These days it seems that every publisher is trying to get in on the big street racing craze, or at least what once was a big craze -- whether or not it's still enough of a craze to warrant much attention is debatable. Regardless, when it came time for Midway to enter the fray, the company's San Francisco Rush franchise was an obvious choice for branding purposes
Formerly a classic arcade racer, Rush has been relocated and rebranded for the current trend, taking up shop in Los Angeles and shifting to a straight-ahead street racer, complete with an open-ended city environment and plenty of traffic to duck and weave through, not to mention an appropriately glib storyline that's all about one man's journey to right the wrongs done to him by upping his rep and his paper through lots and lots of races. However, while Rush has some of these requisite components, it also lacks a lot of others, like a real car customisation component, online play, or a single-player experience with a sense of purpose.
The bulk of your time with L.A. Rush will be spent in the story mode. Here, you play as Trikz, a renowned racer in the L.A. underground scene who has the mansion and car collection to back up his sizable reputation. Trikz's seemingly lavish lifestyle is put to the test, however, when a local race promoter by the name of Lidell (played with flamboyant silliness by How to Be a Player star Bill Bellamy) is set to put on a major series of races. Lidell is not particularly fond of Trikz and tries to tip the scales against him by using his connections to rob Trikz of all his rides, which sets in motion a long-winded game of "find the missing cars," with quite a bit of racing in between.
The setup for this story mode is entirely decent. You'd think that going on this lengthy quest to reacquire all your stolen rides and stick it to the man who robbed you would at least elicit some measure of satisfaction. You'd be wrong, in this case. The story itself is lent very little screen time. But hey, that's fine. Most street racers aren't known for their heart-wrenching narratives. All that matters is that the driving is good, right? Well...
The good news is that L.A. Rush's driving model, by itself, is quite enjoyable. The game's sense of speed is right up there with the most recent entry in the Midnight Club franchise, and when you get going, you really feel the traffic whiz by you. It even uses that nice, subtle motion-blur around the edges of the screen to great effect. The handling is a bit loose, but rarely so much that you can't control your car. It's effective for pulling off big drifts around corners and dodging in and out of traffic where needed, all while maintaining high speeds on busy city streets; and boy are they ever busy. The developers have managed to get an awful lot of traffic onto the streets of LA, and it's a constant nuisance. You'll have to be mindful when running red lights, as there's almost always cross traffic to avoid. If you don't, you're punished (or perhaps rewarded, if ever so slightly) with a spectacular wreck, complete with an extra-stylish camera angle and copious amounts of particle effects.
But spectacular wrecks and generally enjoyable driving can't make a game fun forever, and once the grind of the story mode's mission structure starts to catch up with you, you'll be too busy cursing L.A. Rush for its highway robbery. You start out the story mode with just one clunker of a car and a couple of base-level street races open to you. The first race is a freebie, but after that, every race requires an entry fee.
OK, that's fair, since real-life street racing is based on wagers. The problem is that the story is progressed by placing in the money in these events, which can often be a task easier said than done. Granted, the only way you can lose your fee is if you place dead last in the four-car race, but all it takes is one random piece of ancillary track flinging itself into you at the wrong time or one misjudged turn to effectively ruin what chance you have to advance.
Like in any open-ended street racing game, you need to play through a lot of the races multiple times to get a feel for the tracks -- but this is not something encouraged by the game's wagering system, since you can't go back and do those races again until you've earned back the money you've lost. It's entirely too easy to lose a key race, then have to go and again play through one or two races you completed forever ago just to get back and do that race over again. Later in the game, it seems like that trend might shift, since you start winning bigger chunks of change, but as always, one or two races will come along with an unpleasant finish, and then you're basically back to square one.
You don't even get to properly customise your cars once you reacquire them. Granted, Midway went out and licensed West Coast Customs and stuck the wisecracking mechanics in the game during cutscenes. And there are a number of WCC locations on the map, where you can drive your ride to get "pimped". But you have no say in said pimpage. You drive in, and what comes out is completely out of your hands.
What's more, L.A. Rush doesn't have much to offer beyond its story mode. There's a quick race option and split-screen multiplayer, but that's it. No online play is available on either platform -- well, the Xbox version is Xbox Live aware, and you can download new car skins when connected, but there's no head-to-head play whatsoever.
If L.A. Rush deserves credit for anything, it's for its rendition of the city of Los Angeles. The city is massive, spanning many square miles and including all the major LA landmarks and freeways you'd expect to see. It's broken up into five territories, but traveling between areas is entirely seamless with no load times at all. And it all looks great, too.
The driving engine is certainly good, and the developers did a good job re-creating L.A. for nefarious racing purposes, but considering the unrelenting grind of the story mode and the complete lack of base-level features that every other street racing game on the market has, it's tough to recommend L.A. Rush to anyone but the most hardcore of racing fans.
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