While the two previous Midway Arcade Treasures compilations have spanned a great variety of games released over long, long periods of time, the series focuses the scope of its efforts in Midway Arcade Treasures 3, which consists of eight arcade racing games released between 1989 and 2001. Though all the games presented here are arcade racers, they show a surprising amount of variety, and from a technical standpoint, they're largely successful emulations of the arcade games. This technical competence, however, puts into sharp relief the elements of the arcade experience that you simply cannot emulate.
With just eight games (versus the 20 included in Midway Arcade Treasures 2) and some no-frills packaging, Midway Arcade Treasures 3 gives a stripped-down impression. Many of the games that you get, however, are quite modern, and six of the eight use polygonal 3D graphics. Starting with the very oldest are Badlands and Super Off Road, the only 2D games in the package. Badlands is basically a postapocalyptic sequel to Super Sprint, with the most significant differences being the addition of vehicle-mounted weapons and a drab, somewhat depressing aesthetic. Super Off Road, which is (probably for some arcane legal reasons) missing the "Ironman Ivan Stewart" prefix it was originally released with, takes the same Super Sprint concept and sets the action on dirt tracks rife with potholes and moguls. Both run smoothly and feature responsive controls, but anyone who has played either game in an actual arcade setting will recall that most of the fun was in spinning hard on the arcade steering-wheel controllers to slide around the many hairpin turns.
Also from around the same era are Race Drivin' and S.T.U.N. Runner, two fairly early polygonal racing games. Race Drivin' was almost a sequel to Hard Drivin', though it could more accurately be described as an expansion pack that featured some additional tracks and cars. The idea behind Race Drivin', like Hard Drivin' before it, was to simulate the real-life experience of driving. The crude 3D graphics were critical in putting you into the experience with a then-rare first-person perspective. But what really sold it was the arcade cockpit. With the help of a steering wheel and foot pedals, as well as a stick shift for manual transmissions and a key to start your car, Race Drivin' was incredibly successful in immersing you in the experience. But with all these mechanical pieces now transmuted to a modern console controller, Race Drivin' isn't nearly as riveting, and the game's rather outlandish physics are put into much more stark contrast.
S.T.U.N. Runner, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction, aiming instead for a high-speed, futuristic racing experience. With no control over your acceleration, all you could do is use your blasters to clear out some of the boxy, futuristic traffic and weave between the vehicles you couldn't destroy. A big part of the appeal of both S.T.U.N. Runner and Race Drivin' (at the time) was the novelty of the flat-shaded 3D graphics, which are certainly dated now, though their unique style lets them retain a certain charm even today. The emulation on S.T.U.N. Runner, unfortunately, is wildly inconsistent, and the speed of the game fluctuates drastically. Early levels that are short and feature minimal traffic run faster than they did originally in the arcade, but once you start putting other vehicles on the road, the game begins to crawl.
After that, Midway Arcade Treasures skips most of the 1990s, regrettably ignoring all three of the Cruis'n games, due most likely to old licensing agreements with Nintendo. Things pick back up with San Francisco Rush the Rock: Alcatraz Edition, originally released in 1997 under the Atari Games banner. As you might infer from its title, Rush the Rock has you racing around Alcatraz Island--or, at least, a version of Alcatraz that includes massive loop-the-loops and crazy jumps--as well as some fictionalized parts of San Francisco. The follow-up to Rush the Rock, San Francisco Rush 2049, is also present, and it takes the racing action back to the mainland, though in a far-flung future trimmed with plenty of glowing neon and abstract architecture. The action is similar, though the game runs faster and the controls seem a bit more responsive.
While Atari was cranking out the Rush games in the late '90s, Midway had its own arcade racing series that kicked off with 1999's Hydro Thunder, a boat-racing game that went for big, colorful courses filled with secret, alternate paths, big jumps, and plenty of turbo boosting. Its successor, 2000's Off Road Thunder, is also included, and it basically transplants the Hydro Thunder concepts with an off-road racing setting. Though the relative sophistication of the 3D graphics dates all four of the latter-day racers in Midway Arcade Treasures 3, they're all identifiable as modern games. Though maybe not as "classic" as some of the other games, if you can even quantify something like that, they feel much more at home on a console than the older games, as the arcade versions weren't nearly as reliant on gimmicky arcade hardware.
The GameCube version of Midway Arcade Treasures 3 is hitting shelves a good month after the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions, but don't expect much in the way of improved performance or extra features. The GameCube seems to struggle just a little bit more with frame rates in S.T.U.N. Runner and Off Road Thunder, but it's a difference that's hardly detectable, and it's really the only difference. Choosing to highlight a specific genre within a classic games compilation is a fine idea, but the folly of Midway Arcade Treasures 3 is its choice of genres. So many of the games included here relied so heavily on custom arcade hardware that they lose much of their appeal in the translation.