One of the worst feelings in the world is when you realize you're number two. The 'Backup Plan', the 'Just in Case', the 'If All Else Fails', 'Second'. Because even when you do get to step up to the plate, its only a matter of time before you're back on the bench. It doesn't matter how good you are or how well you perform. You're only there because the first choice wasn't available. It was you or boredom.
That's Midnight Club L.A. It likes to pretend it's a glitzy blinged out arcade racer. It tries hard to impress with a lot of licensed cars and a pseudo representation of L.A.'s streets and highways. But as soon as you load it up and the poorly scripted 'story' starts, it's true nature shines through. Its really just a slightly ramped up version of the driving sections in GTA IV. And you're only playing it because you've already played through Nico's storyline twice.
Sitting across from the table from someone while they wait for their cell phone to ring is not the best way to enjoy a meal. It doesn't matter if you're funny or smart or know how to order the wine in French. Because you're the second choice. They'd happily trade you in for a cold sandwich with someone else. The pasta is bland and dry as you swallow because you know that all it takes is one phone call, and you're eating alone again. Look at those eyes. They're looking through you.
Being second sucks. You're always waiting for the hammer to fall when number one decides that they're ready to take over again. You can never get too comfortable because there's nothing stopping the door from slamming on you. What will happen when the first choice stops showing up at all? It doesn't really matter, because no matter what, you're number two. Someone else will go to the top of the list while you brush up on witty reparte.
Burnout Paradise is what Midnight Club wants to be. It wishes it could have Burnout's style and graphics and falls short imitating its gameplay options. MCLA's modes consist of 'Race from A to B', and 'Race from A to B to C'. Sure, you can plow through traffic like a madman, but it lacks Burnout's wild stunts or crashes. Adding in motorcycles and a race editor don't make up for the yawn inducing treks through the city. It wants to be more, but it falls short.
Being second sucks. Your phone only rings because someone else didn't pick up. You only get invited because someone else dropped out. You're only on the speed dial until they need the room. Midnight Club L.A. is only in the Xbox because Need For Speed Undercover wasn't on the shelves. You'd rather be playing EA's version of cops and robbers than Rockstar's. The cops that roam the streets in MC:LA act like after thoughts. The car customization tool looks like it was pulled directly from old versions of NFS. Nothing is terrible, its just 'okay'. But 'okay' is only good enough until the real deal is available.
Being second sucks. You wonder how it would feel to not get dismissed. No more sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you hear the click of call waiting. What would you do if every call didn't end with 'my other line is ringing, I gotta go'. It must be staggering to have someone's full attention. Being first would be great. Intoxicating.
Midnight Club:LA doesn't do a lot wrong. The rubber band AI, uninspired gameplay, and lax graphics aren't it's biggest flaws. Its biggest flaw is that it's a second choice. And being second sucks.
A long time ago in Art Class, I had a specialty. Whenever we were given a project, I’d draw, paint or sketch pretty much the same thing every time. It was an image of a house with a tree in front with a mountain in the background with the sun peeking through. I got pretty good at creating this vista. Each iteration was slightly different from the one before. Sometimes there would be smoke pouring out of the chimney. Or the sun would illuminate the tree and cast a shadow in a different direction. When we studied Monet I even did a pointillist version of the image using nothing but dots. That house/tree/mountain was my touchstone.
Turn 10 Studios have become masters at delivering a solid racing experience. For years they've sculpted Forza Motorsport into showcase of beautiful cars and race courses. Forza 5 looks great and drives even better. Turn 10 Studios have become masters a delivering a solid racing experienceTwo hundred gorgeously rendered vehicles and a driving model that has been top notch for years is all that's needed to make it one of the best games on the Xbox One. Each car has a stunning interior view and even the guys from the famous TV show Top Gear lend their voices and test track to the game.
Near the end of the school year, the Art Class final exam included the assignment of creating whatever image you wanted using the techniques we had learned. So of course I dug into the well worn well of the house/tree/mountain. While I was going through the motions of creating the house, I glanced around the room to see what my fellow students were up to. The guy to the left of me was trying to sketch a barely decipherable animal, either a cat or a horse. The girl in front of me was working with seemingly random blotches of paint that might as well have been finger painting. I was clearly at the head of the class, secure in the knowledge that I was leaving with an easy ‘A’.
For the first time, multiplayer in Forza allows 16 players to race against each other at once. When racing against the AI, you are actually going up against ‘drivatars’ that have been built using traits from other online drivers and people from your friends list. Turn 10 has even added a multitude of gaming modes for drivers to compete against one another. Standard events like drag racing, and circuit racing are joined with less common affairs like cat and mouse and tag virus. The Rivals section has returned from Forza 4 that matches you up against a single person’s drivatar to compete against.
The next week, I returned to the classroom to receive my test score. I was stunned when I opened my portfolio. ‘C’. A big post-it note with a ‘C’ was stuck on my painting. It had to be a mistake. I quickly surveyed everyone around me. ‘Do you see anything wrong with mine? Be honest, is this painting just average?’ Each person agreed with me that I had been grossly wronged and that my house/tree/mountain was definitely worthy of an ‘A’. As soon as the class was over, I went to the teacher’s desk to rectify the situation.
The balding old man with black rimmed glasses was buried deep in his gradebook. I stood there for a while waiting to be acknowledged. He glanced up slightly and I saw that as my cue.
‘Yeah, Professor, I got a ‘C’ on this, and come on, it’s not a ‘C’ painting.’
Before he could respond I started pleading my case.
‘I mean, compared to that cat thing that Ronald did, it’s way better. And the splotches of paint that Marie turned in, she even said she had no idea what she was doing and she got a B. You can’t tell me that this is a C. I have shadows, l added smoke. Check it out.’ I laid the painting in front of him, cementing my point.
He stared at me for a beat before fixing his gaze on the painting I had placed on his desk and speaking.
‘I’m not grading you compared to the work of others. I’m grading you compared to you. You’ve been doing that scene all year long. And yes, you use light well, and yes the composition is fairly balanced. And so was the one before that, and the one before that. It’s a good scene. I was hoping that you would challenge yourself this time. Take a hard look at the work you've done and ask yourself, is it the best you can do?’
That question hit like a brick. He had called me out on something that I didn’t even realize I was doing. I was coasting. I knew what was needed to be considered a success and thats what I did. Nothing more, nothing less. I figured the work was good enough to get by and so why do more? Thats why I got the grade I did. Not because the work wasn’t good. Not even because it wasn’t good enough. But was it the best I could do? No, it wasnt.
Forza 5 knows what it needs to do to get a passing grade, and thats exactly what it does. And that's all it does. The 200 cars included look and sound fantastic. Even though for a series that has spanned 3 consoles, the low car count raises some eyebrows. As dozens of DLC cars were quickly released over the past few months, you realize that the low car count was a thinly disguised money grab, nearly doubling the price of the game if you want to get close to the levels of previous iterations. It’s even more telling when you hear the detailed descriptions that once accompanied each car have more often than not, devolved into a lukewarm overview of the car manufacturer instead of a history of each individual vehicle.
The race courses included with Forza 5 look incredible, although it seems odd that it’s always the same time of day and weather is non-existent. Especially considering some of the tracks included are well known for their night races. Lemans, Sebring, and Yas Marina all go hand in hand with night racing. With this being the fifth version of Forza running on one of the most powerful consoles available, the omission of night racing or any type of weather is very noticeable.
With so much emphasis placed on the multiplayer side of Forza 5, it falls short on closer inspection. You aren’t allowed to create a public room or even search for a specific race type. If you want to find a race with a certain number of laps on a specific track to join, it simply isnt possible. Instead you’re restricted to pre-created hoppers or private matches which you have to fill yourself. And since the ‘Car Club’ feature from previous Forzas isn’t included, finding and staying in touch with a group of like minded racers is difficult at best.
Somewhere along the way the franchise has started coastingForza has been doing what it does extremely well for years. But somewhere along the way the franchise has started coasting and has done just enough to get by. It’s good. It’s even good enough to be the best racing game on the XBox One. But it's lost many of the features that made it exceptional. The game has relied on higher resolutions and framerates instead of expanding on the features and capabilities that would make it great. It's almost like the game got to a certain point and just stopped evolving. Forza Motorsport 5 needs to take a step back, look at what it’s done and ask the question, “Is this the best you can do?”