We recently had a chance to check out a more-complete build of Midnight Club II, the latest entry in Rockstar's street racing franchise. The original game, which was a PlayStation 2 launch title in October 2000, was developed by Angel Studios. The Southern California-based developer returns for the sequel with a new name, Rockstar San Diego, thanks to its recent acquisition by Rockstar. For the sophomore entry in the burgeoning series, Rockstar San Diego is aiming to serve up more of what fans enjoyed in the original game, along with a solid helping of new gameplay elements. The build we recently spent time with showed off the game's refined graphics engine, solid controls, and new game modes.
While the original Midnight Club was a solid enough racer for its time, the game was pretty thin on story and characters. The game's basic premise was somewhat skeletal, and it kept you disconnected from the characters you interacted with by restricting you to radio communication. Midnight Club II features a far more personal and character-driven approach, thanks to cutscenes that move the narrative along and let you get a look at who you'll be racing against. The new build of the game we played followed a pretty set pattern in telling the story: An in-game cutscene or CG cinematic that provided context for what you're doing preceded every race and gave us an idea of our competitor's personality. Given Rockstar San Diego's goal of ensuring that the more than 20 characters you'll be racing against will feature different personalities that affect their racing style, the cinematics should turn out to be pretty useful.
You'll be racing against the game's eclectic cast in one of its three cities--Paris, LA, and Tokyo, all of which feature a certain level of personality, thanks to their stylized designs. The game doesn't aim to meticulously model every nook and cranny of the aforementioned cities, but you'll find a solid dose of landmarks peppered throughout . The stylized approach works very well with the game's emphasis on speed.
The graphics in the game have been tightened up since our last look at it, and they gave us a good idea of where the game is headed. The frame rate is just about locked at 60 frames per second, and the impressive lighting and particle effects are effectively splashy. The massive cities were looking tighter, and the cars were beautiful as ever. There's a small price to be paid for the high level of performance the PlayStation 2 is cranking out, as the cities are a bit thin in the pedestrian department--you'll find a good number of cars and objects to keep you on your toes, but there won't be a ton of people on the street.
The game's audio was more complete in the recent build, and it gave us a taste of the game's soundtrack and the various chatter that will come up during races. The music included a solid batch of tunes that fit the club style that you'd expect from a Rockstar game. As for character voices, you can plan on hearing an assortment of urban voices that add to the game's atmosphere.
As for the game's modes, in addition to the single-player game, we got a brief taste of the game's online multiplayer component, which will let up to eight players race in any of the game's modes via broadband connections. The game will let you race in every city, regardless of whether you've accessed it in the offline game. The only time your offline performance will affect what you can access in the game will be in the career and arcade races. The races available in those modes will be based on whatever the hosting player has unlocked in his or her offline game.
Rockstar San Diego seems to be crafting an impressive sequel that easily tops its predecessor in every department. Better graphics and gameplay are complemented by an impressive online offering, making this game one to watch for racing fans. Midnight Club II is currently slated to ship this April for the PlayStation 2, and the PC and Xbox versions will follow sometime thereafter.