|System: PSP, X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Rockstar London||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Rockstar Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4 (Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
Street racing culture never ceases to trumpet its own male demographic-based horn. Hot car models, mass market hip-hop, and cars with spoilers so big they look like they're ready for takeoff from a dumbed-down marketing perspective all these things are supposed to call out to the 18 to 26 year old male, telling him, Hey, alone these are cool and we managed to cram them together into one entity. Yet, it's this mindset (along with some core gameplay issues) that render Rockstar's latest racer Midnight Club: LA Remix a hollow experience, even though there's a competent racing engine under-the-hood.
As soon as you begin a career, LA Remix plops you into its LA-themed world. Upon arriving in town in your Class D vehicle, you're told of your simple objectives: raise your reputation (or as the game refers to it, Rep) and piece together the best ride on the road. In a sign of branding to come, you are welcomed to town via a cell phone conversation on your T-Mobile Sidekick. To start out your initial town-orienting cruise, you flip on the radio and, since in-game marketing reigns king, you don't listen to original music instead licensed tracks of what we can only assume is the latest and greatest in hip-hop and pop blare out of the speakers.
Aside from the blatant marketing tie-ins, the opening does speak to a particular talent of Rockstar scope. You can drive for several minutes before you hit the edge of the virtual world, a sign of Rockstar's capability when it comes to the PSP development. However, all that geography comes at a price in the form of load times. The last Midnight Club Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition was infamous for its load times that topped the minute marker. While waits have been reduced, they're still a problem. Entering any kind of race will land you at an intermittent screen for as few as eight seconds, but often as long as 40.
Finding and starting races is a simple process. Using the in-game map, you look for any icon surrounded by either a green, yellow, or red circle these indicate the difficulty, with green representing easy races, yellow medium, and red hard. The icon within the circle represents the race type ranging from a simple race to a red light across town, a point-to-point race, or a tournament (a series of point-to-point races). An added bonus is that before some challenges you can do a preliminary race to the starting point usually a stoplight so you get two races in one.
When tire hits pavement, LA Remix takes off. Speeding through town even in your initial, default car is just plain fun. The sense of speed is right on and your car sticks to the road in just the right manner, throttling that fine line between simulation and arcade. Using abilities like In-The-Zone to slow down time (making split-second reactions easier) and using your opponents slipstream to charge a turbo, in turn rocketing you past them, move LA Remix above the simple handbrake-and-gas play of typical racers. There's also a sense of reward for competing beyond having the fastest time; each race rewards you with Rep points (useful for unlocking new cars, parts, and more difficult races) and cash.
It's not all good on the racing circuit. There are three stumbling blocks that LA Remix never gets over: race structure, opponent A.I., and the leveling system. The idea of making Los Angeles and the second city, Tokyo, one big racetrack is an appealing notion, but its implementation feels lackluster. Yes, you can take shortcuts and use your radar to track where the next point is on the map, but there's always the sense of, I've been down a street exactly like this already. A fixed-track racing game might not have the free roaming nature of LA Remix, it does have its advantage you get to know every curve and bump of the track and plan your turns just right. By keeping things so open, LA Remix forces you to constantly re-scan your map, making sure you're going the right direction; proper orientation becomes a challenge in itself.
Then there's the problem of traffic it will be the bane of your in-game existence. If you're going across an intersection at any significant speed, chances are a vehicle will get in your way, figuratively crumbling your car like an accordion (though you don't take any real damage). Apparently, the citizens of Los Angeles never check their rear view mirrors. Often, cars will change right into your lane and you'll end up slamming into their back end. This comes at too great a price; all it takes is one traffic accident to send you to the back of the racing pack.