Midtown Madness 2
We love Midtown Madness, especially in multiplayer mode, so the prospect of a sequel had us salivating with anticipation. When we heard that the developer is including two new cities to trash we were verging on the orgasmic. And then, after news filtered through that London is going to be one of the two new sites, our actions were unprintable.
MM2 is one of the games we saw at the recent Microsoft extravaganza, Gamestock, but although it's scheduled for an Autumn release there wasn't really much of the game in place, and disappointingly our capital city was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, talking to the developers left us in no doubt that the sequel is going to take the mantle from its predecessor and provide as much fun as you can have with a force feedback wheel strapped to your desk.
If you've played the original, then there are two big surprises waiting for you in the sequel. The first is a Crash Course Mission mode, where you can choose to play as a stunt driver on location in the latest action thriller in San Francisco (the second of the two new cities), or as a rookie cab driver trying to grasp the knowledge on the streets of London. (Wonder where they got the idea for that one? Crazy Taxi? Hmm.)
And, as well as offering nine new vehicles (including the Aston Martin Vantage DB-7 and a huge great fire engine), the driving physics and damage modelling have been improved to allow racing on two wheels, handbrake turns, power slides and breakaway parts. All the original ingredients are still in place, including all the vehicles, the drive-anywhere philosophy and the race modes. The promise of improved multiplayer support across a LAN and the Internet is an essential bonus and should ensure an even bigger following this time round.
But by far the best news for UK gamers is the inclusion of London. If you've ever had to sit in the congestion during peak hours, been cut off by a black cab, or tried to negotiate the Hyde Park roundabout, then this game is going to be an essential purchase.
Wind your window down and scream at your fellow travellers in real life and you're likely to be hunted down and rammed. Likewise, if the London filth see you smashing your way through to an imaginary checkpoint, then you're likely to be arrested and sectioned. Ram the gates of Queenie at Buckingham Palace and you'll probably be beheaded at dawn in front of a crowd of bloodthirsty onlookers. So forget it. Wait for Midtown Madness 2 (clock up all your traffic grievances in the meantime) and relive all your fantasies from the comfort of your armchair. You know it makes sense.
Despite all that we've said before, we were actually bitterly disappointed with the original Midtown Madness. Imagine the looks of disappointment on our faces when we found out that it didn't involve stripping naked, smearing ourselves with our own faeces and running around Trafalgar Square. Instead, what did we get? A free form go-anywhere driving simulator with an emphasis on fun. Teh, some people just don't know how to take a title literally. So we crossed our fingers when we first heard about the sequel and hoped they'd actually do something to correct the grievous errors that permeate the first. And then we saw the game... Unfortunately, it looks like we've got another free form driving simulator and, if we can dig ourselves out of this large introductory paragraph hole, we can get on with previewing the game.
Microsoft might have stumbled with its initial entries into the games arena. Anyone remember the first MS Soccer? Woo-hoo. But, despite these early failings, it's firmly back on track and MM2 is just one of the gems in its latest release schedule. As you probably know, we were keen on Midtown Madness and it seems you were too, voting it Best Driving Game in our Reader Awards by a huge majority. And what do awards make? Sequels, that's what. Angel Studios has got the same tiling in mind and is in the process of doing just that - and they aren't going to get away with releasing the same game twice.
Take Me By The Hand...
While the first MM featured only one city, its sequel now graces us with two new locations, each bigger than Chicago and far apart from each othe; in terms of style and looks. First up is San Francisco, and there's really only one reason to set a game in SF: feckin' steep hills all over the shop. Expect the developers to give you every opportunity possible to drive off the top of them at high speed and spend a ridiculous amount of time in the air. Aside from that, SF features all the other things that make it so well-known: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and, er. that long steep winding road. OK, I've never actually been there, but unlike Chicago, we've all seen San Francisco glamorised in the movies, and it's certainly recognisable in this way. In fact, talking of movies, with a little bit of map-reading, it should be possible to take on the role of Steve McQueen and recreate that famous car chase route from Bullitt. Or, er, Nicolas Cage in The Rock if you want.
Much closer to home, we have everybody's favourite smog-filled cesspool - oP London town. This should be more in line with us Brits, none of this American-influenced block planning, instead we've got streets designed by an architect with an Etch-a-sketch and Parkinson's disease. Central London is a mix of winding streets and hidden alleys that make navigating a lot more challenging than in San Francisco. All the famous landmarks, from Big Ben to Buckingham Palace have been shoved in, the map covering north to south from Oxford Street to the Thames and east to west from Kensington to Tower Bridge. It's even possible to get down into the tube if you're in need of a traffic-free shortcut. Sadly, people wanting to pay their respects as they drive past the squalid basement known as ZONE Towers will be disappointed to hear that we're not there, being just one street away from inclusion. Don't worry, we've had words.
At first glance, it doesn't look a lot like London. For starters, there's no sign of malformed middle-aged prostitutes smoking crack, gorging themselves on dead rats and talking on their stolen mobile phones. There may be an overabundance of red phone boxes, but at least there's no men in suits and bowler hats selling jellied eels up the apples and pears. There was a rumour that the finished game would come with a free bag of soot which you could smear over your monitor for that essential London atmosphere, but it was abandoned at the last minute in favour of an in-game fog option.
In fact, you can choose from a variety of weather conditions, each looking rather impressive. There's still also the option to control the density of traffic and pedestrians. And they've all had a bit of a makeover in the graphics department, too. It may not be the best looker around, hut it certainly has a distinctive style and what it lacks in splendour it should more than make up for in play.
One of the most interesting additions is the Crash Course feature. In this, you take control of either a cabbie in London or a stunt driver in San Francisco and have to undergo a series of challenges before passing a final exam, which includes tasks such as successfully following a car and trying to get past a number of checkpoints without letting your speed drop below a set minimum. While it's really only an expanded tutorial, it still looks like it's going to be loads of fun.
All vehicles from the first game make a return appearance along with some new ones, each with different paint jobs. Ixxik forward to the likes of the Aston Martin and Audi IT, along with the more novel fire engine and double-decker bus. Of course, the good stuffs locked away at the start and the only way to get your hands on it is by winning races. Again, all the modes from the original are back: the Blitz mode where you race against the clock; Checkpoint with you speeding around the city to get to your target before your opponents; and Circuit where, hey. I'll let you guess what you have to do in this one. The Cruise mode also makes a welcome return, allowing you to drive around the cities at your leisure making up your own fun - mainly smashing into anything that moves - or even acting sensibly, driving on die right side of the road and stopping at traffic lights if that's how you get your kicks.
There have also been a few minor improvements to ensure the smooth running of multiplayer over Microsoft's Gaming Zone. Games from the first MM, such as Cops And Robbers should be included, but we're yet to see if there's anything new as the multiplayer option hasn't been finalised yet.
Handling has been given a few tweaks and each vehicle drives markedly different from the others. Suffice to say it feels a lot more responsive, and trying to manoeuvre an articulated lorry around a corner is going to be a lot more challenging than sliding around with the handbrake on inside a Ford Mustang. Vehicles now have greater damage models, too. Parts of your car should fly off in major collisions and vehicles should flip over at high velocity. They'll still be able to magically right themselves, though.
Let S Go, Mr Driver!
It seems like everything's been given a polish in time for its impending release. We're not complaining, though - like they say, if it ain't broke... We've been slamming around on a beta version for the past couple of months and, while there's still a few bugs that need to be seen to, we've been able to get a good impression of how the finished game is going to look. Don't expect a radical overhaul, but try to picture an all-new singing and dancing Midtown Madness with lots of shiny knobs on it. It's a nice image to leave you with.
If You Can't Drive Round It...
There's enough here to satisfy the most uncontainable psychotics
Aside from vehicles, there will be plenty of other things to knock about in a reckless manner. There should be boxes strewn in every alley, trees in every paii(, and lamp posts literally everywhere else. Unfortunately, the pedestrians remain as elusive as ever, displaying feats of superhuman athleticism to avoid your oncoming vehicle. If you want to live out your violent fantasies and darkest moments of road rage and knock down a few pedestrians, you're going to have to buy MAPs poor relation instead, Carmageddon TOR 2000, which we reviewed in the last issue.
It's testament to Microsoft's current standing in the games industry that we are now beginning to see a wave of sequels to its more successful games. That said, there's still no news of Microsoft Soccer 2, although this is perhaps understandable given that the original was one of the worst games ever released. Such early aberrations have almost been forgotten now, though, as Gates' outfit continues to make waves as a serious games company, not least by the spending of millions of pounds on a stupidly named console. Although the PC has traditionally been its mainstay and, for the time being at least, that's where the action is.
Last year's Midtown Madness delivered action in spades, taking a fresh approach to the staid driving genre by offering freedom of movement throughout a living, breathing city. That city was Chicago, not the most obvious choice given that nobody has ever been there and nobody knows what it looks like. However, it seemed that the game offered scope for a city expansion pack, largely due to the fact that the menu screen allowed you to select which city to race in, despite the fact that there was only one available. But that never materialised and instead they have leapt straight to a fully-fledged stand-alone sequel that offers two spanking new cities. Those cities are Aberystwyth on the West Coast of Wales and Doncaster in Yorkshire. Of course they're not, they're San Francisco and London.
In The City
Not the most original of selections, admittedly, but at least the average prole will recognise them. At which point they'll realise that things are not quite as they seem. Rather than map the cities exactly, developers Angel Studios have by their own admission created detailed caricatures. As such, London is a huge theme park with all the major attractions within spitting distance of each other, and San Francisco consists of a big bridge and some steep hills. It works perfectly well. And while London is almost unrecognisable from the urban decay and squalor of the real thing, it's nicely done and provides a passable American's eyeview of the largest city in Europe, confirming that they still see it as the quaint village where Jack The Ripper and Mary Poppins live. Of course, the equivalent is true when cruising round the streets of San Francisco in a muscle car. and it's quite easy to imagine that you're Steve McQueen in Bullitt.
As in the original game, the Cruise mode otters the opportunity to get to grips with each city, offering unlimited driving time unhampered by any fuel shortage. Law-abiding citizens can stick to the Highway Code, although within minutes you'll inevitably take to the pavement and start ploughing through inanimate objects while pedestrians leap screaming out of the way. As in the first game, bloodshed is not on the menu, although pretty much everything else is breakable, from the strategically placed cardboard boxes to the red phone boxes that line every street in London. Step out of line too often, though, and the blue uniforms will be all over you like a cheap suit.
One advance from the first game is the inclusion of the so-called Crash Course mode, which is effectively a glorified tutorial. For London, this takes the form of performing various tasks in a black cab. And just to give you some idea of the scale of the city, one of these tasks involves taking in the Royal Albert Hall, Buckingham Palace, Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge in just over two minutes. Of course, in reality, two minutes would be spent sat in traffic while the meter spiralled upwards and the driver subjected you to a foulmouthed rant. Thankfully, this isn't reality, and you can throw your cab around with gay abandon. The downside is you have to take instruction from what is supposed to be a typical London cabbie. The sensible approach might have been to employ a Londoner to provide the voice, but they seem to have enlisted the services of a second-rate Rolf Harris impersonator, whose pitiful attempts at Cockney banter grate.
The Californian drawl isn't much better, and the equivalent San Franciscan crash course takes the form of a Hollywood Stunt School. For both locations, prizes are on offer in the form of new cars and paint jobs, as the tasks increase in complexity and difficulty; maintaining a minimum speed of 50mph, for instance. Most of them are well balanced, offering a perfect combination of challenge and frustration.
One Hundred And Eighty...
By the time you've completed the crash course, you'll be well versed in car control, which has been markedly improved from the first game. Even in a cumbersome old black cab, it's possible to pull off stylish 180-degree turns and power slide into corners, although of course this looks far more impressive when throwing a Ford Mustang around a San Francisco street. There are numerous events in which to put your newly learned skills to the test, with a host of Blitz, Checkpoint and Circuit races available. Graphically, the game claims to have a new engine. Although, to the untrained eye it doesn't look a great deal different, maintaining the stylised pseudo toy-town look of its predecessor. It's perfectly workable though, and the value of the game is in tearing down busy streets, destroying everything in your path while watching the ensuing mayhem in the rear-view mirror.
The original game was a belter and, while not breaking the mould, this sequel successfully builds upon it. Both cities are larger than the original, and nine new vehicles have been added to the line-up. There's enough here to reawaken the interest of fans of the original, whereas newcomers will instantly realise what the fuss was about. It's enough to make grown adults whoop like children.
Download Midtown Madness 2
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
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