These days it seems that every publisher is trying to get in on the big street racing craze, or at least what once was a big craze--whether or not it's still enough of a craze to warrant much attention is debatable. Regardless, when it came time for Midway to enter the fray, the company's San Francisco Rush franchise was an obvious choice for branding purposes. Formerly a classic arcade racer, Rush has been relocated and rebranded for the current trend, taking up shop in Los Angeles and shifting to a straight-ahead street racer, complete with an open-ended city environment and plenty of traffic to duck and weave through, not to mention an appropriately glib storyline that's all about one man's journey to right the wrongs done to him by upping his rep and his paper through lots and lots of races. However, while Rush has some of these requisite components, it also lacks a lot of others, like a real car customization component, online play, or a single-player experience with a sense of purpose. Parts of L.A. Rush come across as competent and enjoyable, but those parts aren't enough to make it stand out amid stiff competition.
Los Angeles: home to movie stars, musicians, and the walking clichÃ© that is this guy.
The bulk of your time with L.A. Rush will be spent in the story mode. Here, you play as Trikz, a renowned racer in the LA underground scene who has the mansion and car collection to back up his sizable reputation. Trikz's seemingly lavish lifestyle is put to the test, however, when a local race promoter by the name of Lidell (played with flamboyant silliness by How to Be a Player star Bill Bellamy) is set to put on a major series of races. Lidell is not particularly fond of Trikz and tries to tip the scales against him by using his connections to rob Trikz of all his rides, which sets in motion a long-winded game of "find the missing cars," with quite a bit of racing in between.
The setup for this story mode is entirely decent. You'd think that going on this lengthy quest to reacquire all your stolen rides and stick it to the man who robbed you would at least elicit some measure of satisfaction. You'd be wrong, in this case. The story itself is lent very little screen time. You get bits of phone conversations from time to time from your sidekick Ty, as well as Lidell's lady, who is sucked in by your irresistible charms, and you'll get the occasional cutscene right as you enter a new territory and series of races, but apart from this, you don't get much out of it. Things play out very predictably and unimaginatively. But hey, that's fine. Most street racers aren't known for their heart-wrenching narratives. All that matters is that the driving is good, right? Well...
The good news is that L.A. Rush's driving model, by itself, is quite enjoyable. The game's sense of speed is right up there with the most recent entry in the Midnight Club franchise, and when you get going, you really feel the traffic whiz by you. It even uses that nice, subtle motion-blur around the edges of the screen to great effect. The handling is a bit loose, but rarely so much that you can't control your car. It's effective for pulling off big drifts around corners and dodging in and out of traffic where needed, all while maintaining high speeds on busy city streets; and boy are they ever busy. The developers have managed to get an awful lot of traffic onto the streets of LA, and it's a constant nuisance. You'll have to be mindful when running red lights, as there's almost always cross traffic to avoid. If you don't, you're punished (or perhaps rewarded, if ever so slightly) with a spectacular wreck, complete with an extra-stylish camera angle and copious amounts of particle effects.
Get used to seeing broken cars, because this happens a lot.
But spectacular wrecks and generally enjoyable driving can't make a game fun forever, and once the grind of the story mode's mission structure starts to catch up with you, you'll be too busy cursing L.A. Rush for its highway robbery. You start out the story mode with just one clunker of a car and a couple of base-level street races open to you. The first race is a freebie, but after that, every race requires an entry fee.
OK, that's fair, since real-life street racing is based on wagers. The problem is that the story is progressed by placing in the money in these events, which can often be a task easier said than done. Granted, the only way you can lose your fee is if you place dead last in the four-car race, but all it takes is one random piece of ancillary track flinging itself into you at the wrong time or one misjudged turn to effectively ruin what chance you have to advance. Like in any open-ended street racing game, you need to play through a lot of the races multiple times to get a feel for the tracks--but this is not something encouraged by the game's wagering system, since you can't go back and do those races again until you've earned back the money you've lost. It's entirely too easy to lose a key race, then have to go and again play through one or two races you completed forever ago just to get back and do that race over again. Later in the game, it seems like that trend might shift, since you start winning bigger chunks of change, but as always, one or two races will come along with an unpleasant finish, and then you're basically back to square one.
Part of the problem is that the opponent racer artificial intelligence is just a touch on the cheap side. Rubber banding is readily apparent in most cases, and CPU drivers have an uncanny knack for avoiding collisions, as well as causing collisions that just happen to impact you directly. They aren't impossible to beat, but bumping into and knocking around opponent drivers the way they knock you around is next to impossible. You'll also have to frequently contend with LAPD cars floating around the city. Oftentimes during races, cops will swarm in out of nowhere and try to disrupt you. They're aggressive too, but not to the point that they'll try to total your car. More often they'll just try to run you off the road. That's all well and good, except for the fact that the sheer number of police patrolling the streets of LA in this game is ludicrous. If this many cops were actually driving around Los Angeles, crime would plummet into the negative percentages. Perhaps just a tad fewer cop cars would have been preferable here.