Midnight Club II marks the first appearance of the series on the Xbox. Based around illegal nighttime street racing, the game lets loose on the streets of Paris, Los Angeles, and Tokyo with reckless abandon. This win-at-all costs arcade racer offers its unique brand of racing to arcade fans and also gives you a chance to demonstrate your skills online with Xbox Live.
Presentation/Graphics : 70
My first experience with the Midnight Club series came back when the original was released as a PS2 launch title. Clearly you can't compare that title to this one fairly, but if you do you'll notice a game with smooth textures and high-quality shading. While the general appearance is nice, the game just doesn't compare to some of the other Xbox racers. Car detail is minimal to the point where cars almost have a cartoonish look to them. At times I feel I'm racing a penny racer toy rather than a real car. With no licensing, you can only guess at which cars are meant to mimic the real deal. The off-track detail is likewise a bit bland. The cities of LA, Paris, and Tokyo are represented, but the night settings do little to garner your interest. Games like Project Gotham and Rallisport Challenge feature more detailed and more realistic environments.
Perhaps the lack of detail helps keep the game moving at a smooth pace. With plenty of civilian traffic (both pedestrians and autos), the Xbox competently handles over a dozen cars on screen easily. Even when cars start to smoke a bit or throw some flames from under the hood due to too much abuse the game keeps plugging along. Even racing through the sewers of Paris unleashes dozens of skulls at times without a hitch. The action is viewed from either a selection of first- or third-person views. What isn't handled as well is the map. A small map in the lower left corner can be tough when planning out strategy. The limited view means you can only look ahead a few streets at a time. You can zoom in and out a bit, but both of those views are even worse. You can also throw a bigger map on the screen, but then the racing is totally obstructed.
Presentation/Audio : 60
Once the music started I thought I was playing a game of Jet Set Radio. I'm never a big fan of music while racing, but the music in Midnight Club II just didn't do anything for me. The hip-hop, techno, and trance-style soundtrack was eerily similar to Sega's title and for me only works there. There's no support for your own music, so the best bet is to turn the radio off. Once you do you hear the ethnic accents of the game's characters, which are nothing but a big stereotype. The voice acting adds nothing of value to the atmosphere in the game. Likewise, the vehicles' sounds are bland.
Interface/Options : 80
Midnight Club II features quite a few game modes. The career mode is essentially a series of waypoint races where you have to get to a point on the map and proceed to the next point. It's up to you to decide the best strategy as the routes are completely nonlinear. The arcade mode features a capture the flag game where the object is to, well, capture the flag and bring it back. This is like smear the queer on wheels. A "detonate" mode has you race to a bomb where once picked up, it causes you to drive slower. You need to get back to a waypoint without blowing up due to crashing. The circuit mode is the most like real circuit racing. Pulling a few laps is the name of the game.
Aside from the game modes, the options are sparse. There are minimal audio options and only a few graphical tweaks. In addition, you can adjust the controller scheme somewhat. To make up for a small set of options, you have access to a very nice course creator. You can set up your own waypoint races with this great editor. Finally, you do get online play with the available modes, which add a whole new element.
Gameplay : 80
This is an arcade racer pure and simple. Throw out realistic handling, detailed car setups, and realistic AI. Midnight Club II is a game that relishes in rubberband AI and twitchy control. If you make a few wrong moves or wreck a bit, the AI is forgiving enough to give you a break. When out front, AI cars inevitably close the gap and run up right beside you. However, upcoming cars will also tend to cause you to wreck by swerving into you or putting the brakes on early. This can be both a challenge and a frustration. I had visions of Vanishing Point when I saw this type of behavior. The handling depends on which car you're currently driving. The cars have unique characteristics in terms of acceleration, handling, and speed. Some cars turn on a dime to the point of feeling like they oversteer while others are a bit more sluggish. Regardless of the ride, a quick tap of the handbrake makes you realize that no matter the kind of handling you can pull corners at unrealistically high speeds. To add to the arcade handling, a few unlockables open up as you progress through the game. These include a burnout move for race starts, getting up on two wheels to head down narrow alleys, a draft meter which upon being filled allows you do hit the nitrous, and weight transfer which allows in air control of your car.
Replay Value : 70
Unfortunately, the capture the flag and detonate modes are virtually identical. The circuit mode borrows much from the career mode. What you're left with is really only two types of game modes. Progressing through the career mode is not too difficult, and to complete the game fully takes only a bit of effort in the arcade mode. Fortunately the online play extends the life of the game somewhat. Still, the racing is intense and should appeal to arcade racing fans.
Overall : 81
The original Midnight Club on the PS2 was a breath of fresh air. The sequel doesn't substantially upgrade the original. The exception is the online play with Xbox Live. That doesn't make it a bad game, and those who missed the original will find plenty of fun with Midnight Club II.