Developer: Angel Studios
As of right now, I am suffering from late-night writer's block, so thanks to a suggestion from Gerry, I shall go on a short spiel on what is currently bugging me about society. Actually, not so much society as the commercial market. OEM computer manufacturers, to be specific.
Many of you know that computer technology is flying upward exponentially every year, and your new top of the line system will be obsolete in 6 months. Scary huh? Anyways, recently, many of my friends have been moving away from home as summer comes to a close. For people around my age, we're just beginning our college career. Leaving for a new school equals brand new computer and leave old one to a younger sibling or tech-illiterate parents who want a taste of internet / e-mail.
Here's where the computer OEM manufacturers come in. I forgot what OEM stands for, but basically it's companies like Compaq or Packard Bell. I have never, and will never buy a computer from one of those companies. No disrespect to their abilities, but they like to do sneaky stuff such as fasten RAM onto the motherboard so that if you want to upgrade you would have to go through their company, hence paying more dough. In addition, they create all these impractical tower designs that look pretty slick, but when you open them up, all the cables are scrambled and nearly impossible to remove or install anything. Damn, I'm digressing.
All the problems above should be not a concern to the average American who just wants to go online and chat on AIM. My gripe begins here. Today, I headed out to Best Buys with a friend looking for a cheap soundcard / speakers and a simple IDE cable. As I passed by the OEM section, I see all these "Home Internet" PC's that appeal to the customers by displaying smiling families bent over a monitor and the kids acting all amazed and pointing at the screen. The price tag in this section hovers around the $1500 area, and all the machines include Intel's 550 MHz powerhouse.
WTF?! "Home Internet" PC's running on Pentium III 550's?! Shoot me in the nads, talk about overkill! Unfortunately many of my friends heading off towards college are equipped with such incredibly impractical solution. What does the average student do with his/her computer? \
1. Word processing;
So tell me this Einstein, how much CPU power do all these take up?
Actually, compared to a few years ago, prices are rock bottom. My old AMD 386/40 cost nearly $3,000!! However, compared to today, in my opinion OEM manufacturers and greedy marketing bastards are leeching money off of the general public. As the picture shows, overkill is an understatement. A very respectable Intel Celeron 400 running on integrated i810 motherboard can handle most anything 90% of the public wants from it, and the cost under $500... including a monitor!! Sigh... I'm just bitter. Even though my new Celeron 366 is more than satisfactory, I can't help but lust after anything top of the line. I need some sleep. Check the time at the bottom of the screenshot, and you can see that the sun will be rising in about an hour. *YAWN*
Welps, a new day, and minus a writer's block equals the start (finally) of my Midtown Madness review. What we have here is probably one of the most original and unique games (in my opinion) that the industry has ever produced. One on hand, there is the traditional racing genre such as Grand Prix Legends or Need for Speed or Test Drive. On the other hand, there are the controversial "racing" games that aren't really racing, but allows you to drive a car and... well... wreck as much havoc as possible. Case and point, the Carmageddon series and the Grand Theft Auto series. Midtown Madness combines all of that into a sack, weeds out the violence and controversy, and puts in a healthy dose of originality.
The setting is in a city, where you can either run 3 different types of races around the streets, or you can set cruise mode and simply get to know the town. Wait a minute, if it was just ANY city, how boring is that? Instead, Angel Studios and Microsoft has teamed up and reconstructed DOWNTOWN CHICAGO for Midtown Madness! Everything from the Sears tower to Lake Michigan to Meigs Airfield, all rendered into the game engine. In addition to famous landmarks, they also included sporting stadiums such as Soldier Field (Chicago Bears) and good ol' Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)! It was fun making 360 turns around the field like what you see sometimes on car commericals. Heh heh...
So anyways, back to the game. Firing up Midtown Madness brings you to the intro screen which holds different options such as Quick Race, Single Player, or Multi Player. A quick race will simply thrust you into a checkpoint race (more on that later) while Single Player allows you to create a character and keep a track record. When you race, you get to select the car you would like to drive around with. Now, what's the fun in driving in a real city without a real car? Selections include the Volkswagon New Beetle (ugh!), a generic City Bus (big mofo), the Cadillac El Dorado, the 1999 Ford Mustang GT (hooray!), the Ford F-350 power pickup, and the exotic Panoz AIV Roadster. There are other cars available, such as my favorite to use, the Ford Mustang Police Cruiser, but you need to win tracks to "un-lock" the new cars.
As I stated before, there are three distinct different types of races to run. The Blitz simply requires you to blast through a number of checkpoints in order within a pre-determined amount of time. The Checkpoint is more of a generic type of racing, where you race with other cars to hit the number of pre-determined checkpoints, no matter the order. Finally, the Circuit is the most traditional type of racing, where you make laps against other cars without the interference of pedestrians, 3rd party vehicles, or police. All the races are very simple in the beginning, but as you progress in levels, they become gradually harder and harder. It soon became impossible for me to beat the stage in one try, rather, it began to require multiple attempts!
The most fun mode had to be cruise mode. You can set your own time, day, weather, etc..., and traffic density. I like to lower the police density really low, and raise the traffic density really high and wreck havoc in my Freightliner Century 18-wheeler (you unlock that by beating 5 Blitz races, i believe). That monster car really isn't good for any race, but it's helluva fun destroying the city! Of course, then there are some times when I feel if I should obey the traffic laws. I switch to automatic transmission, choose the Cadillac El Dorado, set the time to evening with clear skys and cruise the area near Navy Pier and Lake Michigan. Really nice, in my opinion. My point is that there are a myriad of options available to the user, and none of them very complicated to figure out at all! Midtown Madness has a very acceptable learning curve, and the fun factor is way up in the stratosphere.
An evil streak in me exists, and when I first fired up Midtown Madness, I looked to derail as many pedestrians as I can and cause blood to squirt out of their crushed skulls under my Volkswagon. However, every single pedestrian appears to be olympic gold medalists in decathalon, because not only do they run fast, they dive miraculously out of the way just before i smash my front bumper into their faces. I tried reversing, and they'll dive again... and again and again until you leave them alone. Then they'll brush off the dust and resume their normal life as if nothing terrorizing has just happened to them. That certainly isn't very realistic, but hey, this is Microsoft we're talking about. The people that released FLIGHT SIMULATOR. No way are they going to let controversy touch any of their products. =)
The police plays a big role in keeping the city safe and secure. They are supposedly the people that will help reduce bad guys, and bad drivers. In Midtown Madness, they drive like Evil Kineival as they jump draw bridges in attempt to ram you, the misbehaving driver, until your car is exhaling billows of black smoke from its engine. Aggressive would be an understatement. I certainly hope Chicago cops in real life don't model themselves after Midtown Madness. They all cruise in souped up Mustang GT's, with their sole purpose as destroying your vehicle. The fun part is vrooming down narrow alleyways in 5th gear at 100+ mph's and seeing the cops smash into the adjacent building because their driving skills are a notch lower than yours. Har har!
The graphics are very flexible to adjust. You can lower all the details and thus raise your frame rate, or pump up the eye candy but sacrificing a little smoothness (unless you have a powerhouse CPU). With all the details available, it really isn't that much different from low details until you look closely. The overall graphics don't have the meticulousness of, say, Need for Speed, but what it lacks it makes up for atmosphere. Playing this game really makes me feel like I'm cruising a real city, with pedestrians and other cars. Like wise, the sound effects include everything you would find downtown. Car horns blaring in road rage, or people yelling, "MANIAC!" as you charge straight through the local mall.
Multiplayer is what every game should strive for. It includes IPX, TCP/IP, MSN Gaming Zone support, legacy Serial (null cable) connection, and direct Modem dial-up. That's the complete package folks, and unfortunately, many games today don't include all of these options. I guess developers are rushed to push the product to the publishers that they don't consider these implementations as important. Anyways, as far as multiplayer goes, you can choose between the traditional races, or play as "COPS AND ROBBERS". Sort of like CTF (Capture the Flag), you have to drive around and collect gold bags and return them to your base. You can ram into the other cars, and steal their gold as they smash into the support beams and drop their riches also. Very fun, and it runs pretty smoothly as far as I'm concerned.
The cons of this very well designed game would be the lack of more cars, or more cities. Chicago is pretty big, but I got used to the city in a few days of heavy playing. The cars were really nice to play around with in the beginning, but I'm hoping maybe later on Microsoft would release a patch including more cities and more cars available to the end user... or maybe even an addon. Another glitch would be the graphic clippings. What that means is that sometimes, you know you go through walls and floors and ceilings. That's clipping. In the game, it doesn't occur very often, but occasionally, when you're making a sharp turn to a small alleyway, the camera doesn't follow correctly and you see straight through the building. These are minor complaints, and really doesn't deter the gameplay at all.
Microsoft definitely has a winner on their hands in Midtown Madness. Not only is the atmosphere rendered to near perfection, the addictive level of this game is way high. So many things to mess around with, but so little time! In addition, this game appeals to EVERYONE. I am probably the last person in the world who would go out and buy a driving wheel and pedals for my computer, but this isn't a game solely for the racing hardcore. It's for everybody, and I guarantee if you sit down and play for at least a good half-hour, you'll agree that Midtown Madness is definitely the king of the road in a saturated genre of games.
Final Grade: A
The Scale is as follows: