Motor City Online
Thus far, online racing games have generally cut to the chase. Whereas goblin fanciers can live out their virtual lives in a constantly evolving fantasy world, those who prefer to drive pretend cars have usually been limited to the occasional one-off outing against largely anonymous opponents. Wouldn't it be great if there was a persistent online world where you could exist as a permanent fixture, buy and sell cars, customise them, and compete against other like-minded individuals? Hey, you could even place bets on the outcome of races. Motor City Online is of course such a game, and it's a highly ambitious project. Whereas online options have often been included in racing games as little more than an afterthought, this is the real deal, as the name would suggest. Allied to the fact that this preview is nestling in the online section of the magazine, we can be fairly certain of the game's online credentials.
So what do you get for your phone bill? What you get is the chance to immerse yourself in the world of the classic American car. Licensed by the supposed big three manufacturers of the time - Ford, GM and Chrysler - Motor City is packed to the gills with more than 50 classic, muscle and stock cars from the 1930s to the early 1970s, allegedly the golden age of the American hot rod.
So whether it's a Buick Century or a Ford Thunderbird that floats your boat, the opportunity will be there to get behind the wheel and drive in a wholly irresponsible fashion. For those impatiently gnashing at the bit, an arcade option puts you on so-called EZ Street with a series of beginner-focused tracks. Having learnt the basics, you can then make your way to one of the 24-hour hotrod hangouts, chew gum, and throw down challenges to other drivers, which take place over some 15 streets, pro and drag racing tracks. There's even a stunt mode, where drivers can jump gaps or launch themselves through flaming hoops.
Sim Motor City
Eventually you'll want to make the step up to the fully-fledged Sim World, which is where the real value of the game is to be found. Having created a unique identity, you can buy a car, and then set about customising it. All manner of accoutrements will be available for download, with major post release support promised. There is also talk of a dynamic economy, where car and part prices change in line with real-world supply and demand. That seems a trifle unnecessary, and somewhat impractical given that none of the cars in the game have been manufactured for 30 years, but who are we to argue?
Further financial shenanigans will take place via online auctions, as players trade pans or sell them to the highest bidder. Imagine the scene. Someone is looking to offload a gleaming camshaft to the highest bidder, players from all over the world gather around their PCs, sweat gleaming on their brows as they tentatively offer a fee. Just as the transaction is about to take place, another seller comes in with a camshaft of comparable quality at only half the price. The drama.
Money will play a key role in the game, and will exist in the form of Motor City dollars, thus avoiding any confusion with actual currency. Income can potentially be increased by joining a club, membership of which will entitle you to a weekly salary, determined by winning races, selling services or by the overall success of the club. Such clubs can be exclusive, for instance, limited to Chrysler owners only. The benefits of membership are myriad though, and enable you to get involved in club vs club contests. These can take the form of turf wars, with control of particular tracks going to the winners. Opposing clubs can attempt to gain control of individual tracks by mounting challenges, with supremacy displayed by which club rules the most.
That's The Gamble
If you're simply looking to make some easy money, bets can be placed on the outcome of races. Details of this have yet to be announced, and the developers will have to ensure that it isn't open to abuse. It wouldn't be the world's greatest sting for someone to have a pre-arranged accident, having lumped a fortune on his opponent, so we can only assume players will be limited to betting on themselves. If done correctly, it will add another aspect to the racing, with tension increased by the possibility of losing everything you've worked for.
So that's essentially the crux of Motor City Online then. Of course, the complex infrastructure will have been a complete waste of time and effort if the actual racing side of the game isn't up to scratch. Nobody will bother building up an online character, trading parts, joining clubs and placing bets if driving the actual cars is about as much fun as guiding an errant shopping trolley around your local Asda. Fortunately, a playable version was on view at E3. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to play it. Therefore it would be grossly irresponsible of me to claim that it's going to be any good. If one of the world's largest companies can't fork out for a paltry airfare to Los Angeles and a two-bit hotel, then I am going to have to err on the side of caution. It might promise "breathtaking graphics and true four-point car physics for road-hugging realism" but for all I know it could be utter muck. Doubtful though, seeing as Richie saw it running at E3 and thought it looked suitably impressive.
We're hoping that it does work, and with a nod towards the Need For Speed series, chances are it will. It's a great idea and a concept that could provide an antidote to the goblin-ridden rubbish that deters 'normal' people from online gaming. So hopefully, Motor City Online will be a step in the right direction for getting people to play on the Internet.
Our first street race in Motor City Online was for a pink slip. To an American, a pink slip is an official certificate of title, granting the holder legal ownership of a vehicle. To an Englishman, a pink slip is an item of clothing that pokes out from underneath grandma when she does the weeding. While we didn't think that we'd be risking life and limb for a sleeveless undergarment, we were unaware that defeat would mean the loss of the car we'd bought not ten minutes previously.
Mmm, Nice Car
Ah yes: the wheels. A nasty, hateful American thing dating from the mid 1950s, with vulcanised tyres, no brakes, and more miles on the clock than the USS Enterprise. A car that would be out-accelerated by the average glacier and out-handled by the average Flymo. Had we been given the opportunity to sign up for a race where it was clearly stated that the loser lost everything, we might have been a little less hasty in entering our giant lawnmower.
We found ourselves sat on the start line in our 800 cubic inch, 29 horsepower tank, with a Chevrolet Gaylord Caprice Classic Hemi Demi Shelby '57 (or whatever) alongside us. It proudly bore the number plate USA I and was decked out with stars and stripes paintwork -fuelling our desire to heighten the '50s atmos by running him off the road and into the scenery, James Dean-style. But by the time our monster had grumbled into second gear, the other guy had ducked under the chequered flag, packed up and gone home for some of mom's apple pie, leaving us to create a second MCO personality and start afresh with a second Motown yacht.
Nuts And Bolts
Yet, as with so many games that infuriate you on their inaugural run, this one suckered us back for more. It might have been something to do with the fact that we'd endured a 428Mb download and weren't about to delete it in a hurry, but it was more likely to be the way the game lets you become one of a community where everyone is nuts about cars. And as certified car bores, we could not keep away. A big car club! For sad people like me! Where people race cars! On my computer! If only this chair had an integral toilet...
Yes, anyone who loves hot rods and customising will be in seventh heaven. MCO provides a virtual economy where dollars buy you a souped-up, supercharged motor with all manner of Gran Turismo demon tweaks. The fact that here you can flog, loan or auction anything in your possession, from the car itself down to the camshafts, lends it more depth than the PlayStation yardstick. Originally destined to be the latest instalment in the ageing Need For Speed series, we think Electronic Arts have done the right thing by dropping single player and taking it to the Internet.
There are five key areas to the MCO experience. Drag Racing is all about going head-to-head with other drivers down a quarter-mile strip. Street Racing is where I lost my car in a pink slip event, although it is possible to join races where money is the incentive. It also features pedestrians and law-abiding traffic, making a massively multiplayer Midtown Madness. Circuit Racing puts drivers and their cars on a professional track, where winners earn cash and points. Sponsored Racing is where you don't have to worry about smashing your car up, as the cars are provided for you. Lastly, Open Trials secs you racing against the clock: this is the recommended place for newbies to start, as you can accrue money quite rapidly.
As with the old Need For Speed series, any race you participate in can be replayed from a variety of different camera angles. The big yanks pitch, yaw and roll with undoubted realism, and because the graphics engine takes advantage of the latest DirectX 8.0 gimmickry, the cars look very authentic indeed. While the physics often stray into arcade and the cluttered front end is initially rather daunting, the game remains both realistic and playable.
It's just a shame - and this is the one recurring complaint - that everything you see and everything you drive is unfamiliar. Not one of the cars from the MCO showroom made it to UK shores, and they're all about 50 years old. On the upside there are over 2,000 upgrade parts that you can buy, sell and tinker with, plus 60 licensed vehicles and 24 tracks. When all is said and done, the thrill of winning and making money is what matters. Get involved in the online community and perhaps the antique era doesn't matter so much after all.
Mustang or Mitsubishi? The latter please
As you may have guessed by now, we're not that keen on what people call the golden age of motoring -'50s America with its Camaros, Corvettes and Cadillacs. It would seem that the rest of the world agrees, yearning as it does for modem Japanese and German sports cars - witness the success of games such as Ridge Racer, Midnight Club, Porsche Challenge and the inimitable Gran Tdrismo. The Fast and the Furious, despite being one of the single most awful films of all time, demonstrates how masterpieces of turbo-charged technology such as the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Subaru Impreza WRX and Toyota Supra have become part of petrolhead culture all over the world. Kids today no longer lust after a Mustang like the one Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt, or a Thunderbird with squealing whitewall tyres and a vinyl roof. Instead, they long to pop the bonnet on their tricked-up Mitsubishi and get wows from an admiring crowd. And so it's highly debatable whether Europeans, who on the whole aspire to driving BMWs, Ferraris and Porsches, will find a game full of ungainly American V8s all that appealing. Especially if they have to fork out for a monthly subscription.
Download Motor City Online
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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