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Midnight Club: LA

Prettier than GTA, faster than Burnout

Graphically at least, Midnight Club: LA looks even better than GTA IV. Running on the same RAGE engine that powers all of Rockstar's next-gen games, the San Diego division has managed to create a free-roaming racer of such scale that... well, we can't quite believe it took them less than a few years to develop.

Unlike the fictitious parody of Liberty City, Midnight Club's Los Angeles is an impressive recreation of the buildings and streets that we used to get drunk in every May for E3 at least - going right down to individual shops and hotels.

It's all there; Hollywood, downtown, Santa Monica, the highway - and you can cruise through it at 100mph with potentially tons of online opponents.

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Is that the Sky Bar where Andy got chucked out for being under-age? Oh look! It's Mel's 2000-calories-on-a-plate Dinner! We can't even begin to imagine how the San Diego studio has managed to map this city out. "The fact that they live two hours away probably helps," notes our equally caught back Rockstar rep.

The set-up is a similar affair to Atari's Test Drive Unlimited - although on a far greater scale than the 2006 racer could ever hope for. Rockstar hops into the game and we can see a map of all of Los Angeles, Hollywood and Santa Monica.

This is the GPS view and it's all in-engine and in real-time; we can see tiny, dot-like cars, individual buildings and of course the formation of the famous Hollywood Hills.

With the press of a button the camera zooms quickly and smoothly down to the streets to nestle just behind our parked up Mitsubishi in mid-Hollywood. It's completely seamless with no loading times what-so-ever. Bloody impressive; and that's in the day time.

"This is Rockstar's most ambitious title to date," says our guide, introducing Midnight Club's free-roaming Cruise mode, which - again like Test Drive - has you patrolling the streets at your own pace searching for an online of AI opponent.

We've just clocked one now; a beautifully rendered red muscle car flagged by a yellow race icon - which means he's up for pushing California's three felony rule to its limits.

Flashing headlights, angry engine revs and a few exchanged manly glances end us up on the start line (that's the zebra crossing). You can face-off with up to a dozen opponents at a time but this race is a more intimate affair - and is intense as videogame driving comes.

We explode off the starting line. We weren't expecting this; Midnight Club LA is fast. Burnout fast. Our vehicle shoots down an alley way, knocking trash and plants all over the place in a Full Auto fashion. With a visceral, shaky-cam slide we're back on to the main street, racing towards Sunset Boulevard - we've already clocked Tower Records on the left.

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Flare markers point out where we're supposed to go, which more often than not have us smashing up streets corners to make that extra tight turn. It's even more visceral in the new PGR-style cock-pit mode, which has all the intricate attention to detail expected from a racer on a console that can do its times table.

We're already getting vibes of Burnout and Outrun; intensity and speed rivalling EA's crasher is most definitely here, and the style, beauty and rolling scenery of Outrun definitely gets a few nods from Midnight Club's metropolis.

The glistening skyscrapers of downtown are rising on the horizon now, our opponent nothing but a faint hum in the background (not that we can hear him beyond all the rubber we're burning.) Palm trees zoom past on both sides, refracting the descending afternoon sun which cycles seamlessly into night. Midnight Club is a beautiful game.

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