Don't make me simulate a butt whoopin'!
What is a simulation? Webster says it's: "...a theoretical account based on a similarity between the model and the phenomena that are to be explained." So in other words, you can only simulate something that has actually happened or is known to happen. "Shawn, what the hell are you talking about?" Well, young inquisitors, I'm talking about seemingly educated people completely misusing the word "simulation."
Games like Gran Turismo or Ridge Racer R4 are often lumped in the "sim" category. Gimme a break. Gran Turismo is no Sim. What the hell is it simulating? Surely not driving! Ok, maybe you're sort of simulating driving on a track, but there are no crashes. Don't automobiles crash in real life? And why is it that if a game has crashes it is by default labeled an 'arcade' style racer versus a simulation? Sheesh. I think I'm gonna have to hog-tie, tar, feather and flog somebody real soon.
Granted, I am the street racer's biggest fan. So when the finished gold version of Midtown Madness 2 made it's way through the tight lipped GR security personnel, I was the man for the job.
Midtown Madness 2 is one of those games that the aforementioned ignorant label as an arcade style racer. Well, two huge, incredibly detailed, real-life cities (London & San Francisco), complete with backalleys and freeways, really provide a good simulation of driving in and around these locations. The game hasn't changed much from the original, but that's not really a bad thing.
The frantic pedestrians who dive for cover as you whiz by them make a somewhat welcome return, although in the Road Rash and Carmageddon series you can actually hit these poor saps, which would have been a nice feature to see here. It's just not very realistic to see all the pedestrians avoid my every attempt to run them down. But at least they're present. Hello Tokyo Extreme! Hello Ridge Racer!
Adding to the realism of the cities are all the objects you can interact with. Mailboxes, stop signs, and trashcans are just some of the many items that succumb to the might of 2+ tons of virtual steel.
New to the series is the Crash Course mode. Here budding drivers build useful driving skills while training as a Hollywood stunt driver or an apprentice London cabby. Players can unlock custom paint jobs and special vehicles. Believe me, this mode really helps a Yankee (such as myself) get used to driving on the wrong si-...er...left side of the road.
All the old race modes make a pleasant return: Quick Race, Blitz (race the clock), Checkpoint Races and Circuit Race. Circuit Races are where the lion's portion of the gameplay lies. Here, you go finder-to-finder against your opponents as you travel around laps on closed-loop courses around each city. This is fun, but I would rather not be confined to a course or laps of any sort.
Although MM2 has all the makings of real street racer simulation, I must admit that the handling is a tad arcady. By no means do the vehicles turn on a dime, as is the case with a game like Twisted Metal. But taking time to learn how to drive as far as basic, effective handling is concerned just isn't necessary. Anyone can jump on and easily get around London or San Francisco, no problem. This makes driving the multitude of vehicles intuitive, but somewhat repetitive.
However, Microsoft has added some good eye-candy to make the arcade style control seem more realistic. When a car tears around a corner, you will be a happy witness to some nice fishtails and the occasional 2 wheel balancing act. This is really cool to see and experience.
New to the list of vehicles are the London cab and double decker bus, Mini Cooper Classic & new Mini Cooper. Ever wanted one of those new VW bugs? Well, they too make an appearance. This time you can man the new VW Beetle Dune & RSi (off-road and racing models of the popular VW Bug). These aren't really my speed, as I prefer the old American steel that comes from a good daisy-age muscle car. Last but not least, for the bully in all of us ('cept me. I'm an angel!) Midtown Madness 2 presents the Light Tactical Vehicle (LTV) for those moments of much needed road rage therapy.
Of course, this puppy supports multiplayer. She's optimized for full LAN, modem, cable and Internet multiplayer gaming ala the MSN Gaming Zone. Get in there with up to 8 racers and go nuts. These multiplayer modes were all seen on the previous MM and were as fun as all get-out. However, it does seem like there was room for some improvement - maybe another play mode online or a higher player count. Something! It's just same-old, same-old.
And in many ways, that's a good way to describe this game as a whole. Midtown Madness 2 is a really good game, but this feels more like an add-on than an actual sequel. A really, really well done add-on, but nonetheless an add-on. This is a solid if somewhat predictable sequel. And whether you call it an arcade racer or a city driving simulation, I call it good fun.