Midnight Club: Los Angeles stars an Everyman cipher whose only apparent goal in life is to make a name for himself in the L.A. underground racing scene. Choose between three equally shabby rides, including the bane of all racing games, the Volkswagen GTI, before taking to the streets of a virtual Los Angeles.
Races come in eight different types, including Pink-Slip (lose the race, lose your car) and Payback (damage out a deadbeat's vehicle in the allotted time). In spite of the veneer of variety, you'll mostly be driving like hell from yellow cone of smoke to yellow cone of smoke.
Like previous installments of Midnight Club, Los Angeles also doles out odd hyperbolic "powers" for you to toy with, like Agro (plow through anything on the road) and Roar (a supersonic engine rev that parts traffic like the Red Sea). The game takes liberties with the Midnight Club formula, adding RPG-like Reputation Points and easy-on/easy-off online play. Yet the core spirit of the series—improvising your way across a cityscape, drafting off opponents, filling your turbo meter, then spending a thrilling split-second mulling over whether to use it—arrives intact.
Beyond the game: The game's virtual L.A. features a host of recognizable landmarks—The Comedy Store, Santa Monica Pier, etc.—along with annoying-but-appropriate rush-hour traffic.
Worth playing for: The Reputation Points system. Losing a race still earns you a handful of points. Even when you lose, you still feel like you've accomplished something.
Frustration sets in when: The opponent A.I. displays borderline inhuman driving skills. Even the game's earliest races will try players' patience. And the police in the game pursue with frightening diligence. Good luck losing them.
Final judgment: No one in the industry packages games with more panache than Rockstar. But in spite of the L.A. verisimilitude and the sound racing action, the clichéd characters, pseudo-urban dialogue (we're officially calling for a moratorium on the term "buster"), and the use of a T-Mobile Sidekick all work to make the game feel like it's stuck in 2005. The racing is exciting; the packaging isn't. This isn't quite the Burnout Paradise-killer we were hoping for.