of landmarks I recognize.  The most notable for me are Los Angeles Convention Center and the Staples Center, and you can see both.


The cars have a better look than previous Midnight Club games.  The cars have more detail to them, with real car company names on the vehicles.  They lean just slightly as they cruise around corners.  You can feel the shift in the car as you speed up and slow down.


A lot of your driving occurs at night, since you are racing illegally.  This highlights the lighting effects of the GTA4 engine.  You can see the headlights illuminate the street, with the lights brighter close to the car.


While the racing looks good, troubles occur out of the car.  The character models look alright, looking very similar to those in GTA4.  However, the models look stiff and their movements are a bit unnatural.  The voice syncing looks a bit off.  It’s not terrible by any means, but it is noticeable.  You do get to see your character jam out to the radio while waiting at a red light though, which is a little entertaining.

The music in the game consists of a large number of rap and alternative tracks.  They are all licensed tracks, so there is something that you probably recognize.  However, if there is a track you absolutely can’t stand, you can hit right on the D-pad and move to the next music track.  You can also go the previous track by hitting left on the D-pad or pause the music by holding down left on the D-pad.


The engines in the cars are distinct.  You can hear the engines rev up right before the start.  Wheels squeal at the beginning of the race.  When you get enough Slip Stream Turbo built up and hit the jets you hear the wind blowing faster, and when the effect wears off, you hear a slight release from the engine.  When the Nitrous is released, there is a loud bang letting you know that it has kicked in.


There are several characters you interact with.  Some you see in cutscenes, while others are shown on your T-Mobile Sidekick when you get a call from them.  Their voices sound close, but something just seems a tad off.  It’s almost like the voice acting from the Final Fantasy series.

The developers have their work cut out for them when developing a racing game for the PS3.  The triggers on the SIXAXIS/DualShock 3 controllers aren’t comfortable for driving games, but using a button doesn’t feel quite as accurate or precise as using a trigger.  What Rockstar San Diego decided to do was use the right analog stick to control acceleration and brake.  While this sounds great in theory, it’s hard not to thrust the right analog stick forward all the way.  It’s also very difficult to drive around the city to a challenge under the speed limit.  I found myself constantly jerking when driving to my next challenge.


As typical with most racing games, the left stick controls steering.  R1 is your handbrake to make those quick corners.  The X flashes your headlights to initiate a challenge.  The Triangle changes the camera angle.  Square shows your back camera, while the L2 and R2 buttons shift the camera to the left and right.  Select brings up your GPS map to show where you can go on the map to find your next challenge.


The other questionable control decision I find is with the Nitrous and Slip Stream being part of the right analog stick because you have to push down the right analog stick to activate them.  In the heat of the race, it really can be difficult to let go of the right analog stick.  There are also special power-ups you can get that are activated by pressing down on the left analog stick.  You would think that with so many buttons on the controller there would be another more logical way to map the controls, but that isn’t the case here.

MC:LA is an open world racer where you start out at the bottom of the food chain.  You are new to the area and you have two goals: to get a fast ride, and to get respect.  You do this by winning races and earning cash.  You start out by buying your first car.  It’s a little beat up, but it does have some quickness to it.  If it makes you feel any better, think of it as the Millennium Falcon on four wheels.


Once you get hooked up with your contact and a set of wheels, you are given some objectives to complete.  Some objectives are specific, such as defeating a specific person in a race or series of races.  Others are to gain a certain amount of reputation points in a certain area.  As you increase your reputation you increase your ranking and you are able to take on more difficult challenges.  If you don’t have a high enough rank, some racers won’t give you the time of day.


When you bring up the GPS, you can see the challenges available to you at that time.  Green are easiest, with yellow, orange, and red challenges getting progressively tougher.  Once you decide which challenge to go to, you drive there with a little help from the mini-map in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.  Unfortunately you have to drive to the person heading up the challenge.  You have to drive under the speed limit indicated in your gauge in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.  If you drive too fast or recklessly, you get the attention of the police.  Unfortunately, when the challenge you want to go to is on the other side of the city, it gets boring waiting at red lights.  You can drive around trying to avoid the cops, but it is hard to run away from the cops, especially at the beginning of the game.


As you drive through the campaign you encounter different kinds of races.  Tournament races give points to each racer after each race and the racer with the most points at the end of the tournament wins.  Ordered races have you go through specific points in the city in a specific order.  Circuit races are similar, except that there are multiple laps.  Time trials have you complete laps in a specific vehicle with a specific time to beat.  Freeway races have checkpoints that appear along the freeway.  Red light races start from the nearest red light and end at a landmark on the other side of town.  Wager races have you wager money or your pink slip.  You may also be required to deliver cars to a specific location or damage a customer’s car that hasn’t paid their bills.


While the game is open-world, there are some things that MC:LA fixes that you don’t find in a game like Burnout: Paradise.  For instance, if you want to redo a race in Burnout: Paradise, you have to drive back to the original starting line.  In MC:LA, you are asked if you want to restart the race.  However, get used to seeing that screen often.  The rubber-band logic is something you haven’t seen this side of Madden.  The races are challenging and if you don’t drive a perfect line you can find yourself in back with no way to catch back up.


There are a few abilities that will help you get back up to speed.  First of all, you can upgrade your ride at the local garage.  You can not only change the color and overall look of your car, you can change the fender, bumper, hood, spoiler, and other items.  While some of the changes are cosmetic, they help out the performance of your car as well.


In the race you can do a few things to help you gain speed.  While Nitrous is available to help give you a quick increase in speed, you can get something called Slip Stream Turbo by following behind another racer.  After following behind a racer long enough a gauge fills up and you can activate it.  You can also unlock special abilities through career mode.  You can use Agro to plow through the streets.  When you unlock Zone, it simulates the adrenaline rush of driving as fast speeds.  This makes it feel like time slows down and lets you turn corners more accurately.  You can gain access to an EMP that temporarily disables your opponents in the race you are in.  Finally, Roar gives out an engine rev that creates sound waves that force cars out of your way.  You charge up these special abilities by driving cleanly.


Los Angeles is a big city to explore, so it will take a while for you to be able to figure out your way around the city.  Once you do though, you can see shortcuts that you might not have seen at first.  These can definitely help you get through the races quicker than if you didn’t have them available to you and can give you the upper hand in finishing first.  Some of the races could really use more waypoints or a larger mini-map, because unless you know the city, you can find yourself on a road that won’t take you where you want to go or you missed an exit because it wasn’t clearly marked the way that you need to get from point A to point B.


You also have several different kinds of vehicles.  Muscle cars have a different feel than exotic cars, which are different than tuner cars.  You also have motorcycles you can acquire as well, and they drive much differently than the cars.


The races are fast and furious, but the stakes aren’t too high most of the time.  With every race you gain rep and some money.  As your car takes damage or cops give you tickets for trying to evade them, it takes away the money you can use for doing upgrades or buying new wheels.  While it can be frustrating to finish races towards the bottom of the pack, you still gain money and rep, so it isn’t like the race was a complete waste of time.  It does mean that if you constantly do that you won’t progress quickly.  Making upgrades to your car as soon as you can helps.  Still, the game difficulty ramps up harder, and the cops quickly come to be a pain that constantly slows down your progress within the game.

The game can take you a while, because of the difficulty and all of the cars you can actually get.  However, there are a lot of races to handle in MC:LA.  Even if you beat the original game, you have plenty of online options.


You have the ability to play games with up to sixteen players.  Multiple versions of Capture the Flag are available, as well as Keepaway, unordered races, and games called Stockpile where you try to acquire as many flags as you can on the map and then bring them back to your base.  You can also post pictures of your car, sell vehicles, and personalize your playlist.  There should be enough there to keep you busy in LA for a while.