Rockstar provided us with a hands-off preview at the Leipzig Games Convention of its PLAYSTATION 3 and Xbox 360 racer Midnight Club Los Angeles, chauffeuring us at high speeds around a digital Hollywood. The Rockstar San Diego production is expected soon after the New Year, so while much of it looked unfinished, it still impressed. Midnight Club may not have the investor sex appeal of its poorer driving big brother Grand Theft Auto, but with some 5 million copies of Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition in homes, it's pretty clear the kids still love high speed, high stakes car racin'.Set in a geographically fictionalised version of LA, the newest Midnight Club will further stray from its late night settings, giving players the option to pick fights with other speedsters during daylight. The sunnier, hazier daytime aesthetic doesn't look as appealing as the game's late night mode, but it will at least provide a nice change of pace to races lit only by street lamps.
Three cars were shown during our preview, a Ford Musting, Mitsubishi 3000GT and Lamborghini Gallardo. All were nicely modeled, some 100,000 polygons each, with custom car kits and paint jobs giving each that Midnight Club visual appeal. What wasn't so pretty was the scuffed up, dented versions of each. Our presenter was noticeably liberal with car-to-everything contact, driving through fire hydrants, into bushes and righting his path against concrete barriers.
Fortunately, a one-button Quick Fix option has been added to repair your chassis after a dust up, as damage to your ride now affects your car's driving performance. That Quick Fix will make your car drivable again, but not necessarily showroom floor pretty.
What was most visually impressive about Midnight Club LA was its zooming map feature. While you can orientate yourself via the Rockstar-standard mini-map in the bottom left corner, you can, at any time, fly above the city of LA Lite, giving you a city-wide view of everything. You'll see traffic patterns, potential racers and locations giving players a quick—and by the way, gorgeous—overview of Los Angeles.
Zooming back to street level was also technically very, very impressive. Rockstar San Diego's in-house RAGE engine—also tapped for Grand Theft Auto IV—is impressive during races, but you might find yourself zooming in and out of the environment, testing the developer's claims that you'll experience no load times flashing from birds eye view to behind the driver.
Speaking of, this marks the first Midnight Club we'll actually see the driver. The one featured in our demo was a nondescript, clean cut Hollywood type. Character customisation was hinted at, but not detailed, so we're not sure what to expect from final driver appearances.
We were shown a handful of races, including one-on-one and a group race featuring five. Action was typically frantic, featuring plenty of burnouts and head-on wrecks. Nitro boosts moved the camera into Midnight Club's equivalent of an over-the-shoulder camera, de-saturating the graphics for a tunnel vision perspective.
Unfortunately, the excellent soundtrack we heard was just placeholder, but we desperately hope that Rockstar San Diego can secure most of what we heard, including "California Uber Alles"—doubly appropriate for the Los Angeles-Leipzig vibe.
Midnight Club Los Angeles may be getting experiencing a bit of sequel senioritis with its fourth official entry, but with a next-gen coat of paint and some impressive new features, I suspect anyone looking for a spring time fix of Rockstar quality racing will like what they see.