|Gameplay: 7. Can be boring if you do play without variety, and wait a lot to race others
Graphics: 8. Graphics are a bit outdated and sometimes buggy, however, good camera angles and nice detail work on cars, especially when you crash them
Audio: 9. In-game music really brings you into the spirit of the game, plus realistic sound effects and subtle ambient music.
Interface: 9. Can use a variety of controllers as well as your keyboard and mouse. Very easy to get the hang of things.
Lag & Stability: 7. Lag can be horrible during multiplayer races, with cars mysteriously appearing in front of you. While it is not horrible, it can be frustrating when you lose a race you think you have been winning.
Support: 7. The online knowledge base is comprehensive, but a bit out of date, and the in-game help is adequate. Best bet is to use the official message boards.
There is something about the Bel Air Grand Prix that is obsessive. It reminds me of Central Park in the summertime… the subtle chirping of birds above… the attractive sculptures and water fountains… the Motor City skyline delicately looming between tree branches. But instead of riding in a horse-drawn carriage I’m barreling down roads at 120 mph in a souped up GTO burning rubber while hitting turns at speeds that would land me in jail quicker than I could shake a stick at.
The only place where I will ever have a chance of owning a beautiful ’64 Mustang capable of pushing the legal limits of horsepower yet still be tacky in a hip way with a pair of yellow fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view.
Where I spend countless hours building the perfect engine for my ’32 Coupe only to discover that I do not have the best parts.
Ah, Motor City!
It is rare when I find myself immediately falling in love with a game that is from a genre I rarely play. The last real racing game I have played was EA’s Need for Speed II, and while I enjoyed it, I certainly would not classify it as one of my personal all-time favorites. So it is safe to say that when I loaded up Motor City Online for the first time my expectations and background were not that high and the title was coming to me with pretty much a clean slate.
From the moment I loaded Motor City Online onto my computer I was immediately taken back into the time where Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys ruled the radio; a bit before my time yet immortalized in such movies as Rebel Without a Cause and in the spirit of Brando’s Johnny in The Wild One. Everything about Motor City Online, from the in-game music to the to the car bodies to the client itself reeks of hot rods and sleek leather seats. The game SCREAMS old school racing, and you cannot help but want to get into the thick of things, to build your first car towards its destined greatness and to prove to others how much of a top dog you really are.
Installing the game was fairly easy and straightforward. As was creating your persona (your character) and getting into the game. You can chose from a variety of different character types, everything from a greaser to a cheerleader, set your license plate (and I must say, seeing the very old New York plates from back in the day was a fantastic little bonus) and chose from one of three really bad starter cars.
Once you are actually in the game, you are given the option to take the tutorial of the in-game browser, and I highly recommend it. It provides you with a lot of good basic information about the browser, its uses and shortcuts, and gives you a pretty decent overview of the game.
The various game screens really work well to create an appropriate mood. Everything from the button-controlled in-game radio, to the look and feel of your garage is geared towards gear-head inspiration. You can not help but want to race, want to make the best car, be part of the game. The one thing missing in Motor City Online is a diner. It would be great to be able to walk around Motor City, showing off your car, having a malt and a side of fries at Roxy’s Diner. Hopefully… one day…
Community is also well-served by the client, with a decent chat window in the non-racetrack areas, however, you will most likely finding yourself putting annoying spammers on your ignore list. Additionally, you may find yourself wanting to join a car club, or start your own, and find yourself competing with other car clubs in turf wars to rule tracks. These two features make for excellent community building features, and EA Seattle gets kudos for understanding the importance of community in an online game.
What is really great about Motor City Online is the amount of customization you can do to your car. With over 2000 parts, various paintjobs and quite a number of bodies to chose from, everything from your basic ’32 Coupe to a Mustang convertible, you will never be at a loss for finding the best recipe for your perfect car. Heck, you can even tint your windows and install a wheelie bar if you want to. And every month you can look forward to more parts, and more cars to chose from.
A relatively recent addition to Motor City Online called “test install.” Test install allows you to try out new parts before you purchase or bid on a new part. The feature is excellent for young gear heads who can’t afford to upgrade their rides if they are not overly familiar with part specs and performance enhancements. The one caveat, however, is that you cannot test install an entire engine, for example, so there’s still room for error.
And racing. Let us not forget racing! Motor City Online comes complete with quite a number of different tracks and road conditions to chose from, each with various difficulty levels and nuances that may take a little time getting used to. And, of course, you can race according to vehicle class either in solo trials or against real and AI racers. You will easily find yourself obsessing over beating not other people’s times, but your own personal best. That one one-hundredth of a second is elusive and in high demand, and I know I spent hours trying to shave off valuable time just to make the top 50 in the Motor City Classic.
And do not be surprised if, from time to time, EA Seattle decides to shake things up a bit and alters your favorite track on patch day. As seen in one recent patch when they decided to reverse both the Motor City Classic and Bel Air Grand Prix. They also changed the cars that you could chose from if you are doing sponsored races. And, in a pending patch, EA Seattle will be adding wind to the racetracks. There’s not telling how that will stir things up, pun intended.
One nice feature that I should mention is auctions. You may find yourself spending a lot of time at Sparky T’s auction looking for bargain basement prices on hot parts, or surfing the car auctions for some hot deals and the occasional rare body. Unfortunately the store and auction browsers are not really easy to search, and you may long for improved auction features before long.
While Motor City Online can bring out the gear heads in newbies, and the competitive streak in the most knowledgeable of car nuts, it can also prove to be quite frustrating at times.
Lag can play a tremendously huge and destructive role in online racing, where you are forced to compete not against the skills of other players but more with the limitations of either your own or your competitors internet connections. It is extremely common for players to complain of cars that were 10 seconds or more behind them to suddenly appear immediately in front of your car. You may find yourself extremely frustrated by this limitation, however, EA Seattle has said that they are working hard to rectify the problem.
There is also the issue of not finding racers to compete against, particularly during off-peak times or on tracks that are not ovals. It is not uncommon for players to spend quite a lot of time in empty racetrack rooms waiting for others to fill slots, and this has continued to be a common complaint amongst players.
Additionally, since Motor City Online is a leveling game, you may find yourself tempted to race the same tracks over and over again simply for the points and the money. Whether or not this is a design flaw is difficult to determine, however, with some measure of imagination a player can easily find him or herself fulfilling various goals and enjoying the game more.
And finally, if you are not a gear head, you may find it a bit difficult to learn which parts do what and how you can best improve your car, and mistakes can be costly for newbies. Here is a tip: remove a part in your active car, and read the hint that shows up in your window. That will give you a better idea of how you can purchase a relatively decent part for your car. You will learn the rest as you get more experienced.
Motor City Online is an enjoyable and excellent MMOG, and I highly recommend it if you are into racing games or are looking for something new. You will find yourself quickly addicted to the game, and will most probably find yourself challenging yourself more than you are challenging others. With monthly updates and a developer who is highly receptive to player concerns and issues, you will not only find that to be a relief, but a