I can say I was a huge fan of the Rush Series for the Nintendo 64; they consistently were games I wanted to go back and play time and time again. When this recent update to the series was announced, I can also say that little smile crossed my face, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, this isn't quite the rush I had in mind, to go from the speedy races and stunt track of the N64 editions, to an awful cross of the Midnight Club and Grand Theft Auto series in this most recent outing. It takes weak elements from both, combines them into an awful stew, and spits them out into a one big mess of a game.
My first experience with L.A. Rush was quite short, and simply put not all that much fun. In fact, I had to convince myself it was worth the time and energy to go back and even attempt to enjoy it, but for the sake of journalistic integrity and to give the game a fair and justified review I went back for a another go. Needless to say, it really wasn't all that much better. I really tried to enjoy L.A. Rush, thinking that it would offer a similar entertainment value to that of its much older siblings, but it simply fails to deliver.
This latest entry into the Rush franchise offers several different modes of play, a somewhat lengthy career mode, quick race option, and split-screen multiplayer. Surprisingly, online multiplayer and system link are not supported; Xbox Live is simply used for new downloadable content. The game also offers a fairly large collection of 'pimped out' rides, and one of the biggest racing environments I've ever seen. It's a shame that even these positives couldn't save L.A. Rush from its far more serious flaws.
L.A. Rush is a mixed bag in many ways. For starters, the graphics themselves are mediocre at best, vehicles and objects are very grainy and have a pixilated effect in desperate need of aliasing, similar to that of what you'd find on a handheld system or an older PC title. With that said, the environments themselves are enormous and highly populated with completely destructible objects. Newspaper boxes, benches, and even bus shelters line the streets ready to be strewn across the city in pieces. The cutscenes are also quite impressive; graphically they are the best portion of the game. It's a shame the same can't be said for L.A. Rush's audio department.
It's unusual for me to delve into the audio this early into a review, but I can say without a doubt it has one of the worst "default" soundtracks I've ever heard. The intro begins with what sounds like poorly performed Japanese pop music, with a high pitched woman making a pitiful attempt at singing, and unless you go into the audio menu and select a difference genre (hip hop, techno, and rock), you'll likely be ripping your hair out after a few minutes of listening to her. One can only be thankful that they actually included support for custom soundtracks, at least the audio isn't completely a lost cause. When you stand L.A. Rush next to a title such as Midnight Club 3 in terms of its audio, it's like comparing a John Williams Orchestral performance to a twelve year old first learning to play piano, L.A. Rush being the twelve year old. And to think, it really doesn't get all that much better. For a racing title the engines sound incredibly flat and the crash effects are nothing spectacular. Voice acting in the cutscenes is probably the highlight, realistic scripts that aren't too over the top and good performances by all involved.
For a racing title to succeed, you have to enjoy the actual racing element. This is yet another area where L.A. Rush falls short. When you are cruising the city, if you collide with other vehicles (namely police cruisers), you'll build a wanted ranking similar to that found in the Grand Theft Auto series. All this really does is become an annoyance, as cops chase you through the streets and when they catch you (if you happen to stop for a minute or so), you'll be "arrested", then released. It seems like this area really wasn't well thought out. Another effect, though intriguing at first, that quickly grows old is the collision scenes. If you hit a vehicle or object with enough force (which really isn't all that much), the game skips to an on-the-fly cutscene view where you can watch the crash in its full glory, with sparks flying and metal crunching. Unfortunately, unlike Criterion's recent Burnout Revenge, L.A. Rush's crash sequences are a huge break in the gameplay and slow it down significantly. Not to mention, when you are racing for position, the last thing you want to do is watch your crash in slow motion, you want to make it to the finish line. Another element that really wasn't well thought out and something that should have probably been discarded altogether.
Though the game offers a variety of different cars, and "West Coast Customs" to pimp out your ride, it just doesn't seem to be complete. When you stand it next to competing titles in the genre, L.A. Rush doesn't seem to provide the same level of customization you'll find in these other titles. In addition, the cars often seem to handle strangely, if you accelerate or brake at certain times the physics engine seems to behave and respond unnaturally. This can make for some interesting (and not overly enjoyable) races, when you'd expect to bounce or slide one way, on occasion the car will shoot in the completely opposite direction and smash into a building or concrete barrier.
The main issue with L.A. Rush is that is simply doesn't make a formidable racer, period. When you don't enjoy the quick events or multiplayer races, it's really going to be tough to enjoy a career mode built around these same types of races. With that said, L.A. Rush's career storyline isn't half-bad, and the cutscenes between events are perhaps the best part of the game. It's really a shame, as you'll probably find it hard to truly enjoy the title as the gameplay is simply uninspiring. The fact is, pretty much everything found in L.A. Rush is done better elsewhere. If you want the spectacular crashes, get one of the Burnout titles. If you want an incredible soundtrack and highly enjoyable racing experience, get Midnight Club 3. If you want to be chased by cops and build a wanted star profile, get Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. L.A. Rush just doesn't deliver much of a unique experience, simply elements pulled from other games and merged together into this attempt at entertainment.
I'm bewildered just how disappointing this 'modernization' to the Rush franchise is. It's hard to pinpoint where it falters so bad. Perhaps it's the grainy mediocre graphics, highly unforgiving gameplay, or simply the fact that you'll never want to play it again. Either way, this is one you'll probably want to avoid, not even worth the rental.