Release Date: October 11, 2005
Respect Doesn't Come Cheap
Like found gold pieces and the Hyrulian rupee, respect is a currency that's much more practical to acquire in game worlds than it is in the real one. That's because the things you do to earn respect in video games — tearing up the streets of this city or that, say, to claim dominion over a slice of racing turf — aren't consequence-free enterprises for many of us in real life. If they were, we'd be much more likely to set out upon epic revenge quests every time someone steals a parking spot even though our blinker's on or commits some other act of petty disrespect.
Though not quite that petty, it is the pursuit of lost respect that drives the plot, presentation and gameplay of L.A. Rush. If it's occurred to you yet that L.A. Rush might be a satisfying, arcadey throwback to San Francisco Rush and the like, forget it. When Rush arrives in L.A. via the Xbox, its raison d'etre is no longer crazy shortcuts and big air. Now it's all about respect at the expense of thrills. Licensed cars that feel like slick toy models, shortcuts that amount to cutting through parking lots and absent Live multiplayer don't merit $50 worth of play, though they do make Midway Arcade Treasures 3 seem like a decent value after all.
The Tough Life of a Legend
A street-racing titan with a reputation bigger than his Beverly Hills mansion, Trikz Lane's in a tight spot. Filthy rich nemesis Lidell Rey has stolen upwards of 30 of Trikz's prized whips and trashed his Beverly Hills mansion. With the help of buddy Ty and Lidell's traitorous girlfriend, Trikz must win countless street races across several L.A. neighborhoods to earn cash, unlock new cars by snatching them back from Lidell, and keep the story moving. Along the way, Trikz visits several West Coast Customs shops for some ride pimping, just so long as he's got the cash to make it happen.
You may have the fury of street justice on your side as you play the part of Trikz, but that energy doesn't extend too far into the actual gameplay. You begin with basic lap races to earn the price of entry for higher-stakes events. These are fine as introductions to the action, giving you a feel for the streets and how your entry-level Nissan 240SX handles, and letting you try out a few nitro boosts. Unfortunately, these basic races set the underlying gameplay feel for everything that follows, with little compelling variation or ante-upping to keep you excited about what's around the next corner.
Your goals do begin to differ superficially as you progress into story mode. Sometimes you're just racing laps, sometimes you're racing across town, and sometimes you're racing away from a fleet of Lidell's muscle cars trying to keep you from winning back your stolen rides. Side events like Retribution mode do distinguish themselves by providing specific tasks — like jumping your car through a series of billboards featuring Lidell's face — but it frustrates soon enough as the clock hits zero and you're still trying to find those last few ramps tucked away down narrow alleys. When you do place in a plot-point race, Ty calls you on your cell with the latest intel on where to go next.
The Los Angeles environment invites a modest amount of exploration, mostly playing on curiosity about how the designers modeled different neighborhoods. Hollywood's here, as are Beverly Hills, Mulholland, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Carson and others. The richest racing areas are the more industrial 'hoods like the Port of L.A., with its bridges, cargo containers, and semis packing plenty of barrels to dump when you crash into them.
After a few run-throughs, though, most areas begin to feel too similar as far as racing possibilities go. You're often tempted to take a scenic route back to your garage even though Lidell's crew is in hot pursuit; it's worth it just for the little bit of off-roading you can do around Mulholland Drive, or just to speed through the curiously empty Third Street Promenade. Those are the sorts of things that pass for clever shortcuts in much of L.A. Rush.
If you want gravity-defying loops that demand some precision driving (or those little wings that pop out from under your car) without having to toil through lots of story or too much frustrating poking around, look to another Rush. That's not to criticize L.A. Rush for being set in 2005 rather than 2049; it's just to say, more jumping through construction sites and plowing through malls, and less slowing down the action to find the right alley.
L.A. Rush does sport many licensed cars, which may be enough to pique some racers' interest. Infiniti, Lotus, Hummer and other high-end makes and models await unlocking, in addition to some classics like the '64 Impala. With the exception of the concept cars, you can upgrade your whips at West Coast Customs, but only once for each car. There's no real picking and choosing how to tune each ride; you just pay your money and take what they give you. Even post-pimping, though, most cars accelerate sluggishly, requiring what feels like an eternity of sustained pedal-on-metal to achieve a solid sense of speed.
Considering that you're in the shoes of a street-racing legend who presumably had to pull off some impressive maneuvers to earn that crib in the Hills, L.A. Rush's difficulty is uneven, and occasionally surprisingly forgiving, even well into the story. The competition's AI seems not dumb exactly, but sometimes too leisurely, though they can be brutal in Acquire races as they try to deal deadly damage before you reach home base. If they succeed, the race ends, but you can slip by on 99% damage. The only consequence is that you have to pay repair fees which can be re-earned easily by racing the same lap events you've already mastered.
A handful of alternate single-player modes and split-screen multiplayer add some novelty. A free-ranging Roam mode that lets you get the lay of the land without worrying about the competition ends up being the most satisfying, though you're free to do as much exploring as you want between races in story mode anyway. Split-screen multiplayer gets the standard fun boost from playing against another person. Online multiplayer would've extended L.A. Rush's longevity a bit, but tons of downloadable content notwithstanding, it wouldn't do much to fix the sluggish rides and weak course design.
The Best Way to Experience LAX
Admittedly, the graphical standard for crash scenes is pretty high given that L.A. Rush comes so soon after the latest Burnout installment. Even putting Burnout's achievements aside, L.A. Rush frustrates more than it excites with its lengthy crash scenes. The cars feel insubstantial as they explode in confetti-looking bits and pieces and wispy little smoke trails. If you're driving a truck, you can sometimes create more spectacular pileups yourself just by driving more slowly through an intersection full of stopped traffic and not even triggering a crash animation.
The cars themselves are acceptably but not remarkably detailed, sometimes looking about a generation behind. The nitro warp effect is pleasing enough, but certainly familiar and expected. Buildings are painted with blurry textures that make windows look flat and opaque, and palm trees often look like storybook pop-ups. It is worth a few minutes to take a run over to LAX and watch the tubular sculptures change color, but even so, Rush's Los Angeles has nothing on the San Diego of Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, especially if you turn on the rain.
Some recognizable names dot the soundtrack and voice acting rosters, with Lil' Kim and Orlando Jones trying to inject some excitement into the music as well as the story. The hip hop portion of the soundtrack seems to have gotten most of the attention. You can choose techno or rock soundtracks, too, but their blandness renders them unnoticeable after a few minutes of play.
Some sound effects occasionally do surprise with some attention to detail. If you take that ride to LAX, listen for a slight echo accompanying the pedestrians' yells as you drive through the lower arrivals area. A greater variety of exclamations from the cops and the people you nearly run down would help to flesh out the atmosphere. As it is, you hear way too much "Jerk!" and "We've got a maniac here!" The writing itself doesn't escape the game's street pretensions, with lots of poseur 'tude in the cut scenes, though it does show glimpses of a welcome sense of humor here and there.
With so many other titles out there, racing and otherwise, that use themes of earning and keeping street respect to dress up gameplay (and sometimes to dramatic and entertaining effect — don't get me wrong), it's difficult to grasp why L.A. Rush abandons goofy, over-the-top arcade gusto for a halfhearted attempt at being a street racer. Marketing is one (perhaps too) easy answer, as a more real-worldish approach makes it simpler to shoehorn in all the West Coast Customs material. Even if such considerations are the game's driving force, it's still the lack of high-velocity thrills — and not necessarily the Axe body spray and iRiver billboards — that make for the biggest disappointment.
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