Before we jump into this review there's one thing that needs to be made perfectly clear: Midnight Club: L.A. Remix for the PSP is not a port of Midnight Club: Los Angeles on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Considering the similarity in names and the fact that the two games came out on the same day it's easy to get confused, but L.A. Remix is a brand new Midnight Club game specifically made for Sony's handheld PSP. Thankfully Rockstar Games' newest portable racing game is just as good as its console counterparts ... and in some ways better.
This isn't the first time Rockstar Games has attempted to bring their popular racing franchise to the PlayStation Portable; three years ago they released a port of Midnight Club 3. Unfortunately the handheld version of Midnight Club 3 wasn't quite up to the standards of its console brothers; it suffered from long load times and a myriad of other technical problems. This time around Rockstar Games attempts to right some of the wrongs with their last game, and for the most part succeeds.
As the name suggests, Midnight Club: L.A. Remix takes place in a condensed version of Los Angeles, California. However, this is not the same L.A. that you find in the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 versions of the game, but rather a brand new (and smaller) version with brand new shortcuts and landmarks. Oddly enough, California isn't the only place you're going in this Midnight Club game. After you get done racing through the city and leveling up your character's experience, the game transports you to ... Tokyo? It's true, even though it makes very little sense for you to go to Japan, Midnight Club: L.A. Remix features a condensed version of this major Japanese city.
The basic concept of the game has not changed, you play a character that buys cars and goes around racing other people for money and respect. The good news is that the silly story found in the Xbox 360 game is nowhere to be found here, so you can focus your attention on tracking down challenges and racing other racers. For those who have sharpened their teeth on the console games, you'll quickly notice that most of the races are much shorter. In fact, just about everything about this game has been streamlined in order to make it easier for you to just pick up and play a few races when you have a few extra minutes to burn. Thankfully the game is also deep enough for those who plan on sitting down and playing long sessions of the game. There are all kinds of different events, not to mention fun challenges and bonus shortcuts to discover. And just when you get sick of one city you get shipped off to Japan, which has a completely different look and feel.
Everything that you loved about the past three Midnight Club games is front and center here, from the high speed races to the different types of races to the weird car super powers. Super powers? While not noticeable at first, it won't be long before you realize that your car has a secret. It's true; your car can perform all sorts of cool tricks, most of which will give you a significant advantage in your high speed race to the finish line. There are three different powers, including AGRO (the ability to plow right through the competition), ZONE (which slows everything down so that you can make precise corners), and ROAR (which sends out an engine rev so loud that traffic will do anything it can to get out of your way). All of these different abilities add a lot to the game; however they don't overshadow the already strong racing mechanics.
The criticism that has always been leveled against this type of racing game is that with so many different city streets (and hidden shortcuts) it's incredibly easy to get lost or accidentally make a wrong turn. Unfortunately this is still the Achilles ' heel of Midnight Club: L.A. Remix. On one hand it's a double-edged sword; you want the city to be fully realized and full of intersecting streets and shortcuts, but the more complicated the city is the more overwhelming the experience can be when you're driving at breakneck speeds. It's hard enough to keep control of the car and dodge traffic without having to also look at the tiny map to make sure you didn't miss your turn.Navigating through the city is only made more difficult when you realize that you can't stop the race and plot your course. In the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game you are able to pause the game and chart out where you are going to go, all the way down to figuring out the streets to take. Sadly this is not something you can do in this PSP game. Instead of pausing the game you get a large and intrusive pop-up map that literally covers 80% of the screen. For all intents and purposes, this is completely useless when you're driving at 130 miles per hour. I'm not sure why Rockstar Games didn't give us the option of pausing the game and looking at a map, but it really makes navigating a lot more painful than it needs to be.
However, while it may be more difficult to navigate, winning races is much easier this time around. When I reviewed Midnight Club: Los Angeles, I complained that the game's rubber band A.I. made the races much more difficult than they needed to be. This is not the case with L.A. Remix, which has computer-controlled cars that are so easy you'll barely notice that you're racing against other drivers. It's not until you hit the hardest difficulty that you start to notice the other drivers, which means that you'll likely breeze through a majority of the races without ever running into trouble. The game's difficulty is so forgiving that you can crash several times and still win by a good ten to fifteen seconds. Crash once or twice in the console game and you might as well start over. While I definitely like winning races more than I like losing them, I wish that there was a Midnight Club game with a difficulty that was somewhere in between these two titles.
Regardless of the game's easy difficulty, there is still a lot for you to do and see in Midnight Club: L.A. Remix. You'll be impressed with the large catalog of different cars, all of which can be upgraded and customized in a lot of great ways. You also get to race around the two cities using motorcycles and speed bikes, which is one of my favorite things to do. There are also tons of different races to complete, as well as some cool side missions, such as missions where you have to deliver cars to different spots. All in all, there's a lot of content here, certainly enough to get your money's worth.
Obviously the game's visuals aren't going to be on par with the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game, but you shouldn't write the game off out of hand. The graphics are sharp, looking just as good as any of the Midnight Club games on the Xbox or PlayStation 2. As you progress through the game's story and pick up faster cars you'll discover that it gets harder to see cars coming at you. T his is by far the worst part of the visuals, but even that isn't any worse than what you had to put up with in the two Burnout games on the PSP. I like how both L.A. and Tokyo look, especially when you go sightseeing for well known landmarks.
The game's audio is also quite good. It's more than just the game's lengthy soundtrack (which features a number of top 40 songs you'll instantly recognize); you also get a lot of good car sound effects. Generally speaking in racing games sound effects take a backseat to the visuals, but it's hard not to overlook how important they are to helping you feel like you're in a life or death race to the finish line.
When you're not racing against computer opponents you can play against real people in the game's local Ad Hoc multiplayer mode. Unfortunately Midnight Club: L.A. Remix doesn't offer online play, though the instruction manual certainly hints at it. Either way, the offline multiplayer matches are a lot of fun. If you're not into the multiplayer stuff, you can also try out both Quick Race and Arcade modes, both offering a slightly different take on the Midnight Club theme.
Midnight Club: L.A. Remix may not be the PSP's best racing game, but it's a strong entry in an overcrowded field. With great graphics, sound and tons of content, it's easy to be impressed with Rockstar Games' newest portable game. I definitely like that you're not stuck in Los Angeles the whole time, even if the difficulty is a little too forgiving this time around. If you're a fan of racing games and you've played your copy of Burnout to death, then you should certainly consider picking up Midnight Club: L.A. Remix.