Midnight Club: LA Remix Review (PSP)
A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Midnight Club Los Angeles on the Xbox 360. Since the game was released on virtually every platform, I was also tasked with taking a look at the PSP version. I was curious how a game like Midnight Club LA would translate to the small screen of the PSP, and I wanted to see if it could maintain the sense of speed of its big brother without taking a huge frame rate hit -- like DUB Edition did.
The results are both good and bad. LA Remix does indeed move quickly and look good, and the frame rate doesn’t tend to sink into the toilet during a race. The game even includes the same vehicle roster and fairly well-rendered vehicle models that were in the 360 version. However, the differences between the PSP and 360 versions start to appear when you actually get on the road and progress a little through the game.
Graphics and Presentation
First, I’m not a fan of these "close up" cameras that stick you on the rear spoiler. If you are going to put a camera that low to the ground, you can’t see what’s in front of your car very well. The camera needs to be placed a bit higher for racers to be able to see what they are about to hit (and they will hit a lot of things). At least on the 360, you can move the right thumb stick up, and you’ll raise the camera. It’s awkward to drive that way, but you can quickly scan ahead on a straight to see what’s coming that way. You have no such option on the PSP. So instead, you’re locked into the default camera angles.
The problem is magnified by the PSP’s smaller screen because you can’t see far enough ahead to really pick your lines through traffic. Once you begin to use the faster vehicles, you’ll be wondering "is that a car?" -- right before slamming into the rear of it a second later. Combine that with the fact that the race markers -- puffs of smoke with an arrow indicating the direction to the next marker -- don’t really give you an accurate direction to head, and you have a recipe for frustration.
This frustration will probably not set in right away, however, as the starter cars are fairly slow, and you won’t run up on traffic quite as fast as you will with the better vehicles. In fact, in the early stages, you might win your races by 30 or 40 seconds. You can win the beginning races every time, even if you do crash six or seven times during the events.
That’s in stark contrast to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, where even the early races have you fighting tooth and nail for each victory. Some may welcome the easier overall difficulty, but it will only last for a short while.
That’s due to one simple fact: When you start upgrading your car and it becomes faster, it becomes much more difficult to find your line and weave through traffic. The screen is just so small that I was repeatedly cursing at my little handheld because of errors I could not control. For example, sometimes I would miss a corner because I could not see it, or slam into a car stopped at a light that kind of blended together with the rest of the lights in the area.
In general, it becomes very difficult to race cleanly as you progress through the game since it becomes increasingly tougher to see where you’re supposed to go. With the slower cars, it’s not such a big deal, as you have a lot of room for error and you can still win. When you’re moving up to the much faster exotic-class vehicles (and even the tuned lower-class rides), and you miss a corner entry by five or six feet with a full field breathing down your neck, it’s a race-losing event.
That issue is compounded by an "overhead map" that you can put up on the screen while racing, which you can’t really see through. The GPS map isn’t as helpful as on the 360 version either. Basically, it makes it quite difficult to really get through the tougher races, which is a shame.
The handling model, however, is actually pretty well done. Considering the limitations with digital buttons for gas and brake, Rockstar did a good job conveying a grip model that allows you to slide around corners and execute very controlled maneuvers -- provided you can see where you’re going.
You can really get used to the timing required on hard corners, tapping the handbrake to induce a good drift. It’s a very good feeling when you pull it off. The weight shifting is even well implemented, and overall it’s a very good handling model.
The progression of the game is much like the console versions, with one major difference: Tokyo. You actually play through your career mode in two cities, LA and Tokyo. Los Angeles looks very much like the real city, with a bit more bland appearance. Tokyo, on the other hand, is very vibrant and colorful. It’s almost like going from a Gears of War-type color palette to Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s very noticeable.
Each city tends to drag a bit, though, especially since you’ll frequently run through a lot of the same sections. You’ll answer your cell phone and get a new mission to go race, and you’ll end up rerunning sections of streets from time to time.
This has both positives and negatives, as you can certainly learn the routes better the more you run them. However, it also has the adverse effect of making you feel a sense of déjà vu after the first hour or so in each city. Still, it’s a handheld title, and the amount of racing surface Rockstar has managed to cram into a PSP game is fairly impressive.
In the end, though, you’ll notice enough things to keep you from really falling in love with the game. The biggest thing that most gamers will notice is the aforementioned inability to sufficiently view the upcoming roads and intersections. You’re almost always flying blind to a certain extent, and that will frustrate some gamers.
The second thing most gamers will notice is the scripted events. I ended up failing one race numerous times, so inevitably I had to keep restarting. Every time I did this race the same cars would go flying out into an intersection at the worst possible time. Several times in a row I forgot about them until they were in the way, and then I’d wreck and lose the race with one corner to go.
When you start to see the same things over and over again, it starts to have a scripted feel to it. There’s no getting around the fact that you’ll see sequences repeated from race to race, hence why it's worth mentioning.
However, if you’re a fan of customization, Midnight Club LA Remix has some of the best customization options on a handheld. You can swap out your bumpers, side skirts, hoods, spoilers, rims and other parts to suit your tastes, and even head to the paint shop to apply a new coat of paint and/or vinyls. Performance upgrades are still grouped by category and not individual part manufacturers (so you can't pick from different types of shocks, etc.). Customization fans will have a lot to tweak, and it will become almost a game within a game for some.
When you sit back and really take a hard look at Midnight Club LA Remix, you won’t see a bad game. What you’ll see is a game that’s decent for a racing game, but probably could have used some design changes to fit the handheld market.
You definitely need some new camera angles that are a bit higher -- but not so far away that your car is a speck on the screen like with the "far" camera -- and the scripted events really make the game feel a bit artificial. The console version felt artificial as well, but for an entirely different reason -- somewhat deceptive catch up A.I.
But when you look at the competition on the PSP, Midnight Club is a pretty strong title. Even with the frustration of not being able to see exactly what I needed to see, I still found myself enjoying the game, and compared to other offerings on the system, it’s one of the racing titles that I enjoyed the most.
I know the score is a bit higher than the Xbox 360 version, but that’s purely because of the competition. I have several titles I’d recommend long before Midnight Club on the 360, but this is actually a rather good game for the PSP crowd.
Gameplay: Hard to see what’s coming up, but the cars handle well.
Graphics: A good looking game on the PSP. Not earth-shattering but good.
Sound: Not exactly boundary-shattering. Soundtrack is decent, but there’s not much else going on.
Entertainment Value: Good for a handheld. Though, the fun factor starts to dip after a while in each city.
Learning Curve: Go fast, don’t crash. That’s the entire learning curve.
Score: 8.0 (Good)