Until now most racing games on the PC haven't meant that much to me. Considering most are bland and boring after a little while, I wasn't to excited over Midtown Madness initially. But what separates Midtown Madness from the crowd is overwhelming detail and freedom. For those of you who are unaware, the team at Angel Studios has painstakingly taken the entire city of Chicago and put it into a computer game called Midtown Madness. What makes this so unique is the fact that you aren't bound to a particular course, in fact you are encouraged to create your own.
I've never been to Chicago, I never plan to go either, but from my first impressions this sure as hell looks like a real life downtown city environment. Every little aspect of Chicago is here including the stadium and China Town. As the race started the first thing I immediately noticed were the smoke trails from the wheels and the glare on the surface of the cars. While I was impressed at first, it occurs to me that real cars don't have such a polished and shiny look. I'm not quite sure if this was an intended look or just an unpolished looked to it. Because I get the feeling Angel Studios wants to create a realistic racing sim, so why make unrealistic looking cars? That minor gripe aside, the downtown Chicago environment looks beautiful. There is tons of colored lighting, weather effects, and of course damage effects. When you plow into another car, particles fly and smoke comes up from your car and your victims. In general the average gamer won’t be disappointed with Midtown Madness’ flashy graphics.
One thing Midtown Madness does not disappoint on is racing modes. There are a total of four modes: Cruise, Circuit, Checkpoint, and Blitz. My personal favorite is cruise mode, which basically gives you free roam of the entire city without time restraints or opponents to race against. It’s perfect to relieve a day of stress by plowing through the windy city in a massive big rig. As the name might indicate, blitz mode is a race against time. I didn't get many blitz races in because well, they are simply frustrating. I found myself being clipped by a car and completely losing the race due to one idiot drivers’ mistake. Checkpoint racing is my second favorite, as it allows you to choose any order in which to complete the race. Last is circuit racing, a decent mode but it kind of takes away from the overall freedom feel of Midtown Madness since you are forced to race against computer opponents in a closed circuit. With the exception of one or two cars, Midtown Madness’ racing fleet is composed of domestic cars. They are the Cadillac, Mustang, City bus, Ford truck, police car, and flatbed rig. The only foreign cars are the VW Beetle (I wouldn't be caught dead driving one of these things) and the Panoz roadster (I'm not sure of its origin). I liked the exotic cars and hated the American cars. Every racing game I've ever played has had exotic cars, not just American shit boxes. It really bugged me to see that I couldn't drive any desirable cars like a Porsche 911 or a BMW Z3. If you don't mind racing an average car around, this shouldn't bother you. Unfortunately the physics in Midtown Madness are extremely unrealistic. For example, I was driving the flatbed and a squad car was coming straight at me. Somehow it drove right under me and came around behind and almost knocked me over. The last time I checked, a dinky police cruiser isn't even going to phase a massive freightliner. Also if you find yourself crashing 65mph into the side of a van in real life, you aren't going to shift into reverse and simply drive away. You are going to be splattered all over the windshield. But in Midtown Madness all that happens is a little damage is done to your car and some smoke puffs out. At least you can’t do maneuvers like this over and over as your vehicle can only take a certain amount of damage. When your car is about to die it is indicated by a constant thick cloud of black smoke pouring out. I know what’s on everyone’s mind, what’s the gore factor like? Well lets just put it this way, Midtown Madness is rated G. In fact, you can’t even hit pedestrians, they all jump out of the way in kung fu style with acrobatic leaps. Along with the quirky pedestrians and pathetic physics, Midtown Madness also suffers from a lack of good AI. The best example of this is the regular cars in the city traffic. Many times they would pull right in front of me or wouldn’t back down when I was coming straight at them. On the other hand, I suppose there really are drivers this dumb in real life.
One great aspect of Midtown Madness is the solid control. Initially it might seem a little touchy; however, in the end it is very well put together. Its fairly basic too, the formula is much like that found in most racing games, although you will want to make use of the handbrake button as some turns are impossible without it. The sounds of destruction are perfectly done in Midtown Madness. Along with the bevy of smashing and honking effects, there is also a smart-ass announcer who has a little comment before each race. In the end Midtown Madness does not disappoint in terms of sounds effects and control.
Midtown Madness supports every connection type under the sun, and not surprisingly the MSN gaming zone. I try not to use junk services like MSN Gaming Zone, but for finding Midtown Madness games it sure does work great. However, I did experience some lag on a dialup modem connection in the form of cars warping around. Although, if you can manage to find a relatively fast host Midtown Madness is playable online. With support for up to eight players you can’t go wrong rampaging through Chicago with your pals.
At first glance I was very impressed with Midtown Madness, I even enjoyed it. However, it did get old. There are only so many times you can plow through Chicago even with seven of your closest friends. Midtown Madness is really a game for the non-hardcore gamers. Lots of folks will get a blast out of this game, but for those of you with more sophisticated tastes look elsewhere. My final thought, why Chicago?!