Starting life on the Playstation 2 with a dull
(though promising) entry, Midnight Club has blossomed into one of the top racing
titles in the industry. Its impact has been felt in numerous other titles, including Need
for Speed Underground. This latest edition is a top-tier racer, plagued by
unacceptable load times that simply are not suitable for portable gaming.
Very little has changed from the inception of the series. This is
a free-roaming racer as the streets serve as a menu. You can take your time to explore the
world, which is actually essential to winning. There are no pre-determined courses, just
markers that serve as a guide. You can take any route available to win, including driving
through buildings and malls where allowed.
That's what makes the game unique, enough to make the series welcome in an overcrowded
genre. Destruction is ample, sense of speed great, and the graphics untouchable. This game
looks better than the original on the PS2. It does fall behind in the frame rate
department, though it stays steady in the 20 frames per second range. Just driving around
the city to look around is a joy, and this is easily fighting for position against Ridge
Racer for sheer graphical force.
The other major feature is the ability to upgrade your car in an
absurd amount of ways. This is far more user friendly than EA's franchise, offering up
automatic upgrades to get your car in top form if you're unsure of what to do. It's deep,
and car nuts will be thrilled with fully licensed parts being utilized.
Whether or not this is all worth it depends on your patience. These are easily the worst
loading times seen on the PSP, or just about any disc based system (just shy of the Neo
Geo CD). It takes so long to load a race, the console enters into a power saving mode (the
screen dims), and it continues to load after that. Selecting a car from the garage
requires it to load a new model, which takes at least 15 seconds. Browsing cars isn't even
possible, as the game saps the battery with both a licensed soundtrack and loading.
For those quick handheld trips, this is simply atrocious. It
understandably has a lot to load with such a large area and immense graphical detail, but
this doesn't seem like it was optimized at all. Races occasionally don't even last as long
as the load times. Every move, every selection, and press of a button needs to be
thoroughly thought out to ensure it's important enough to wait for.
It's a real shame too, because the racing portion of the game is wonderful, with strong
AI, bass pushing music, and great cities to drive through. Play times will vary based on
the titles user controlled pace, but if you play for 10 hours, at least three of those
will be spent looking at a loading screen. If you're patient, this is the second best
racing title on the PSP, just behind Ridge Racer. If you're not, stick with