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Retro Game Review: Midtown Madness 2

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by Leon Charmant, Feb 24, 2013.

  1. Leon Charmant

    Leon Charmant
    Premium Member

    I didn't submit this article to RD, since I'm not sure whether it meets the criteria of being sim-related. I'd still love for it to be read by as many people as possible, so that's why I have decided to put it up here anyway. I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I did writing it!

    Retro Game Review: Midtown Madness 2

    It’s Friday evening as I’m looking through my cupboard filled with games. I pick up and carefully examine all titles I’ve collected over the years. By far most of my collection are racing titles, including some of my favourite games ever. Ranging from arcade series such as Need for Speed, Burnout and Trackmania to more serious titles like ToCa Race Driver 3 and Race 07, variety has never been an issue. After a couple of minutes of searching I notice another pile of games in the very corner. Hidden behind this stack of First Person Shooters I come across the game that started it all. This absolute gem is what sparked my love for cars and everything to do with motorsport many years ago. Its name is Midtown Madness 2.

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    I can still remember the very moment of sitting on my father’s lap while he controlled the pedals and I turned the steering wheel. Seeing the loading screen when firing up the game always gave me a small adrenaline rush, just like simple things as navigating through the menu’s and picking one of the 20 licensed cars available did. After finally having picked my car, a 1969 Ford Mustang, the level loaded up and soon we found ourselves on the road. There was my car, standing stationary in the middle of a large, open junction. From this point on there was nothing but absolute freedom. The ability to cruise through the city of San Francisco was something almost magical, a feeling hard to describe.

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    Now, present day, I insert the CD into the tray and wait for my computer to analyse it. Phew, it still works. I’m not expecting much of it, actually I’m almost sure the game won’t even launch on my copy of Windows Vista (yes, shame on me for running Vista). While it’s busy installing the game, I open up Chrome and browse to Midtown Madness 2 eXtreme, a modding community which is still active to this day. I’m not looking to install any mods, instead I download the latest official patches hoping it’ll increase the odds of the game working properly. When the game is finally done installing and I’m done applying the patches, I’m all set.

    Double click. My screen fades to black. I’m greeted with an error. My graphics card doesn’t recognize the video played when starting up the game. I sigh and prepare to hit it with a dose of CTRL+ALT+DEL. But then it happens. The introductory video stops and the loading screen kicks in. At least that works! Luckily, all menu’s seem to work as well. I eagerly configure my graphics settings and open up the car selection screen. Same city, same car as I always pick. Success. There it is! Astonishment as I see my Mustang standing on that same junction, ready to be driven.

    Once again I can feel the city with its crowded and charismatic atmosphere all around me. Large numbers of traffic are following their predetermined paths around this rendition of San Francisco, stopping at red traffic lights and letting pedestrians cross the road. As soon as the lights go green the cars move, before stopping at the next traffic lights and repeating the same process over and over again. The simple AI is not aware of the player’s car. This is made clear to me when I get hit from behind, still standing on the same junction. Ah, those good times.

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    Developed by Angel Studios and released by Microsoft in 2000, Midtown Madness 2 is a classic racer offering various gamemodes such as beat the clock, point-to-point and circuit races. Beside these standard races there is what you could call a career mode, named Crash Course. Split into San Francisco Stunt Driver and London Cabbie, each of the two courses takes you to either the city of San Francisco or London where you get taught the basics of handling your car. Slaloming, handbrake turns and reverse 180’s are all part of your job as a professional stunt driver in San Francisco. The game’s plot is that you’re shooting a movie directed by a somewhat tired sounding producer, expecting you to do everything flawlessly the first time. Not exactly the most engaging of stories, but it very neatly does the trick. Don’t be fooled though, as some of the tasks can be very difficult and even frustrating at times.

    Until yesterday, I have never in my life been able to finish the career mode. In what I think is one of the most difficult tasks in the game, the player is given four minutes to destroy a Ford F-350 pickup truck with their Mustang after which you are handed another minute to evade a cop car and race to the finish line. It’s virtually impossible. So that’s why I’m going to have to make a confession right here. Yes, that’s right, I cheated. After having tried around 100 times, both many years ago as well as every day of the past week, I came to the point where I just couldn’t stand it anymore. So I went ahead and made use of a bug in the game, enabling you to freeze the timer which gives you all the time you need to finish your task. Cheating on that particular mission felt great. Finally I was able to unlock the cars and custom paintjobs I had never had access to before.

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    Admittedly, the at times difficult career mode is part of the drawbacks of Midtown Madness 2. But this is where the handling of the cars comes in. The Mustang is a prime example of this, demonstrating the accessibility of the driving but proving you need proper skills to master it. All of the cars in the game are portrayed very well through their handling characteristics. Expect the back of muscle cars to break out constantly, cars like the Mini Cooper to be agile and precise and heavy buses to have a large turning circle. Nowadays we’d take these characteristics for granted, but at the time it must have been quite an accomplishment. Sure, it probably wasn’t the first game to do this in a good fashion, but it turned out great.

    Point-to-point racing can be mayhem at times, as every opponent is able to choose their own route of collecting checkpoints on their way to the finish line (take that, Burnout Paradise, you weren’t the first). The number of times I’ve suffered a head-on collision with one of my opponents must be incredible. Even in cruise mode you aren’t always completely safe. If you choose to enable them, a force of police cars scattered around the city is waiting for you to pass. They can never bust you, nor is there a thing as ‘game over’. What they are set out to do though, is try to stop you with any means necessary until they wreck their own car. Once you attract their attention, expect to be rammed into with enough force to almost change the earth’s orbit. By far the best way to get rid of them is to drive up to the harbour as fast as you can. As soon as you’re about to crash into the water make a handbrake turn and watch your chaser laughably miss you and sink all the way to the bottom. Well, actually, cars in Midtown Madness 2 don’t sink in water. Instead, they magically float while still accelerating like crazy hoping it’ll rescue them.

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    For me, Midtown Madness 2 lives up perfectly to what it’s designed to do: causing madness. Looking back, I realise that it were the crazy sliding through the streets and being able to master your car which made me love the game so much. A couple of frustrating missions aside, the handling and sheer joy of being able to go anywhere you want (even during races you can sneak away and explore the entire city) made it to be the game which connected me with cars. From there it escalated to me going crazy when I’d see a car on the road which was also in the game, buying my first steering wheel and pedal set to use with simulation games and never missing out on a Formula 1 race on TV. For that I’d like to thank the game and the people who made it. I just hope that in the far away future, there will be a PC still able to run this masterpiece, in that it will hopefully entertain my children as much as it did myself.

    My final score for Midtown Madness 2 then, is a well deserved 9,5/10.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  2. Hm, don't think I ever played this one. Loved the original game though :D

    Nice writeup :thumbsup:
     
  3. Rui F. Martins

    Rui F. Martins
    Premium Member

    this was also one of the first games i played in my father's pc, i remember jumping the brigdes when they were up, cruising around the city, i loved that game, i even think my father had the first midtown madness, although i'm not sure
     
  4. Omer Said

    Omer Said
    Weresloth Staff Premium Member

    My childhood addiction! Thanks for bringing back good old memories with such a nice review :)
     
  5. I remember cruising around SF in Volkswagen Vento from fast and furious movie,
    great memories :)

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    • Like Like x 1
  6. I remember the original, I had it on a demo disk and me and one of my friends would play the demo on his PC for hours on end, just driving around the city. Never got to play the second one, but awesome times and memories over the original, even if it was just the demo we were greatful for that back then!
     
  7. Leon Charmant

    Leon Charmant
    Premium Member

    Thanks for the kind words guys :) It's great to hear that there are plenty of other people who experienced and enjoyed Midtown Madness 2 and even the original game in the series!
     
    • Like Like x 1
  8. Nice write-up,good to hear your enthusiasm shining through your words.
    I only had and played the first game,still have it,and fond memories too,my own children loved it.