Hey there! Recently I've been thinking a lot about a game from my childhood, Midtown Madness. You might or might not know about this one, but you surely know the developers, who at the time went by the name Angel Studios. Nowadays they are (drums please) Rockstar San Diego.
Let's start at the beginning with this game. It is the late 90s and and Microsoft is commissioning racing games with the word 'Madness' in the title (this one, Motocross Madness and Monster Truck Madness). Angel Studios were pitching a driving simulator to Microsoft at the time, but soon became an open world arcade racing game. Angel Studios decided to feature Chicago as the location of the game and brought Chicago residents to playtest the game to ensure the authenticity of the city.
The game has four game modes: Blitz, Checkpoint, Circuit and Cruise. The first three are variations on checkpoint style races, while Cruise is the main attraction of the game, and is the mode I have played the most, so let's talk about it, shall we? When you enter Cruise, you are prompted to set the weather, time of day, and individual densities for traffic, police and pedestrians. After this, you can choose a car (with the mention that you unlock more cars by winning races) and you're free to roam digital Chicago, and it is actually pretty cool. This is by no means the first open world racing game, but it is the first open world game I have ever played.
Let's take a detour for a bit though. I first encountered this game in kindergarten and was simply blown away by it. I didn't care about the racing, I cared about roaming around, breaking the cars and simply starting shenanigans in Chicago, and for some reason had a fascination with parking the car. Fast forward a bit to third or forth grade and I get my first laptop (I've reached the 4th laptop by now, since all previous ones broke), an Acer Extensa 5220. This was my gaming station for quite a while back then, running such intensive games like GTA: Vice City and San Andreas, NFS: Hot Pursuit 2, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within and The Two Thrones (Sands of Time would refuse to run because the game didn't want to run on integrated graphics), the Reksio games and, of course, Midtown Madness. This is not an extensive collection but it is the start of my passion for games. At some point, I got a Genius steering wheel and coupled that with Midtown Madness and the control was sublime, as the game features analog controls.
Now, to return to the game itself. You might remember the fact that I mentioned police. Both in cruises and races police cars will roam the map and, if they see you, they will try to chase you and wreck you, which is an instant game over in most races. You can wreck them before they do the same to you, of course, and it is quite fun indeed. Other joys you can find on the map is the fact that you can break through the windows of some buildings and get inside and use them as shortcuts, and also explore landmarks like stadiums and airports in your car.
The game was so successful that it spawned a sequel, Midtown Madness 2, which I did not play. After this game, the studio was bought by Rockstar Games and used the engine of Midtown Madness to make Midnight Club, a series which is basically an evolution of the formula. At a later date, they rebranded themselves as Rockstar San Diego, developed the RAGE game engine which is used in all games published by Rockstar to this day and made a superb little game called Red Dead Redemption. On the other side of this is Midtown Madness 3, which was made by DICE (shows you how small the world is) on a different engine, featuring no PC version.
And we reached the end of this trip down memory lane, but I have a gift for you. Both Midtown Madness and its sequel, but also Midnight Club II are posted on MyAbandonware, so I will leave you links to try them out.
Mditown Madness: https://www.myabandonware.com/game/midtown-madness-a06
Midtown Madness 2: https://www.myabandonware.com/game/midtown-madness-2-a07
Midnight Club II: https://www.myabandonware.com/game/midnight-club-ii-d4c
GamingHD Discord: https://discord.gg/CZSXJwy