Race around the clock.
The craziest driving always seems to happen at night. Is it the magical glow of streetlights bouncing off the asphalt? Maybe the energy emanating from the flashing billboards and neon signs?
No way. It's the whiskey. Or maybe the beer. Or probably a mixture of the two. Hey, clubbing isn't for the weak of liver (or those with keys to the car).
The last time we raced at midnight, the club was lukewarm, and I surely thought it would be shut down for good. But apparently, the idea of midnight racing has inured the worst and is back on the street in Rockstar San Diego's Midnight Club II. She's sportin' a ton of new goodies under the hood - even motorcycles, which sounds great on paper - but the whole package just lacks a bit of excitement. Still, there's some fun to be had here and the online option doesn't hurt in the least.
Like before, there isn't much of a story. Of the game's three mode types - Career, Arcade and Online/Multiplayer, Career is where the true heart of the gameplay lies. You run checkpoint race after checkpoint race challenging "Hookmen" for pink slips and respect. The latter means zilch, while pink slips give you access to new rides to tear through the city streets, which are rife with traffic and pedestrians.
You will gain access to many vehicles, from rice-rockets to muscle cars to crotch-rockets. Unfortunately, no official licenses were obtained, so don't expect to hop into a tricked-out Audi A4 or Lexus IS300. And oddly, customization is limited to prosaic palette changes. You can't actually fiddle with the specs, which is really disappointing.
Handling these bad boys can be a bit of a letdown as well, and not because it is a difficult task. Tearing through busy city streets should be much harder than it is in Midnight Club II. Cars lack mass or weight and they all seem to handle identically, with a simple tap of the hand brake to ease you around sharp corners. The motorcycles are indeed fun, but not quite as exhilarating as in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Rockstar San Diego has thrown in some neat tricks to fill out your driving experience. You'll eventually gain abilities like 180 reverses, tail sliding, burnouts to help with 0-60 accelerations, mid-air tilting and weight control (ala SF Rush), 2-wheel driving, motorcycle leans, wheelies, front wheel balancing and a few others. Some are useful, while others cause more trouble than they're worth.
The tricks can look really cool, which is good because graphically the game is not particularly impressive. The three cities you tear through (L.A., Tokyo and Paris) are huge and very well designed with plenty to interact with and bash into. But the cars and bikes themselves, while showing improvement over the previous Midnight Club, still need more polish and polys. Textures appear flat and colors are muted. In the world of fast and furious racing, you want aesthetic bragging rights as well as performance.
To round out the package, there are a few other sub-game modes including the Arcade's Cruise and Battle modes. Cruise is your stock issue Take-A-Drive mode where you can simply cruise the streets at your leisure, learning all the nice shortcuts, jumps and back alleys. Battle mode comes in two flavors - some rudimentary Capture the Flag races and a Detonate mode. Here midnight clubbers race to grab detonators and transport them to a specific spot on the map to score points. You are also armed with various weapons, like ice slicks, nitros, shields, reverse steering, stealth, swap-positions and a few others to antagonize your opponents. This new feature adds more flavor to a formerly bland automotive cuisine.
A race editor rounds out the modes. It's not incredibly extensive, but it's easy to use and a welcome addition with regards to replayability.
The broadband-only multiplayer is the brightest light at the end of the tunnel. You can play any of the Arcade modes here against a healthy number of opponents, totaling an 8-player race. This is where the power-ups and weapons really come into play, as you zoom all over the map trying to waste your enemies.
Unfortunately, some problems mar the experience. There is no stat tracking or ranking system, and setting up a game can be daunting since a host has to wait for all player to be "ready" and must kick those with slow connections before the game can begin. The interface doesn't really say what each player's connection speed is, which can make the process frustrating and time consuming. But nonetheless, multiplayer is like the chrome dubs on a '73 Nova; it truly makes the ride more appealing.
Midnight Club II is certainly better than the original with much more to do and many more reasons to keep you in the driver's seat. But the lack of vehicle specific control and any real customization leaves it a little too light. You find yourself playing through it just to unlock the goodies for the online game. At any rate, this club is probably bumping enough to warrant the cover charge.