Fantastic customisation - make the car you want to drive.
Awesome multiplayer - even when racing people you don't know who are across an ocean.
The world is a living, breathing thing.
The Bad stuff
That living, breathing world hates you. The AI is very, very hard.
The game doesn't reward you enough for winning - SP feels like a grind.
It was only a matter of time before somebody took the MMO formula and threw it into a racing game. We don't mean Atari's Test Drive Unlimited, either. We mean the World of Warcraft tried and tested "The endgame is why you play the game" formula. Midnight Club: Los Angeles does exactly that - without the thousands of players or the monthly subscription fee. Getting to the endgame in MCLA will be a true test of character, but once you make it you're truly rewarded.
To be completely fair, you can get a taste of what's to come any time you like with the Quick Cruise option at any time - you can take your car online and blast around with your friends in whatever you have on hand. Still, you won't get the entire experience until you've unlocked all the cars and customisation options - and that's going to be an effort and a half.
That's because to unlock all those parts you'll need to conquer the single player game and single player in MCLA hates you. The AI racers hate you, the AI traffic hates you and the AI cops hate you. You'll very rarely win an actual race in the game, and when you do the rewards are far, far too small in comparison to the achievement. In some sort of concession to the game's difficulty you still gain rep and money when you lose - so the game quite literally becomes a grindfest - like every MMOG you've played.
The MMOG similarities don't end at the grind, either. The game gives you bonus money and rep for completing certain missions - the racing equivalent of gathering and travelling quests. "Win six races in a muscle car", "Travel to a Rooftop Car Park Downtown" or "Win 10 Highway races". Grind, grind, grind. Earn Rep, money and learn the world a little better. Repeat.
It's all worth it for the multiplayer though. MCLA features 16 player online with capture the flag, tag and a heap of traditional racing modes as well. You can customise your own races, and you can even put your pimped ride up on "Rate My Ride" to show off your artistic talent.
The real star is the Quick Cruise mode - where you and your mates (or random players) can hang out and just cruise, making up races and issuing challenges on the fly. Sure, it's been done before in other games, but the execution in MCLA is so good - and it's because everything else in the game is so right.
The game looks amazing - the cars are detailed inside and out, and the world is marvellous. There's no visible slowdown as you blast between traffic, and everything feels alive. Despite knowing you'll probably lose the next race you enter, the drive to the race is still a thrill. The thing the Midnight Club series has done from the very beginning is create an atmosphere for your underground street racing world and MCLA has so much atmosphere you might choke.
The cars play a huge part in this. You can customise everything about your car - right down to making your own custom decals. You can make the car look exactly how you want - even on the inside. And every car feels different as well. You won't jump behind the wheel of a Mustang muscle car and have it feel like your VW Golf - but you won't find any of the muscle cars feeling the same either. It makes upgrading your engine more than just a speed boost - it's like a new car. It's great.
The bike has already lost. It just doesn't know it yet.
Then there's everyone else in the game world. The police will pull you over for proper traffic violations - speeding, dangerous driving, running red lights - and then they'll chase you down when you drive off laughing. You'll randomly come across races while rolling around the neighbourhood - making just driving around to appreciate the world a worthwhile endeavour.
There's no traffic in online cruise mode, so you and your friends have the entire world to yourselves. This is probably more a limit of the platform than it is a design decision - all that AI takes up processing power. It's good and bad at the same time - there's nothing to get in the way of you and your buddies having fun, but the world loses just the tiniest bit of personality.
You'll get through the grind in single player thanks to all the personality. The player character will riff off opponents with arrogant remarks when you win and dejected exclamations when you lose. There's a great deal of variety in the characters as you make your way through the game as well - so even though you'll inevitably race some of them a dozen times as you struggle to beat them you won't get bored or annoyed with hearing them talk.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles gives you an amazing, wonderful interpretation of Los Angeles, 40 great cars with different handling styles and some of the best customisation options in any car game yet - once you unlock them. I feel like the world's biggest scrub for saying this, but for any human the game is just too hard. If you have midichlorian counts off the charts you won't have any issue with winning all the time, but I felt the grind big time.
Jumping online and cruising with your friends, or just soaking in the atmosphere while you cruise the streets looking for a challenge marked green (easy) is worth the price of admission though.
If you like racing games and customising your car get Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Apart from the fact that the AI difficulty setting is locked on "Nightmare" it's a flawless street racing experience. Just be prepared to scream at your TV a couple of times until you come to grips with the fact that You. Will. Never. Win.