Racing titles don’t really come across as solely track based affairs anymore; most of the recent driving games have an urban theme molded around the world of illegal street racing. Whether it’s due to Hollywood’s influence from TV and movies or the adrenaline rush of ripping through cities at extreme speeds in modified vehicles, it appears that almost every game company wants to break the law and the speed limit. Midway managed to do both with their venerable Rush series, so it seemed only natural to revitalize their franchise with a bit of street attitude. The result is their latest speedster set on the streets of Los Angeles. Get ready to start your engines, because we’re burning rubber with L.A. Rush.
L.A. Rush builds the majority of its gameplay around the story mode, which casts you as a cocky driver known around the streets as Trikz. Unlike most racers, Trikz is a legend, having won a large number of street events and amassing a fortune in cars and winnings. In fact, he’s so successful that he has his own massive mansion complete with car gallery, huge pool/Jacuzzi combo and plenty of female admirers. Unfortunately, this attention has also earned him a powerful enemy. Lidell Rey, a race promoter and crooked “entrepreneur,” decides to make Trikz’s life hell after the racer hits on Lidell’s girlfriend, stripping him of everything he cares about. Left without any money and a thrashed car, Trikz has to rebuild his empire, tracking down his cars while seeking revenge on Lidell.
This quest for automotive redemption takes you back to the streets that Trikz started on to compete in various competitions scattered across town. However, you won't be racing on the nameless generic roads found in other racing games. You'll be flying through the crowded, traffic filled roads of streets of Los Angeles and its sprawling suburbs. If you’ve ever been to the city of angels, you’ll easily be able to recognize some of the city landmarks, and players will have more than 350 miles of the city to roll through. In fact, you can take your time and drive through Hollywood and Beverly Hills on your way to Santa Monica and Venice Beach, or stay in the hood and move through Compton and South Central, amongst other places. Of course, not everyone has had experience with L.A. streets, so you’ll have the option to navigate your way to races or other locations via GPS. You’ll easily be guided towards your objective thanks to both the onscreen arrow and distance marker and the specific directional line placed on your mini-map.
Trikz will participate in a variety of race types, many of which take advantage of the expansive scale of Los Angeles. For instance, you’ll take part in cross-town sprints that will go through numerous cities, straight out street races with a set number of laps to complete, and stunt laps to test how well you catch air in your car. Typically, you’ll wind up throwing down a set amount of money as an entry fee for each race, with potential earnings decreasing based on first, second or third place. As you become more successful in your “career comeback,” your friends will send you information about where some of your confiscated cars may be hidden. Arriving at these spots will then send you on an all out sprint from that location to your home as Lidell’s thugs chase you down in an attempt to destroy your car. If you successfully reach your location without a lot of damage, you won’t have to pay a lot to repair your car; if you’ve dinged up the ride, expect to pay out the nose to fix the machine. You’ll also be able to take your car to West Coast Customs to fully “pimp your ride,” allowing you to drive a customized vehicle down the road.
While that is the overall shape and concept of the game, many of its primary mechanics work against it to limit the strength of the game entirely. First of all, let’s look at the story, which winds up influencing many of the other features of the game. While the concept of a cocky racer getting screwed over by an unscrupulous businessman is a compelling, and quite believable, story for a game (much less a movie), there are a number of plot points that just seem to fall flat. If Trikz is such a “high caliber” racer and celebrity, there should be much more of an intimidation factor with his appearance on the beginner circuit. Instead, he comes off more like a punk that no one’s ever heard of, which should make Lidell and his hired guns (or perhaps I should say wheels) the least of his worries. Secondly, while you hope that the game actually has more intrigue based on the premise of the title, it actually falls flat, with your sidekick doing most, if not all of the essential footwork to restore your wealth. Is Trikz so big that he can’t do legwork for his own rides?
Next, there's the race setup, which feels somewhat stilted. I understand that you’ll need to “put up or shut up” as far as entry fees are concerned to jump into an event; in fact, that’s more of a standard if you’re going to challenge someone. But you’re not able to place any side action on the deal past the general placeholder, which feels unrealistic. If I felt like I could take my competition, I’d always bet more to get more money. Unfortunately, due to the race mechanics, this is much harder than it seems. Thanks to the open-ended format of every single event, players can choose which way they’ll complete checkpoints or get from point A to point B. Whereas other titles with this format will give you the chance to replay races so you can plan out your route, getting a sense of how best to race, L.A. Rush refuses to provide you this option, so you’ll inevitably run into random obstacles or unforeseen difficulties that will put you behind the pack and keep you there or damage your car beyond repair in chase races. Much worse than losing your entry fee is the fact that you’ll then be forced to re-enter previously won competitions numerous times to make up your lost cash. This quickly becomes tedious and annoying.
Seem like a petty gripe? Well, it isn’t when you take into consideration the next two facts: the obscene amount of traffic clogging the streets and the insanely elastic rubberband AI that constantly catches up to you regardless of your lead. I’ve lived in L.A. for ten years, and regardless of rush hour or how catastrophic an accident on the freeway, there’s never as much traffic on the streets as there is in this game. Unlike other racing games where you’ll potentially have to avoid cars or environmental objects, it’s practically impossible to not hit a vehicle in the street somewhere along your route. In fact, you’re bobbing and weaving so much through cars that it’s almost impossible to see where you’re going most of the time. Considering that these accidents are extremely commonplace, it’s no surprise that if you do manage to open up a lead on your competition, the AI will magically avoid every single car or accident site, cleanly navigating the heaviest traffic jam to catch up to you at the last second.
Finally, there are certain features that just don’t make sense. First of all, why have cops in the game if they’re not effective in stopping you and they’re easily lost by a number of methods? Being told to turn the car off when I can literally outrun a pack of police or enter an event and lose every single pursuit vehicle is nonsensical. Second, if there’s so much attention paid to having West Coast Customs in the game, why can’t I specifically choose what modifications I put in my cars? The “pimped out” rides are pre-determined, so all you’re doing is bringing in the car and letting the result happen. This isn’t fun and it isn’t interactive, making it a useless feature. Throw in the lack of online play and this game quickly becomes something that really could’ve been released years ago.
It’s pretty apparent that the lion’s share of the graphical presentation went into the recreation of the city streets and the landmarks of L.A. It’s well spent, considering that these areas are recognizable to any Angelino or transplant to the city. The car modeling is quite nice to, with plenty of reflections bouncing from car hoods, chrome and other surfaces. You’ll also pick up motion blurring on the screen to impart the sense of speed to the game action. However, other graphical features, such as the pedestrians walking around on sidewalks or some of the secondary textures are drab and unimpressive. You’ll sometimes experience a stutter or a hiccup during a cutscene or when the game is rendering a number of cars on the screen.
This is especially true with heavy traffic and primarily on the PS2 version, which also experiences load time issues here and there. Unfortunately, both console versions have the same annoying feature, that of the crash camera. Blatantly stolen from Burnout 3, the crash cam shows off any collision that you manage to find yourself in. While it looks nice, it can’t be skipped at all, which interrupts the flow of the race considering the large number of accidents you’ll be in during the course of an event. After about the fifth or sixth time, you’ll begin to loath the fact that this is even included in the game.
There’s a decent enough soundtrack included with the game that covers the hip-hop, alternative and techno genres, and a number of the sound effects stand out as being quite nicely done. In particular, crashes sound particularly painful and destructive, and the various engine sounds, such as gunning your car off the start line or triggering your nitrous, are presented well. However, the so-so voice acting, coupled with the constant repetitious phrases uttered by both pedestrians and police alike make you want to turn off the sound entirely.
L.A. Rush is literally an example of a title that sounded excellent in premise but in reality comes across much differently. The concept of taking on the LA streets to get your property back or restore your good name could’ve really gone a long way, but the spotty race mechanics, the absurd amount of traffic and a number of useless or nonsensical features makes L.A. Rush really run out of gas.