Take NFS Underground and add GTA 3 and you got Midnight Club!!
There's too many things to list that are good about this game. Featuring over 20 cars, which are all modeled from real ones, just with creative names such as Torino, which looks like a souped up Mitsubishi Eclipse, to a Interna, which is a Honda S2000 convertible, and also includes Motorcycles such as the Cochete which looks more like a Suzuki, but it's these creative titles given to cars that make them sound cool.
The graphics and modeling are top-notch and is the base for a good game. When travelling through the three open cities of Los Angeles, Paris, or Tokyo, Rockstar San Diego did not miss one single landmark. You'll be seeing all sorts of crazy signs ranging from neon lit strip clubs to little cozy restuarants and even the famed Hollywood signs and the huge houses on Beverly Hills. Since most of the driving is done at midnight, the developers did not miss the night driving reflections or the smooth road surface that offers many types of traction levels.
Gameplay is solid, featuring new play modes including a Cruise mode, for those nice Sunday drives in your new car that you unlocked in Career mode. There is also online play available as well as Arena Battles, like Capture the flag or Detonate, with Mario Kart like powerups to screw up other drivers. Career mode features races or sprints with checkpoints to go through and there are no walls so you can go anywhere you want.
It's very challenging game, and appeals to hardcore racers who like stiff competition and winning opponents cars in pink slip races. You'll be restarting at least 3-4 times per race just figuring out which route is best and fending off the other malicious drivers who will cut you off in a turn or slam against you into an oncoming car.
Sound and music tracks are from underground music scene such as Art of Trance to Nokternal, or hip-hop artists such as Tre Little and 8-ball Aguilah. You can also import your own set of MP3's to listen to while you crusie around or race. The cutscenes are pretty good, you'll be meeting a lot of wannabe tough guys and ditzy party girls that'll talk trash to you. One thing for certain they never say the same thing twice. There's a lot of variation in the dialogue.
Controls are smooth going and the interface is easy to use. If you're a big fan of Need for Speed Underground series, then should have no trouble with this game. There are many things to unlock and many new tricks to learn as you progress through career. They'll be teaching you how to do a burnout, using slip-stream turbo, driving on two wheels using weight transfer, doing nosies or ducks on a motorcycle to enhance speed or create drag to slow down in the turns. There's also drifting mechanics by using the handbrake to whip around those hard narrow hairpins turns.
There is also a race editor to make your own set track with a set number of checkpoints. There are no restrictions to where the checkpoints are, or how many laps there is in a race. It's those options that add replayability after career mode is finished.
For some it could be downright frustratingly difficult to play since the racers are very hard to contend with. They'll slam into you, make you hit traffic or a wall. The physics engine needs some work. Most of the cars you drive will have a sharp turning axis even at high speeds, you can go around a 90 degree turn at 150mph... There is no in-car view, there's bumper cam, but that's as close as you can get in a car. I love to ride a car that has authentic speedometers and controls. Adds some more realism to it. There is no drag option in the game like NFSUnderground 2 had. The game tends to crash a bit after playing it straight for 2 hours. Or the graphics seem to lag and I got a pretty good video card and system for this game, but sometimes you'll get slowdowns in heavily congested areas when it's raining. There's no visual upgrades or import parts to buy...
The Bottom Line
Definitely one of the best racing games out there that rivals the Need for Speed series. You'll find both challenging and fun with all the different play modes and the massive variety of cars available. Every race will be different, every technique is available to use to your advantage and theirs if they use it too. A fun game with high replayability with the Race editor mode and cruising around mode!!