With the street racing market becoming increasingly flooded with overly commercialized, hokey, and downright stereotypical games, Rockstar's Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition is a welcome offering. You won't find any bikini-clad babes gyrating over the hoods of cars, cellular phone company logos intruding on the scenery, or lame story modes featuring The Fast and the Furious rip-offs. Instead, you'll find a thoroughly entertaining arcade racer with lots of licensed cars, a slew of ways to customize them, and a high volume of various play modes. Sure, it isn't without a few notable gaffes, but all in all, Midnight Club 3 is a deep and enjoyable game that will definitely satisfy fans of the genre.
Like the Midnight Clubs before it, Midnight Club 3 offers up a huge, open-ended city for you to race in. Well, there are actually three cities. You'll begin in San Diego, but you'll eventually be able to open up the cities of Atlanta and Detroit as well. Each city is chock-full of back alleys, hidden shortcuts, and special jumps that you'll be hard pressed to discover until you've spent ample time driving around. Thankfully, the game provides a cruise mode where you can just drive and explore, which isn't nearly as boring as it sounds, because there are also some hidden Rockstar logos strewn about that will earn you goodies when you collect them all. It's also useful to just get familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the city, as knowing your way around is immensely beneficial come race time.
Most of the races in Midnight Club 3 are checkpoint races. These checkpoints are scattered all over the place, and oftentimes there are multiple paths that will take you to each one. Half the challenge of the game is trying to find the best path to each checkpoint. The one problem this methodology does bring up is that it can be quite frustrating the first few times you engage in a particularly challenging race because you won't know where all the required turns and potential obstacles are. This does lead to a fair amount of trial and error that isn't altogether detrimental (especially since using the free-roaming mode does really give you a good idea of how the city is laid out), but it definitely has its annoying moments. Fortunately, there are also point-to-point races and timed races to provide some variety to the action...and they're far less taxing to boot.
Midnight Club 3 is an arcade racer through and through. If you're looking for even a modicum of realism from this game, you might as well forget it. The physics are geared toward big jumps, taking tight corners at ridiculous speeds, big, exaggerated crashes, and frenetic action. The controls are generally tight and easy to pick up, though it will probably take you at least a little time to get accustomed to the different car classes. With more than 60 licensed cars available, there's a lot to choose from, including tuners, muscle cars, trucks and SUVs, motorcycles, and luxury automobiles. H2 Hummers, Cadillac Escalades, Mitsubishi Lancers, '64 Chevy Impalas, and Kawasaki Ninjas are just some of the many vehicles you can race with. Though nearly all the cars are fast and loose, every car type has its own strengths and weaknesses, each of which comes especially in to play with the game's unique special moves system.
Yes, that's right. The cars in Midnight Club 3 actually have special moves. While that might sound a little wacky, it's not quite as bizarre as it sounds. Basically, there are three types of special abilities assigned to the car classes. Big, intimidating cars can use an ability that basically knocks all the traffic around you out of your way; others can use an "agro" ability to inflict extra damage to cars you hit; and the speedier vehicles can use an effect that slows down time, letting you simply maneuver around any traffic that gets in your way. These abilities are handy, though perhaps not quite as well implemented as they could have been. The slow-down ability, for instance, slows down time almost too much, and it doesn't last nearly long enough to really be that useful. Similarly, the intimidation ability the big vehicles use sometimes just doesn't do anything except push the car in front of you farther ahead. Still, when the abilities do work, they're satisfying. And when you couple them with the preexisting nitrous and slipstream speed boosts, things can get pretty crazy.
Perhaps the best thing about Midnight Club 3's racing is that the difficulty never feels artificial. If you wreck once, or even twice, you still have a perfectly solid chance to catch up and win the race, as your opponents are prone to wrecking and spinning out as well. Similarly, if you catch the lead and can avoid wrecking or doing anything stupid, your opponents won't just magically overtake you. This makes the actual racing a lot more satisfying than in the last game, which kills off a lot of previous frustration.
The bulk of the offline racing you'll be doing in Midnight Club 3 will likely be in the robust career mode. You begin with about 20 grand in your pocket and an introduction to a local garage owner, who sets you up with a ride of your choice and an "in" to the underground street racing scene. Make no mistake, if you're looking for some kind of dramatic tale of intrigue or anything involving a lot of interaction with your typically stereotyped street racing characters, you won't find either here. The career mode focuses squarely on the racing, which is a welcome change from the hackneyed attempts at driving game stories that other similar games have tried.
There are multiple types of races to engage in during the career mode, all of which are structured around the basic checkpoint, point-to-point, and time trial races available throughout. Basically, you start by getting together with various hookmen who will challenge you to a short series of races. Impressing them will get you shots at longer series of races with assorted car clubs, each of which revolves around specific car types. So if there's a club that races with nothing but trucks, you'll need to have a truck or an SUV in your collection to participate in the races. While this might seem like a chore, it actually isn't, thanks to a number of tournaments that seem to ever-so-conveniently pop up right around the time a new car club challenges you. In these tournaments, you can win new cars. And they're almost always the precise kinds of car you need to move forward. Apart from all these main races, there are also a number of side races available in each city that don't help your career but do provide you with extra cash. That's good, because you'll need it to fully trick out your whip.
The car-customization element of Midnight Club 3 is possibly its best feature, despite not being terribly complex. For under-the-hood improvements, you begin with a stock part for everything ranging from suspension systems, to brakes, to exhaust systems, to nitrous boosters, and more. As you play, new upgrade parts will be shipped to your local garage, and you can buy them for boosts to your car's acceleration, top speed, and handling ratings. Of course, this wouldn't be a proper street racing game if it didn't provide you with plenty of gaudy ways to customize your car on the outside as well. Body kits, decals, custom paint jobs, $20,000 rims... You name it, you can throw it onto your car. Unfortunately, these types of customizations don't really have any effect on your car's performance at all, so it can occasionally be tough to want to spend the cash on something that's designed for pure aesthetic value. Fortunately, it's pretty tough to go broke in the game, so it's not like you'll ever be horribly strapped for cash, even if you want all your cars to be sitting on 20s.
The customization aspect of the game is where the subtitle "DUB Edition" comes in to play, as all the brands and styles of parts were included on the recommendations of the folks behind DUB Magazine. In fact, they apparently played a part in car selection as well. While this might seem like the kind of thing that could turn into bad advertising for the magazine very quickly, it thankfully doesn't. You'll see the DUB logo pop up on occasional license plates and specialized cars, but it's never intrusive.
The career mode is quite a lengthy affair, so it could take you upwards of 18 to 20 hours to complete, depending on how well you perform. However, it's hardly the only mode you'll have to mess around with. Midnight Club also includes an arcade mode that's filled with all the career mode's single-player races, as well as a bunch of multiplayer ones. These multiplayer races are a little quirky, with some variations of capture the flag, tag, and paint games. Admittedly, these games are kind of on the gimmicky side and aren't really much fun for more than a few plays each, but with so many different regular races to take part in, as well as a race editor mode that gives you the ability to set up your own checkpoint races, you're unlikely to run out of stuff to do anytime soon.
On top of all that, Midnight Club 3 also happens to be online for both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Hosts can create games using any of their unlocked races and cars, including all the crazy arcade games found offline. Features-wise, all the usual offerings are here, like buddy lists, leaderboards, and voice chat (on the Xbox). However, there's one unique feature that no other online street racer has: Midnight Club 3 features what is, in essence, a basic clan mode. In this case, they're called clubs, and you can rank your members along four tiers, including owner, officers, members, and pledges. While there isn't a whole lot to this feature, it's a neat way for more-competitive players to get together and organize. As far as online performance goes, all the games we had, including full eight-player races, featured little to no lag whatsoever. The PS2 version seemed a little laggier than the Xbox version, but not by much at all, though.
Part of what makes Midnight Club 3's racing so much fun is how fast the whole thing feels. We're not talking Burnout 3-style speed here, but the way the game uses motion blur and other little visual touches to emphasize how fast you're going really adds to the frenetic feel of the racing. In addition, the game just has a nice look to it that presents itself well while you're speeding along. The environments are just detailed enough to look excellent while racing, though they're a little less so when you're not moving. All the cars are highly detailed, and no customizable element feels out of place or looks weird when added on. The cars even crunch up pretty well when you crash, though it actually takes multiple severe crashes to really make the damage noticeable; otherwise, it's just some scrapes and minor dents. With all that said, the one notable flaw with the game is its frame rate, especially on the PS2. On average, the game moves at a playable speed. But in certain situations, like when too many crashes go on or when heavy rain effects are turned on, the action slows down significantly. Again, the PS2 version suffers from a lot more of this than the Xbox version, but they both have their bouts with slowdown.
The audio category is perhaps the one area where Midnight Club 3 is most improved over its predecessor. Midnight Club II had a severe problem with cheesy voice acting literally running rampant all over the game, which, as you can imagine, became very obnoxious very quickly. In Midnight Club 3, the amount of voice acting has been pared down significantly to just include cutscenes with the garage owners, in addition to some occasional pre- and postrace words of wisdom from them over your radio. The characters are still a little cheesy, but they're hardly offensive. The best part of the audio presentation is the sound effects. When you're racing, the din of engines, crashes, and objects whizzing by at alarming speeds is really quite impressive. This is especially true if you have surround sound, as the Dolby Digital support on the Xbox version is pretty spectacular.
The soundtrack consists of a huge roster of hip-hop, rock, dance hall, and electronic artists, including such name acts as The Game, M.I.A., Kasabian, Queens of the Stone Age, Beenie Man, Nine Inch Nails, the Ying Yang Twins, and Jimmy Eat World. Some of the genres are a little pervasive (translation: a little too much dance hall for the game's own good), and there are a couple of weird song choices (like the oddly timed inclusion of Marilyn Manson's "Rock Is Dead"), but all told, it's a great soundtrack. Plus, while in a race, you can separate the soundtrack out by genre if you like. And on the Xbox, you can simply play one of your custom soundtracks.
Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition is ultimately a great arcade street racer with plenty of lasting value. The career mode, with its lengthy list of races and deep customization mode, would by itself make the game worthwhile. However, the addition of entertaining online play, arcade races, and a race editor really makes this one of the best street racers currently on the market. Fans of the franchise will find a lot to like about Midnight Club 3. And those who have never experienced the series would do well to give this entry in it a try.