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Midtown Madness (PC) Hands-on Preview

Microsoft continues its "Madness" product line with Midtown Madness, a new racing title with a somewhat unique twist: all the racing takes place on the busy streets of Chicago. With an active police department, lots of pedestrians, working drawbridges, and an adjustable amount of normal traffic, the environment is something a little different from the normal track-based racing title. Many of the objects are fully interactive--hit a trash can, and garbage flies everywhere.

There are five different ways to experience the virtual city: Cruising (just a nice, leisurely drive), Blitz (a timed race between way points), Checkpoint (just what it sounds like), Circuit racing over a marked city circuit, and, for multiplayer only, Cops and Robbers. Each requires a different strategy, and in the beta build I looked at, provides a reasonable challenge. The amount of traffic and pedestrians, police presence, weather, and time of day are all adjustable from the race menu as well.

As for cars selection, Midtown Madness offers a choice of ten wildly different vehicles- here's a list of the available cars-

  • VW New Beetle
  • Cadillac Eldorado
  • Panoz Roadster
  • Panoz GTR-1
  • Ford Mustang GT
  • Ford Mustang Fastback (looks like a '67 to me)
  • Ford F-350 pickup
  • Ford Mustang Police Cruiser
  • City Bus
  • Freightliner Century (complete with flatbed trailer)

One nice thing about the assortment of vehicles here is that replay value is enhanced. The same race you won in the Panoz GTR-1 may prove a bit more challenging in the City Bus. Microsoft claims each vehicle has 147 different physics variables, making it drive and handle like the real thing. Overall, they seem to have done pretty well, but the semi and bus physics don't seem very real to me: maybe just a tad too forgiving at 100 MPH. This is a beta, though, and I won't pass final judgement just yet. Another nice touch is the dashboards--each is unique to its car, and they are pretty well done, with working, readable gauges and appropriate steering wheels.

The graphics are very well done, presenting a believable rendition of the Windy City. Particular items of note are the nicely done effects at night (with the exception of your headlights--not bad, but a little chunky looking), and the viewing distance. Detail is good as far down the street as you can see, with no pop-in of any sort. Weather effects look good, too, and seem to be well worth inclusion. The cars are nicely done, especially the old Mustang--looks very much like the real thing. Paint and glass reflect light nicely, and damage is modeled to an extent--nothing like Viper Racing, but adequately. Smoke and fog are present, and show a lot of attention to detail--tire smoke comes from the front wheels on the front wheel drive cars, for example.

Sounds vary from the purr of the VW, to the bellowing diesel rattle of the Freightliner, with sirens and shouting pedestrians in between. The ambient sound is not bad at all, and really adds to the "living city" feel of the game. I couldn't get the in game music to work for some reason, so I'll have to wait for the final release to comment.

I didn't test the multiplayer capabilities of the beta, but watch for full TCP/IP and LAN comments in the review of the final release.

From all appearances, the beta of Midtown Madness is pretty close to a finished product. I've seen software for sale that had more problems than this build, and hopefully that is a sign that the release version will be well tested and ship in good shape. Conclusions? I think Angel Studios has put a lot of thought into this title, and I think it will provide a fun, somewhat realistic diversion for the racing fan.

By: Scott Moore 4/9/99

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