Midnight Club Los Angeles has a lot going for it: excellent graphics; fast, intense racing that takes place day or night; and numerous online modes that support up to 16 racers. Unfortunately, it has a few rather significant problems that hold it back, including a small roster of vehicles and gameplay that, while fun, doesn't break any new ground. But most of all, it is Midnight Club's excessive difficulty that makes it a very good racing game rather than a great one.
It's a nice car now, but it won't be by the end of the race.
There's a bit of a story, but it's the bare minimum to get you in a car to race around the streets of LA. And it is quite a version of LA. The game has a day/night cycle so you're not stuck racing at one time of day the whole time. You won't just race in sunshine, either. Some days are cloudy, and every once in awhile, the clouds unleash torrents of rain. Day or night, rain or shine, the city looks fantastic. The frame rate is steady, the action is fast, and the game's re-creation of LA is absolutely gorgeous. This slightly scaled-down City of Angels covers everything, including the beaches of Santa Monica, the Hollywood hills, and downtown. What's really neat about the city here is not only how many recognizable landmarks there are, such as the 3rd Street Promenade and LA Convention Center, but also the branded buildings, such as 7-11, Pizza Hut, Holiday Inn, and even billboards for iPods. There's certainly such a thing as too much advertising, but it's not overdone here (not every gas station is a 7-11, for example), and having these real-world businesses in the game world helps immerse you in the experience.
As with most street racing games, you drive around the city looking for people to race. When you find someone, you flash your lights, and in most cases, race to the starting line. There are time trials, checkpoint races around the city, freeway races, and races from point A to point B--pretty standard stuff for the genre. You'll also have missions where you must render payback by damaging target vehicles and deliver cars across town unscathed in an extremely short amount of time. There is a police presence, which can and will chase you down if it sees you're up to no good. Chases aren't as intense as in the Need for Speed games, but it's immensely entertaining to pull over and then watch yourself on the police car's dash-cam as you peel out when the cop approaches your vehicle.
When you finish a race, you're awarded money and respect based on your position. Respect unlocks new races, as well as new licensed cars (plus motorcycles), visual customization options, and performance upgrades. The slow way in which new cars are unlocked is most likely because of how few cars and bikes are (about 44) included. But regardless of the reason, it takes a lot of winning to gain new items, which can be frustrating when you've got money to spend and a car in desperate need of improvement.