Tag Archives: Blockbuster

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Midnight Club: Street Racing

This might be hard to believe, considering my long and well-documented love for all things racing games, but I willingly bought a copy of Midnight Club: Street Racing for the PlayStation 2 some time back in that wacky, inexplicable decade known as the aughts. I suspect I got it for cheap at the Blockbuster near my college’s campus when they started selling used games–or rather “previously rented”–but that’s just a suspicion, based mostly on the fact that that is where I got a small chunk of my early PS2 collection during my poorer days eating ramen noodles and working a few hours during the week in an art gallery. For the record, and yes, I just looked, here are all the games still in my collection rocking a “Previously Rented Game – Quality Guaranteed” label from the now defunct Blockbuster business:

Yup. Quite a super-squad there. With that said, let’s get on to the star of today’s show. Everybody, start your engines. Vroom vroom vroooooom…

Surprisingly, for a game centered around driving speedy cars quickly and aggressively, Midnight Club: Street Racing kind of had a story behind all its engine-driven action. Granted, around that timeframe, my experience was fairly limited to car-related adventures through things like Vigilante 8, Super Mario Kart, and Crash Team Racing, where vehicular combat was the central element, and it didn’t matter who was behind the wheel so long as they could toss projectiles out like everyone else. So, taking place in both New York City and London, you’re a bored-as-bored-gets cabbie looking for some street-style racing action…for reasons. Magically, you stumble across your first challenger named Emilio and are then invited to join the titular Midnight Club to continue proving your worth and burning gang leaders in races. There’s no real introduction, and the dialogue sections are flat images with character portraits speaking while two cars sit idly next to each other. Look, it’s not Great Expectations, or even Fast Five, but it’s something.

Not shockingly, when you see that Rockstar had a hand in this, but Midnight Club: Street Racing is a bit open-worldish. Y’know, a genre just starting to hit its stride then. You’re able to cruise around the respective cities, looking for trouble in the form of hookmen, which are visible on your mini-map, which, when you glance at the screenshot above, defies the definition of the word mini greatly. I mean, that was the UI for the era–big, bright, and loud. Anyways, once you get behind them, you’ll have to keep up with their ride until they feel that you’re worthy of a race, which is you against that driver’s entire posse. Also, you can call up these hookmen on your cell phone–a novel concept back then–for a more fair one-on-one race. If you win the race, you get to add your opponent’s car to your garage, which I guess is akin to carving up a dead animal and wearing its skin as a prize. I don’t know a lot about cars.

I remember being initially impressed by the scale of Midnight Club: Street Racing offered, but do remember the cities feeling lifeless and empty. Now, I’ve only ever been to New York City, and I remember a lot of cars and honking while there, as well as swarms of people; here, it is just mostly empty streets, with little traffic to deal with, and that just wouldn’t cut it today. Still, one must consider that this game came out before things like Grand Theft Auto III and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. It was also frustrating that, to even start a race with another member of the Midnight Club, you needed to follow them to the starting line first, weaving through traffic and praying they didn’t get too far ahead of your slow whip, which was often more challenging than the race itself.

Most races are checkpoint races, which means you can veer off the beaten path so long as you hit all the checkpoints and cross the finish line before anyone else. That might sound like there’s a ton of freedom at hand, but this is a condensed city-scape and not miles of Smuggler’s Run‘s open terrain, and there were generally only one or two ways to get the job done efficiently. If rubbing and racing isn’t your thing, well…there’s an arcade mode, which lets you set up head-to-head, checkpoint, and two-player races. Also, some sort of capture the flag mode where you need to bump into the car carrying the flag to steal it and then deliver to some hotspot on the map. I don’t believe I ever took down the gang champion of New York City, thus never even seeing the second half of the game set in London.

I have no idea if Midnight Club: Street Racing hold up in 2018, and I’m not interested in finding out. Still, if I had my copy around, I might pop it in randomly one night for a zip down memory lane, but oh well. Much like Blockbuster, this franchise stalled years ago, and newer, more efficient racers have taken the lead, like Burnout Paradise.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Unfortunately, Primal is a realm of both good and bad


Evidently, I got my copy of Primal at the now officially defunct Blockbuster chain of video rent stores. It has two fugly stickers on the front cover, one beneath the plastic and the other on top. The first shouts directly at me that this is a “previously rented game,” and the other is a medium-size red circle highlighting how much I purchased this gem for back in June 2003 as a financially struggling college sophomore–a cool $14.99. I can’t believe it has taken me ten years to finish this game for the very first time. A part of me kind of wishes I hadn’t because, I’m sad to say, it was certainly better remembered than experienced.

Primal is the story of a cafe waitress named Jennifer Tate and her rock-n-roll boyfriend Lewis and a teeny, but totally keen gargoyle called Scree. See, Lewis ends up getting kidnapped after one of his band’s concerts by some demonic being from another realm, and Jen is badly wounded during this, leaving her comatose in a hospital bed. While unconscious, Jen is visited by Scree, who takes her on a soul journey of sorts to the Nexus, where they discover Chaos is engulfing everything. To save her boyfriend, Jen must discover who she really is and help fight off Abaddon, the embodiment of Chaos.

It’s standard third-person action adventure fanfare, and with Jen and Scree exploring four very different realms for answers, the Nexus acting as a hub for story beats between all the happenings. In all my years of starting Primal over and over, I only ever saw the opening snowy realm of Solum. Truthfully, I kind of assumed this is where the entire game took place and was bummed to not see that be the case, because Solum has personality, much more than any other realm, though Aetha comes close. You can control both Jen and Scree, switching between them freely with the push of a button–take that, Grand Theft Auto V–and you’ll explore rooms, find locked doors and ways around them, fight off enemies, collect items, and meet a bunch of colorful characters, like Arella, who is championing for Jen to win.

And that’s Primal‘s best part–the story. The people you meet, the ones that support your cause, the ones that hinder it. You really do feel like you’re playing an active role in some special episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Veronica Mars. Jen is spunky and compassionate yet always ready to crack a joke, and Scree refuses to let up his seriousness; together, the two make quite a pair. By the end of the game, their relationship has grown beyond just helping each other out. From a glance, a lot of the world-building could seem superfluous, but I think enough is said to make all the realms come across as real places, even if they are mostly devoid of life and signs of life, save for Solum, which I mention again as I think its frigid landscape littered with stone buildings and campfires came off quite well. The story told there of a fallen prince in a society where the king, at the height of his power, sacrifices himself worked better than some later plots, which were uninspired.

Okay, now the bad parts, and it’s more or less everything else in Primal: combat, swimming, getting lost, no mini-map, camera, the music, the lack of music. I’ll try to cover each topic briefly.

Combat is oddly mapped to the PS2 controller’s shoulder buttons, which makes for weird, clunky fighting, and I found countering–hitting the block button just as an enemy strikes–to be impossible to nail consistently. Some enemies can only be killed with a finishing move, which you do by pressing L2 and R2 at the same time, a technique that worked only one-third of the time. Jen can regain health by absorbing it from Scree, and Scree can store up more energy to give Jen from fallen enemies (and some other places), so it’s a constant cycle of fight, absorb, refill, move on.

The second realm of Aquis has Jen and Scree spending the majority of their time underwater; that’s fine for Scree as he controls just the same, since stone sinks. But Jen’s swimming controls are unintuitive, and the camera is constantly getting frazzled at trying to keep up with her POV, flipping high and low. I can’t imagine many people got to this section and continued playing. The original Tomb Raider had better swimming controls than this, and I think that’s saying a lot. Oh, and did I mention that you still get into combat situations while underwater? Yeah, I found the whole realm maddening, as well as a wee depressing. There’s very little music, so you are just swimming around listening to nothing but the swoosh of Jen’s feet, wondering why you’re still here playing this underwater step back.

There’s a map, but no mini-map. There really should’ve been a mini-map, because it’s extremely easy to get lost due to erratic camera movements and most of everything looking identical. Especially when swimming or using Scree as he climbs up walls and across ceilings. You can press start at any point to view the map, but only if Scree is near you. Occasionally, the map wouldn’t even load. Just a dark, black screen. So, it’s glitchy and hard to follow as you can only see the section you’re on currently, but if your destination marker is in another building further down you won’t see the marker until you are close enough to pop that part of the map. Make sense? Absolutely not. Since Primal is very much about exploring, this aspect could’ve been stronger. I ended up using a walkthrough from time to time to get me back on track, especially in Aquis.

Music in Primal is all done by electronic rock band 16Volt. Not my thing, personally, but they fit the story and look and have a videogamey sound, I guess. Their music appears mostly during fight scenes and boss battles, but also in cutscenes and the opening of the game. That said, when you’re not fighting, all is silent, which can kind of unnerving, but mostly boring, as even just some light instrumental would’ve helped fill the void.

As they travel about, Jen and Scree can find Tarot Cards, which unlock concept art from the main menu. That’s nice and all, but nothing to go crazy over. I think I found maybe half of the Tarot Cards by the end. However, as you progress, the game itself unlocks behind-the-scene and making of movies, interviews, and special trailers, which are fantastic, mostly for being stuck in the past. They might come across as cheesy or overdramatic in how Primal was trying to be sold, but they’re interesting nonetheless. Especially the interviews with Hudson Leick and Andreas Katsulas.

I don’t know. Like I said, there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t gone through and seen the rest of what Primal had to offer, as I found a lot of it frustrating and disappointing from the gameplay side, but I guess I ultimately needed to know. Now I can speak more confidently about the game, about its good parts, while also warning those that are making their way to the Nexus for the very first time about things like an entire realm devoted to just swimming and janky camera control and the atrociously repetitive combat and and and…