Midway is poised to reinvent the well-known Rush racing series with an open-ended, street racing take on the franchise, L.A. Rush. As the name implies, L.A. Rush takes place on the huge asphalt playground that is the City of Angels. In between sessions of squealing tires and dodging the fuzz, you'll build an impressive collection of both brand-new and classic rides, all in the context of L.A. Rush's lengthy story mode, which is the centerpiece of the game. In this preview, we want to give you a sneak peek at just what you can expect from the game's story mode and why you'll find yourself tearing around the whole of Los Angeles at such breakneck speed.
The mode opens up--where else?--in Beverly Hills, at the palatial mansion of the game's hero, a streetwise racer named Trikz. Just about every fantasy you've ever had about a real Hollywood party is here (in rated-PG form, mind you): gorgeous settings, huge swimming pools, scantily clad females, and, of course, a huge collection of vintage and shiny new whips. Trikz isn't just a dabbler, after all; he's a serious racer and has the collection to back it up, from the latest hot rod down to the first sky-blue Nissan 240 SX he ever owned.
In between fielding questions from magazine journalists and entertaining the fellas from West Coast Customs (including Mad Mike, Big Dane, and others), Trikz and his sidekick, Ty, are talking about their future street racing plans when they are interrupted by Lidell, a rival car fiend who happens to be your archrival and the main benefactor of a series of less-than-legal street races throughout Los Angeles. Trikz's goal, and thus your goal, is to win the top prize in the street racing series. There's just one tiny catch. Just a few weeks after the Hollywood bash that opens the story, Trikz and Ty return home to find the mansion completely empty--no furniture, no cars, no women--heck, even the pool's been emptied. It could only be the work of Lidell, who's looking to stack the odds in his favor.
As you finally begin the interactive part of L.A. Rush, all you're left with is your hollowed-out estate and your original blue 240 SX. From here, it's up to you to take on the entire city of Los Angeles in your quest to claim back your collection of cars and the title of head honcho of speed.
Heading out the front entrance of your Beverly Hills estate grounds, you're met with the game's updated heads-up display for the first time. If your first thought is "Grand Theft Auto" when viewing the game's radar, which lives in the lower left-hand portion of the screen, you're not far off. There are definite shades of GTA in there--you can clearly make out roads, side streets, and highway systems; big icons show you various missions you can undertake for cash or new cars; even the plentiful cops are denoted on the radar as tiny blue dots. With a press of the button you can access a much more comprehensive map of your surroundings, one that covers the whole of the game's drivable area. Notable locations of interest include LAX Airport, Compton, Long Beach, Mullholland Drive, and Santa Monica, in addition to your home base of Beverly Hills.
With all of this real estate to drive, you might think it's pretty easy to get lost. Thankfully, it's not all sidestreets and alleyways that you'll tackle in the game. Familiar highways like the 101 and the 405 are all denoted on the map as well, and, even though you can expect some typical LA-type traffic to occlude your way, there's still no quicker way to get from one side of the map to the other, especially when your car can generally slice through traffic going in the same direction like a knife through butter. There's also a handy GPS feature in the main map that's a big help. By placing a marker on any spot on the chart, you'll get detailed directions on the in-game radar showing you the quickest route to that destination.
We're on a Mission...
But enough about maps and directions--let's talk missions. After all, missions are the heart and soul of L.A. Rush's story mode, and you won't get very far toward taking down Lidell without running through a ton of them. Missions in L.A. Rush run from your standard two-lap races against a handful of other cars to more involved endurance races, which grow progressively longer and more challenging as you work your way through the game. Icons on the map trace the general path of each race, and a large arrow points your way to the next successive icon. That said, there's more than one path to each icon; whether by taking main roads or backstreet alleys--or even jumping a few buildings--your job is to find the quickest route possible. This is especially true in lengthier endurance races, which can last more than ten minutes and cross the entire span of virtual L.A.
Beyond traffic concerns, police are often a concern on the streets of Los Angeles, and there is no shortage of the men in blue in L.A. Rush. In fact, it's almost scary how many police we ran across in this preview build of the game. Fortunately, despite their ubiquitous presence, it seems relatively easy to avoid apprehension--the police don't seem very intent on completely totaling your car, and the only way you can really be arrested is if you stop your car completely and let them come to you, which isn't very likely. Whether the cops will be more aggressive in the final build of the game, or later in the game's story mode, remains to be seen.
Other task types include "acquire" missions, in which you'll be stealing back the cars that Lidell stole from you. Periodically in story mode, you'll get a hot phone tip from Ty or from Lidell's lady, Lana, about the location of several of your absconded rides. If you can manage to find the location and drive the car back to your home base, it will be yours once again. The only problem is, you'll have Lidell's goons on your tail the entire time, looking to take your reacquired car out before you can get back to the safe confines of your home. Should you car's health meter run out before you reach safety, you'll lose the mission and be forced to start all over again. Adding even more complexity to acquire missions is the fact that you'll need to pay for any damage incurred to your restolen vehicle. The cleaner you can bring your baby back to the garage, the less cash you'll have to pay out to get it fixed up once it's yours again.
Speaking of cash, money will be in short supply when you begin L.A. Rush's storyline, and winning races will be the main method for padding your reserves. Every race has an entry fee associated with it, so you won't be running with the big boys until you can afford to pony up. Finally, if you take your whip over to the boys at West Coast Customs for an upgrade, someone's got to pay for that new paint job and plasma TV and that someone is you.
Retribution missions find you wreaking havoc all over the city, specifically looking to wreck some of Lidell's business interests. One mission has you driving your car through billboards that advertise Lidell's chicken shack restaurants; another has you taking out a Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier that's owned by your rival and hightailing it back to safety before a timer runs out. Finally, stunt missions, which are peppered throughout the city, are demanding tests of your ability to drive as accurately (and as dangerously) as possible. By collecting a number of blue coins dotted along a very specific path--each with a short timer in between--you'll be testing your driving skills to their utmost.
We've only scratched the surface of the story mode in L.A. Rush and so far have had a good time doing so--the missions start off fairly easy but ramp up in difficulty once you start getting to some of the longer endurance races. But no matter how stressful the missions become, you can always blow off some steam and drive in the great-looking and vibrant virtual city of L.A., looking for cool jumps to take or discovering back-alley secrets to your heart's content. Just watch out for those cops.
L.A. Rush is currently speeding toward its fall release date, and we'll have a full review of the game once it skids to a halt on store shelves in early October.