LEIPZIG, Germany--If you've ever been stuck in Los Angeles traffic, you've no doubt daydreamed about what it would be like to rip through the streets of the City of Angels without a care for your fellow drivers or the letter of the law. And while there have been arcade racing games based in LA before, none have been quite as ambitious as Rockstar's upcoming Midnight Club: Los Angeles. We got an early peek at the game here on the first day of the 2007 Leipzig Games Convention to see how this street racing game is coming together.
This is the fourth game in Rockstar's Midnight Club series and, as in the past, the publisher's San Diego studio is in charge of development duties this time around. It's obvious the team is pushing the next-gen envelope when it comes to MC:LA. The game's sprawling version of Los Angeles will provide an ample backdrop for open-world exploration and on-the-spot races by a variety of challengers. And while the version of LA in the game isn't a street-by-street re-creation of the city, there's little doubt that it's authentic enough to please the locals with popular landmarks, such as the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard, that are recognizable from the get-go. Also, the LA of Midnight Club is huge--producers told us the total drivable area in the game will add up to more than the three areas in Midnight Club: Dub Edition combined.
If you're not familiar with LA's layout, a handy minimap will be found in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, giving you the lay of your immediate surroundings, and any important information you need to know (such as the location of challenge opponents, in-race foes, and race checkpoints. If you want a larger look at the city, you can bring up a larger map, either in illustrated form or in a 3D render that looks like something straight out of Google Maps. It's impressive technology, made all the more stunning by the game's incredible lighting effects that really add a dose of realism to the game's environments. Because the game will include day and night racing, that lighting will be put to good effect, especially at night, when the city's streets are bright with street lamps and neon signs. The cars look nicely detailed as well; producers pointed out that the Mitsubishi 3000 GT that started out in the demo was composed of around 100,000 polygons.
So we've established that MC:LA looks good. But how does it play? Well, we'd love to be able to tell you firsthand, but unfortunately we weren't able to get hands-on time with the game. Instead, we watched one of the producers play the game and, from what we could glean from the handful of races we watched, it looks like a heck of a lot of fun. The cars in the game--we saw the 3000 GT, a '69 Mustang, and a Lamborghini Gallardo in action--show off some serious speed and, at top speeds, that breakneck pace looks to make for some exciting times as you dodge traffic and try to smack down opponents. There's some fun camera trickery going on here, too--when making drifting turns, for example, the camera will move slightly to show the side of the car as it burns through the turn; when using the turbo boost, the camera will zoom down low and tight to the car to further exaggerate that sense of speed.
An intense sense of speed and hot cars is fun but, sooner or later, it will all end in tears, namely in the form of a fender-folding accident. While there's still more work to do with MC:LA's damage model, we understand that damage will be mostly but not completely cosmetic in nature. While you won't be able to kill your car completely through shoddy driving, your car's performance will suffer if you make too many mistakes. After a race is over, you can choose to either take your car for more extensive repairs or use a quick-fix option, which will install unpainted replacement parts so you can get right back in the race. Sure, it might not look the part, but at least it will run fast.
We saw two race types during the demo of the game: a one-on-one street race and an arcade race that featured five competing cars on the road at the same time. Producers are aiming to cut down on load times and unnecessary HUD items, and it seems to be paying off in the demo version we watched; after the races were over, the game instantly sent the player back to free roam mode, where you can then pick up your next race event. Winning races will earn you cash and reputation points with which you can cash in for new parts, unlock new races, or buy new cars. Unlike in previous Midnight Club games, which required victories to progress through the game, you'll be earning money and rep points no matter how you finish in the race--though the better you do, the more you'll earn.
Though it's certainly an arcade racing game at heart, Midnight Club has at least one touch that hardcore car fans will love: cockpit views for every car in the game. With that kind of detail, it seems Midnight Club: Los Angeles is on its way toward becoming a fast-paced, exciting racing game. We look forward to getting our hands on the game in the future and giving you more information as it becomes available.