Old schoolers out there will recognize arcade giant Midway's LA Rush from days gone by, although, back then it was San Francisco Rush. But if it's retro gaming nirvana you're after you'd best look elsewhere. This latest instalment of the classic franchise is a different breed of game, another urban street-racer decorated in the brash decals of an earlier game.
Fairly ambitious in scale, LA Rush is fast, frantic and borrows heavily in terms of gameplay mechanics and attributes from those that have come before it, namely Rockstar's Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition and EA's Need For Speed series. Set in Los Angeles (obviously), and including areas such as Compton, Hollywood and Beverly Hills for you to race around, you play Trikz, a street-racing phenomenon who's been tearing up the asphalt around LA and angering his competitors something rotten with his 'skillz'.
The game opens with a blingtastic mansion party, at which Lidell Ray, magazine publisher, announces a series of street-racing competitions in order to turn around the slump hitting the sales of his magazines. You are confronted by Ray after you've shot your mouth off about him. The woefully dressed wannabe pimp then somehow manages to have all of your assets seized, including every one of your flashy souped-up motors. All you're left with is your threads and one car, a trusty 240zx. From here it's a cross between Gone in 60 Seconds and any other street-racing car-modding title you care to mention. You tear around LA, Santa Monica and Southbay embarking on numerous missions and events spread out over 80 races.
The handling can be a tad ropey to begin with, but once you've taken on a couple of challenges it flows naturally. And that's when you can start to have some fun with the plethora of shortcuts that Midway has riddled the vast map with, as well as the manic jumps spread out in all the appropriate areas.
There's a truckload of cars of different shapes, sizes, power and handling to drive throughout the course of the game, including muscle cars and sleek imports, all of which can be taken to West Coast Customs and tweaked. But LA Rush's gameplay falls decisively into the arcade camp, so they don't take all that long to grasp, and once you've got the feel for them, winning races in them soon becomes second nature.
While all this is a lot of fun at first, it soon becomes annoyingly repetitive, which is mostly down to a poorly thought-out cash-flow structure. Entering races costs money, and while that's great when you're winning them, when you lose you'll find yourself having to endlessly repeat the earlier, less well-paid races simply to build your cash reserves up again so you can compete seriously again. It's frustrating in the extreme.
That, and the fact that LA Rush borrows too heavily from the current ride-pimping street-racing obsession. The only unique element is the story itself, but it's hardly enough to justify yet another Need For Speed clone. Granted, the breakneck arcade pace and sense of speed is ample enough if you're looking to fill a Burnout-shaped hole in your life. But whereas the original was all about the racing, this seems content merely to dress itself up in the depressingly predictable urban clichés it's compulsory for all race games to have these days, then sit back and wait for the money to roll in. The similarities don't end there either. Just as Rockstar incorporated DUB magazine into this year's Midnight Club sequel, Midway has wrangled the endorsement of Rides magazine for LA Rush. Once again, all that this does is bring on a case of déjà vu, leaving you debating whether or not there's an original idea left in games.