While driving one night you come across a modified sports car weaving through traffic and causing havoc on the road. Intrigued you investigate determined to find a way into the allusive Midnight Club. After bringing the mystery driver to a halt he dares you to meet him at midnight, the stage is set, pride, glory and some very expensive cars are yours for the taking, all you have to do is win….
Set across Los Angeles, Paris and Hong Kong, Midnight Club 2 sets you in a huge free roaming environment. As well as the usual arcade and two player modes you get a much more interesting story model. In the story mode you must travel around a city looking for other racers before following them to the race location. Races come in a variety of types, some are simply a case of racing from one point to another as fast a possible, while others see you needing to hit a number of checkpoints spaced out around the area meaning you have to plan the most effective rout to succeed.
What the developers have pinned their hopes on in the over crowded world of racing games is the twist of being able to go anywhere you want as long as you reach the end before the other racers. Furthermore, beat a racer and you then get to use their car meaning you have a large selection of super vehicles to choose from each with different strengths and weaknesses. The problem is that even though you have the whole city at your disposal there is really only one rout for each race as moving off in search of short cuts often leads to you ending up in completely the wrong place.
First of all lets make something very clear, Midnight Club 2 has some of the worst graphics we have seen in a PS2 racing game. When you first turn it on you may well think you have dropped Driver 2 into the machine instead. Unsurprisingly, everything looks a lot like GTA: Vice City, however it seems as though the detail has been removed leaving somewhat empty shells of vehicles and surroundings. Having said that though after a couple of plays you begin to see through the graphics and they begin to take on a certain charm. Though lacking in detail there is no noticeable pop up, blurring or dodgy draw line distance to be found, essential to a game based around speed and sharp turning- so at least it is understandable why cosmetic graphics have been reduced as it allows the real core elements of the game to function properly.
Car handling is the most important thing with racing games and in this respect Midnight is both sublime and slightly off key. In game controls are incredible responsive allowing the player to perform exactly what they want to, when they want to with such an ease that even novice players will be hand brake turning round corners on virtually their first attempt. A few nice touches have been added that help to keep the element of fun in the game as well, for instance drive behind an opponent and it fills up a slip stream metre allowing you to boost past them at an opportune moment.
Where the game fails slightly though is with the way individual cars handle. While this is a game based more in the arcade area than that of simulation you cannot help but think that the cars handle a little off. We weren’t expecting Gran Turismo levels of realism but when model handling feels more lose than in the GTA games you know something is slightly a miss. Again this is nothing that really detracts from the game and can be easily forgiven as official licenses are not used for the cars and Midnight Club 2 never claimed to be the same type of game as Gran Turismo anyway.
However, what could sour the experience for gamers is the insane difficulty level, being a cross between Burnout 2 and Stuntman in style, things move very fast and races must be negotiated to near perfection in order to succeed. The amount of obstacles in the way could prove too much for novice racing gamers and courses become as much about learning where things are going to appear as beating the other racers. Every race follows the same pattern, you move along until you hit something that has just pulled in your way, you have to restart as once you have crashed catching up is incredibly difficult. So you set off again avoiding the first obstacle, before crashing into the next one and repeat until you reach the end of the race, just like in Stuntman, all you need is the voice telling you what is coming up ahead and you could well forget what game you’re playing at times.
Overall, Midnight Club 2 is a good game, yes it has flaws, it is far too difficult and the graphics and overall feel of the game do not seem quite right. But it still delivers incredible fast and controllable action with a slight twist that no other racer can really claim to have. The problem is most PS2 race fans will own Gran Turismo 3, Burnout 2 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Each game excelling in realism, speed or pure arcade action, Midnight Club 2 tries to incorporate a bit of each into the gameplay but ends up falling a touch short in each area. A huge improvement on the original game but Midnight Club 2 still cannot quite make it into the racing elite, all the elements are there, all that is needed is a bit more polish.