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:
- Red Faction II
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- Dark Cloud 2
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.