Set in the legendary city of Chicago, Midtown Madness is a good effort by Microsoft to enter the ‘fun racer’ driving game market. Apparently, 65km of the city’s streets have been faithfully replicated in the game, broken down into numerous sections or tracks, which you race around in turn. Initially, your choice of cars is rather limited, with the most obvious selection being the new VW Beetle, featuring so prominently that you have to hope that some serious product placement cash was generated by its inclusion. In the virtual world this car handles pretty well, but it’s not a patch on some of the more serious pieces of machinery that you can get your hands on once you’ve completed the first few tracks. Or you could drive a lorry instead, which is in some ways even more fun.
Each vehicle handles in a different way, which is a necessity in today’s racing games. Oversteer, understeer, wheelspin, braking instability and a whole host of other real-world characteristics have been programmed into the game, with the result that, with practice, you can predict how a particular vehicle will handle around a particular corner. If all this sounds a little dull and technical, it isn’t. Midtown Madness is actually a fast-moving game with an arcade feel to it, so there’s little time to get to grips with each car before you hit the twisting streets and the moving chicanes of other vehicles.
It appears that Microsoft has used a similar game engine, if not the same one, as that used in Carmageddon II. Graphically, this game is very similar to that slightly less family-oriented title, the main difference being that the option to wreak seven shades of havoc on pedestrians has been prudently ruled out of Midtown Madness. You are, however, free to drive into other vehicles, including competitors in the race – who have the same car as you – and also the non-racing vehicles such as trucks, vans and cars. Unfortunately, such driving raises the spectre of vehicle damage, and two or three hard impacts are likely to result in Game Over.