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Previews

Midnight Club: Los Angeles

Preview: Multiplayer hands-on

16 men, acres of city and any route you want through Los Angeles' tramp-filled streets. Midnight Club LA over Xbox Live is a recipe for carnage but it could be the answer for those who found fellow free-roaming racer Burnout Paradises' online mode a bit too straight and narrow.

The sheer, blistering pace of the Midnight Club LA's race is frightening and the first corner almost always ends in a gigantic, eight-man pile-up with some Northern journalist swearing over the headset.

Good stuff then. A total of 11 game modes are available in the multiplayer mode including the standard checkpoint and circuit races, but there's much fancier stuff like the team-based Stockpile, which has you battling it out to collect the most flags around the city.

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For Burnout Paradise fans, Cruise mode will be the most familiar. Enter cruise and you're free to drive around the city with other players. At any point you can request a race or more excitingly, enter an online race editor to create your own route and then invite other players to compete.

Subtle control tweaks, as we me mentioned in our solo hands-on, mean that in Rockstar's virtual Hollywood it's surprisingly easy to weave in and out of traffic at speed. This makes the whole multiplayer game surprisingly accessible, and Midnight Club LA becomes one of the surprise pick-up-and-play multiplayer racers of the year.

As with single-player, collisions are quite forgiving; if you misjudge a corner and end up smashing into a shop front window, it doesn't automatically mean game over. With tactical use of nitro boosts (you start off with a few) - and the very occasional multi-pile up on sharp turns - you can quite often get back to the front without much effort.

Switching vehicles of course tweaks the rules a bit. Most of the time our group played fair and stuck with the same motor, but every now and then some cheeky journo opted for a bike, speeding off into the distance while the rest of us slugged it from the line in our muscle cars. Put that set-up the other way around and the bloke in the car goes ploughing through a sea of bikers. Justice.

By far the most fun we had during our multiplayer sessions was undoubtedly when Rockstar rolled out the toys. Mario Kart-style power-ups and crazy game modes like Capture the Flag have returned from the previous Mid Clubs and they're as chaotic as ever.

They're certainly not for everyone (Forza and GT fans can turn them off) but the combination of real-world roads with realistic motors shooting ice bolts at each other is as odd as it is brilliant.

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Pick-up goodies include an EMP that cuts opponents' steering and engines, the obvious inclusions of invisibility and invincibility and downright mental stuff like the previously mentioned ice attack.

In Capture the Flag the race quickly turns into a destruction derby and tactics go well out the window; speed along with the pack towards the flag and you're probably going to get blown away by a cheeky chappy firing a Shockwave power-up from the rear. Your best bet, we found, was to rack up some power-ups and attack the man with the flag head-on once the ruckus has died down. You've never seen a man swear until you've EMPed his Lambo inches from the chequered flag. We'll have that, ta...

As always with these preview multiplayer sessions though, the game may well be a blast with seven other players in a room full of windscreen-sized HDTVs, but like GTA we'll have to wait for the final game to discover if it's any fun against all singing, all dancing (and swearing) Xbox Live strangers. The chances are looking good, though...

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