3WS – Ricer racers on PS3

I am well aware that the term “ricer” is borderline offensive for the people that like to customize their cars but I can’t hold myself when it comes to puns and wordplay in general. In any case, this will give you a good idea on what are these games about. Massive spoilers, flashy colored vynils and lots of japanese imported cars is what you’ll find in here.
The three games we’ll be inspecting today strangely came quite early in the PS3’s lifecycle and they are Need for Speed: Carbon, Juiced 2: Hot import nights and Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Let’s take a look at them.

I feel like I should start with the very reason why you’re actually playing this kind of racer in the first place, the cars and, more specifically, the customization you can do on them. In all honesty, I don’t think that any of these games skimped out on this feature at all. There’s a very healthy amount of cars in each game and they can be customized both visually and performance-wise thoroughly. That being said, some are better than others.
Juiced 2 is the one who features the biggest number of cars while Carbon would be the one who has the weakest roster if you don’t count the repeated “already customized” cars that you can’t even purchase in the career. Midnight Club would sit in the middle with almost fifty cars plus a handful of DLC ones.
Regarding the customization of those cars, NFS Carbon is truly a mixed bag. On one hand, it has a feature that isn’t present in any of the other two games called autosculpt in which you can actually modify the shape of the aftermarket pieces such as hoods, spoilers, bumpers… that is a really cool feature to have in a game like this. On the other hand, you can’t change the interior of the cars, the lights, the mirrors… lots of parts which can indeed be customized in the other two games. Same goes for the vynil management as the system in this NFS game is way more restrictive than on the other two games but, at least, is the easiest one to use and achieve decent results.
There’s no much to say about Juiced 2’s customization as it seems to be merely a bridge between the other two games and talking about it would just only boast the immense customization options that Midnight Club has. For example, unlike NFS Carbon, you can change the license plates on Juiced 2, but Midnight Club actually offers a huge catalog of state license plates that Juiced 2 can only dream about. In Carbon you can’t customize the interiors but while you can select a few different wheels and seats for your cars in Juiced 2, again, Midnight Club comes by and also lets you change the panel while also letting you change the color of every individual piece in the interior of the car. Those were a couple examples but I could continue with every aspect of customization in this game like the rims or the vynils as well. Simply put, Midnight Club: LA has hands down the best customization of all.

The World
I guess it’s also important to talk about the world where the races will be taking place and on that sense clearly one of the games takes a somewhat unexpected route for a street racing game. Instead of racing through the busy streets of a big city, Juiced 2 sets its races in some kind of semi-pro racing environment. There won’t be traffic to avoid and cops to worry about as the races take play in closed tracks. Even if it might sound terrible, I actually found this approach quite interesting as the races take place in closed off parts of real city streets like San Francisco or Rome and the layout of those races is actually very good.
On the total opposite of that approach we would find NFS Carbon which takes place in an open-world environment, the ficticious Palmont City. This open-world is clearly the way to go for this game’s progression as the core of the game actually revolves around you, as the leader of a gang, conquering different sections of that city by winning in races all across the map and facing the leaders of the rival gangs in head to head “touge inspired” races on the windy canyon roads. As for how good the design of the city is… it certainly feels dated. It’s not just the way they look, which would be close to a PS2’s HD remaster game, the street layout doesn’t feel realistic and, even if it’s always night time, the city streets are way too empty for you to fully believe the city as real.
I guess we could consider Midnight Club: LA to be in the middle of those two currents but it’s certainly more similar to the Carbon route. Yes, the world you’re set in is obviously the city of Los Angeles and the rendition of such city is actually pretty good. It’s a big map but it has all been scaled down from the real one for the game, in any case, you’ll find them city full of recognisable landmarks and the city in this game will indeeed feel lively and real. It is way better than the city you’ll find in carbon in those terms and you’ll also have to take into consideration that, unlike the NFS title, there’s a day-night system involved which will let you see the light of the sun from time to time which feels refreshing. On the other hand, the way Midnight Club makes the races be a string of checkpoints you have to pass through, will probably get you disorientated quite a bit until you memorize the streets.

Lights and Sounds
This is just a cool way to say that I’ll be talking about graphics and the audio department in this section. Having in mind that all of these games are quite old, it’s obvious that none of them can be considered a staple in the visual department today. That being said, there’s a clear winner in this category and it is Midnight Club: Los Angeles. The car models and the city detail is way superior to any of the other two.
On NFS Carbon, the cars look decent. Even if the interiors are half-assed and the reflections seem primitive, they are still good looking. The city however and, as I mentioned before, it looks upscaled PS2 material.
The worst offender on the visual department however has to be Juiced 2. There’s some good detail on the environments but the game has a big problem with aliasing and even a bigger problem with the performance as the game will stutter severely and drop frames on certain tracks.
I’m afraid that, the sound department also has to be given to Midnight Club. Not because of the car sounds which is pretty decent on the three games but because of the great soundtrack it features. It’s varied in styles and it’s also very good. Even though this is highly subjective, the soundtrack for the other two isn’t as varied nor as good. I don’t think that low beat hip hop is the best choice for racing games but that’s what they went for for the majority of NFS Carbon.

Racing Experience
Or simply put, how good is the driving in these. It should be mentioned that these three games went for an arcadey approach for the driving and, as such, whoever gets the best physics isn’t really that important here. That being said, it’s very important that the driving feels responsive and the physics have to feel solid in order to make the driving reliable. On that regard, Midnight Club is again the winner. It is indeed the one feeling more “realistic” on the way your vehicle handles but still keeping the whole experience frantic and bombastic.
On the other side of the spectrum there would be NFS Carbon which is, among the three, the one that feels more arcade out of the three. It’s not surprising then that this game doesn’t feature an interior view for the cars as the over-the-top physics don’t require that much precision. In any case, this driving can’t be compared either to the Burnout-styled completely surreal way cars handle in the most recent Need for Speed titles such as NFS Most Wanted (2012). You’ll have to actually reduce speed to take sharp corners in this one.
I would say Juiced 2 sits in the middle of these two games but there’s certainly one particular detail that I have to mention and it’s not a good one. You’ll notice right away that the turning is somewhat over responsive. A slight twitch of the analog stick and the car will start turning way harder than you’d expect. It’s not that bad as its something you’ll get used to pretty quickly but it certainly didn’t feel natural from the get go. I should also mention however that the drifting controls were spot on for me. It didn’t feel realistic at all, but it felt very good and it was loads of fun.

Other Stuff
This section doesn’t have a fancy name but there are certain aspects of these particular three games that I felt that should be mentioned.
I should start by the story in Need for Speed: Carbon. It is presented into some kind of cheesy FMV videos that look pretty dated technically but this game does something that the other two don’t deliver: A story that’s actually engaging and, ironically enough, has less plotholes than the NFS movie. Midnight Club’s story on the other hand is entirely disposable and Juiced 2 doesn’t even have a story at all.
Where Juiced 2 shines it’s in the variety of modes. There is racing and drifting but, among those big categories there is way more than meets the eye. There are elimination races, races that disqualify you if you touch any walls, drift races where you have to reach the finish while drifting a certain number of points… it was a very nice surprise to discover how varied the challenges in this game were. Need for Speed fares well in that regard as well with drifting challenges and speed trap races but it doesn’t have the same level of variety as Juiced 2. As for Midnight club, there are point to point, closed circuits and time trials but that’s pretty much all about it.
What Midnight club has it’s super powers… wait what? Yes, you can upgrade your cars with gadgets that will grant them what I can only describe as super powers. You can make the cars slow down time to take super precise corners or turn them into some sort of berserk mode where you’ll just ram any vehicle off the way. You could also roar any vehicles out of the way too or use some sort of EMP to disable them. It honestly feels a little out of place in the game but it is undeniably fun.

My Thoughts
If you have read all of the article up to this point you’ll probably guess which is the game I would personally recommend out of the three and that one can’t be other than Midnight Club: Los Angeles. The driving and the customization is the heart and soul of a game of this kind and on those aspects, Midnight club is clearly the superior title.
You could say that the customization is better on Juiced 2 that it is on Need for Speed despite of the autosculpt, but there’s no denying that the driving in the latter was more satisfying, specially considering the sour taste that leave the too common framerate drops from Juiced 2.
It should be said though that these three games are enjoyable to some degree and they all display features that makes their offers interesting enough. Being such old games, coming across them in used games bins is becoming less usual today but, if you do come across one, the price tag applied to them will be low enough to make its purchase one that you will not regret.

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