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TVG straps into the latest street racing title to hit...erm…the streets...
- The extraordinatry sense of speed
- The huge array of modifications available to players
- The Race Editor mode
- The brick wall heading towards you at 200mph
- An improvement to the actual car models compared to the already detailed environments
The release of Rockstar San Diegoâ??s third incarnation of the Midnight Club franchise comes smack in the middle of two other triple-A urban street racers, the aforementioned NfSPU2 was the first at the end of 2004, with Summer 2005 seeing the release of Acclaim refugee Juiced, which was allowed asylum under the publishing banner of THQ. So coming just after the Easter period can Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition pull ahead of the pack, or does it just run out of Nitro?
The first and most obvious change to the franchise is that MC3 has close ties with US urban street race magazine DUB, leading to this latest iteration to be called the DUB Edition. Now whilst the DUB brand might not be the most recognised on this side of the Atlantic, over on Stateside, DUB rules the streets with the latest in jewel encrusted rims, nitrous mixes, and chrome - now its seems that the brand is coming our way too. Working closely with DUB has meant that the various parts and styles available to players in MC3 are near-as-damn-it close to the real world that weâ??re going to get. Every part in the game can be bought in the outside world so you too can DUB up your beast to the exact same specification as your MC3 counterpart. The fact is that Midnight Club 3 is a dream come true for car fanatics and as youâ??ll see, the game offers the best mix of street race customisation and arcade action in this developing sub-genre.
After swooping through the streets at what seems like a million miles an hour the main menu opens allowing you to choose from a range of different options from the open-world Career Mode, to the Arcade Mode and the Networking Mode (Xbox Live, Network Play and System Link to you and I). The Career Mode naturally provides the main bulk of the game, with players taking control of an unseen and largely anonymous character, simply referred to by an assortment of nicknames. Midnight Club 3 takes place across three US cities all with an interest in the street racing scene and cars: San Diego, Atlanta, and the home of the automobile, Detroit. Starting off in San Diego with a wad of cash ($22,000 to be precise) you find yourself choosing one of six automobile offerings, all of which leave you with enough cash after purchase, to perhaps add a new front bumper â?“ if youâ??re lucky. The acquisition of cash, cars, and respect is the name of the game so itâ??s off to hit the streets if you want heads to turn when you drive by.
Midnight Club 3, like its Need for Speed Underground rival, is an open plan title and youâ??re free to drive around (or â??Cruiseâ?? to use the scene term) the city as you please but to be honest youâ??re not going to max out your car by just having a Sunday drive through San Diego. Instead the game allows you to drive around and take part in a multitude of events form the non-commitment â??One-Off Racesâ? to more epic â??Series Tournamentsâ? and lengthy â??Car Clubâ? competitions that you can pick and choose as you like, though the Clubs do require that you drive a certain standard of car be it Sedan, SUV, Tuner, Exotic or Motorcycle. Thankfully Rockstar doesnâ??t just let you drive around aimlessly looking for your various targets since MC3 includes a map of each city that be easily accessed by way. The map also includes notorious street racers that you can race against over a few races â?“ winning these can lead you to getting your hands on new vinyls or even a new vehicle.
The structure and variety of the races in Midnight Club 3 is quite plentiful although most of the race types at their most basic level come down to one thing: follow a series of amber flares until you finish the race, which is indicated by a red flare. The open plan structure of the game means that the quicker you are at deciding your route and the quicker that you develop the ability to quickly check your relative position to the next flare via the mini-map in the bottom left of the HUD the better improved your chance of winning. And after finishing a race and (hopefully) collecting your winnings, itâ??s time to head off back to the garage for some much needed tune-ups and modificationsâ?¦
As has been already mentioned, the heavy involvement of DUB in Midnight Club 3 has meant that every modification in the game can be achieved in the real world, and boy are there lots of mods to be had in this game. Vehicles can be customised in variety of different ways from the more superficial such as the addition of decals and a paint job to more serious modifications including crop top roofs and total engine refinement. The amount of options available to players is close to being innumerable and it can be quite difficult to get away from the feeling that after playing with some of the mods hardcore DUB â??bers would be able to empathise with the kid in the candy store.
Literally everything can be changed to suit the whim of the player with the only restriction being money and the number of cars you can own at any one time. The navigation through the various options (Body Shop, Performance Shop, Detail Shop, and Colour Shop) is pretty straightforward and you can easily get used to it, as is changing from one car in your â??packâ?? to another, which is a very good thing given that a poorly designed system would have left players dazes, confused, and reaching for PGR2. Street racing is about looking and driving the part, and with the former more than covered itâ??s now time to look at how the actual meat of the game performs.
Speed is of great importance in Midnight Club 3 because without it youâ??ll never be able to win a race and earn the money required to continue modding your cars, and thankfully MC3 has speed oozing out of every pore. Various techniques are used to make the player feel like the car is moving at incredible speed from the time of day the races are set in, to the changes in perspective, the wet look road surfaces, and even the warping and blurring of the other cars as you pass them. All of the techniques make MC3 one of the fastest looking experiences on a console, even surpassing Burnout 3: Takedown which did such a superb job of it in 2004.
Sadly, and somewhat ironically, the most disappointing visual aspect of the game are the quality of the car models themselves. For a game that is so obviously centred on the vehicles, MC3â??s models are slightly disappointing and donâ??t come up to scratch compared to some of the stalwart racing titles on both Xbox and PlayStation2. The damage modelling is strange at best and ugly at worst, and itâ??s a shame that more attention wasnâ??t paid on the cars â?“ quality of the modelling has definitely been overtaken by the vast quantity of mod options here.
The sound in Midnight Club 3 is also an important factor in creating an incredible sense of speed in the game since it features all of the requisite whooshes, blasting horns, Nitrous zooms, and crashes. It all adds to an exhilarating audio ride for the player, while the music in Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition sets the traditional RockStar feel with a selection from artists including Peaches, Marilyn Manson, Kasabian, Nine Inch Nails, 50 Cent, Ash, and Queens of the Stone Age.
If it hasnâ??t been reiterated enough already, this game is fast, and it could easily be thought by some that controlling the cars around the sometimes-narrow streets and tight turns would be nearly impossible. Thankfully RockStar San Diego have tweaked car and bike handling from the frustrations of Midnight Club 2, and whilst itâ??s true to say that it does take a short time to adjust players will find that it all comes quickly to them. The controls are very simple, even allowing for the execution of special abilities (to be discussed a bit later on), with the button allocated for braking seldom used in the races. There is actually some strategy in the way that you drive too, with the ability to throw your vehicle onto two wheels which makes it impossible for your opponents to use slip-stream turbo against you and looks damn cool to boot. Slip-Stream Turboâ??s often provide the difference between winning and loosing, particularly when nitros are hard to come by; driving behind an opponent will build up the slipstream bar, which can then be activated for a short speed boost to peal away from your opponent and into the horizon.
One of the major criticisms made against the previous MC title was that controlling the bikes, even staying on them, was a major struggle. Thankfully Rockstar San Diego has been listening, and players who were disheartened with the last effort will not be disappointed with the refinement made to riding on the modded choppers and superbikes â?“ youâ??ll still fall off them if you smack into a wall at 150mph, but at least they do have stability that was distinctly lacking in Midnight Club II.
Away from the Career mode, Midnight Club 3 also includes an Arcade mode, which includes all of the cities and races that youâ??ve unlocked in the main mode as well as including several race types that will players happy when some pick-up and play racing action is required including Autocross (closed off roads where players race against the clock), Capture the Flag (which is a damn sight more fun than CTF modes in other titles), Paint (which is similar to the â??Territoriesâ?? game type in other games), and a Cruise mode where you can just drive around the cities as you please. One of the more original race types though, and certainly the one that adheres closely with the whole ethos of street racing is the Frenzy mode, which is where you have to dodge as many vehicles as you can whilst hitting a series of checkpoints against the clock. The twist in the tail is that your brakes are disabled (except for the handbrake) and a burst of Nitro is fired every fifteen seconds â?“ if the timer hits zero, then itâ??s game over.
The Arcade modes for the most part include the option to turn on or the off various power-ups that really succeed in giving the mode a more arcade like feel. Everything from â??Shieldsâ? to â??Reverse Steeringâ? and â??Stealthâ? can be attained by driving through the symbols that dot the circuits in a Mario Kart fashion with offensive power-ups used when â??enemyâ?? cars are close enough in front of you.
Naturally the game continues the online heritage laid down by its predecessor; here the race types are borrowed from the Arcade mode so you can still do everything from Capture the Flag to simply cruising the streets. The effect of this is that MC3 creates a virtual copy of the actual street race scene; you find yourself almost admiring a co-playerâ??s effort and their customised vehicles, which is undoubtedly an intention of the developers. The game also includes the option to build your own Clan (called a Car Club) with the option of including a web site address to the clanâ??s location of the web â?“ a neat idea that could be used more frequently in other online titles. Sadly, like a vast majority of network titles, MC3 doesnâ??t seem to exploit the capabilities of the online feature as well as it should, and as with all Live titles (including the much revered PGR2) the integration between offline and online play isnâ??t as accomplished as it perhaps could be â?“ itâ??s a slight disappointment that races online feature no rewards and that you canâ??t wage cars against one anotherâ?¦
Perhaps what will really add to the longevity factor of the game is that Race Editor, which enables you to create your own race circuits by placing the checkpoints wherever you want around the cities. The actual route creation is very simple and Rockstar have done a very good job in making the process as accessible as possible, leaving you to create races in seconds, although how good that route is will actually some tweaking and testing, something that is available when in the Editor itself. The neat feature in all of this is that you can then set up races online to race against everybody else.
It is easily the best street racing title to date, effortlessly surpassing EA’s Need for Speed Underground 2 – THQ and Juiced had better be watching. Whilst the modelling isn’t what is perhaps should be, the fact is that it’s a small visual gripe and one that can be overlooked given that Rockstar have created a game that enables you to actually feel like you’re driving at over 200mph on the streets of the US. The soundtrack cannot be faulted in any way, and perhaps most importantly MC3 is exceptionally fun to play.