Hands-onMidtown Madness 3

We check out a new build of Microsoft's city racer.

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Microsoft dropped by the GameSpot offices with a new build of Midtown Madness 3, its city-based driving game for the Xbox. Like Midtown Madness 2, the third game in the series will feature two different cities, Washington DC and Paris, both of which have been modeled closely after their real-life counterparts and are generally much large than the environments in Midtown Madness 2. In fact, Paris alone is approximately the size of the London and San Francisco maps from Midtown Madness 2 combined, so you'll have plenty of areas to explore within both cities, especially in the cruise mode.

In the cruise mode you essentially have free rein over the city and can drive to any accessible spot on the map, but while you're tearing around the city, you'll want to keep an eye out for power-ups that can be used to strengthen the individual abilities of your car. In one situation, you'll have to navigate in between the pillars of the Jefferson Memorial to gain access to the rotunda and the power-up located just at the base of Jefferson's statue. Obviously, if you're driving a hummer, a semi, or a bus, it's going to be a bit problematic to accomplish such a task, but if you're using a Volkswagen Beetle, a Mini Cooper, or any one of the smaller cars in Midtown Madness 3, then it's not quite as difficult. The cruise mode offers a few different customization options as well, including pedestrian density, traffic density, and police density. Interestingly, the pedestrian density can have quite an impact on the game, as ambient cars will actually attempt to avoid pedestrians that are darting out in the street, creating yet another obstacle to drive around.

Fans of previous games in the series should be familiar with one of Midtown Madness 3's other modes, the checkpoint mode. This mode pits you against cars in your class, so if you've selected a 1967 Mustang Fastback, then you'll race against cars that have similar abilities. In addition, the checkpoint mode spans 20 races, in which you have to race to several different points in a section of the city, whether it's Washington DC or Paris. If you place first in three races, then you'll gain access to an entirely new car. In older Midtown Madness games, the direction of the checkpoint was indicated solely by an enormous arrow at the top of the screen, and while Midtown Madness 3 retains this feature, the development team has added a second red arrow that indicates turning direction. For example, if it appears that the yellow arrow isn't giving precise enough directions and you're just about to enter a major intersection, then the red arrow might appear and tell you to turn right. The blitz mode also returns from previous games in the series, and it also features 20 races.

Other than the technical aspects of the game, the biggest addition to the Midtown Madness series is the career mode. There are 54 missions in the career mode, spanning 14 different professions such as pizza deliverer, taxi driver, chauffeur, security guard, paramedic, police officer, and even special agent (which features only three missions, while all of the others have four individual missions). When you start the career mode delivering pizzas, for instance, the first objective is fairly simple--you have to make it to several points in a city before your rival does. But as you progress through the career mode, the objectives become a little more difficult and require much more driving skill and general knowledge of the city. For example, in one of the later missions, you'll have to tail a suspect without getting too close, which is rather difficult considering that the car you're tailing radically changes speed and direction. Other careers have different objectives--for example, as a taxi driver, you have to pick up customers and drop them off, much like you do in Crazy Taxi, albeit with a little less craziness. In any case, the career mode seems like it will offer a nice break from the standard racing action found in other parts of the game.

To extend the replay value of the game even further, Midtown Madness 3 features extensive Xbox Live support. There will be three modes specifically playable over Xbox Live, including tag, stay away (which is like tag, only multiple people can be considered "it"), and capture the gold, where one team of drivers has to explore the city looking for treasure while the other team has to protect it. Of course, the cruise, blitz, and checkpoint options (which have support for up to eight players) will also be supported online, and cruise and checkpoint will have split-screen and system-link support as well. As far as downloadable content is concerned, the development team and Microsoft seem to be set on offering additional cars for download, but other features are also being taken into consideration, such as downloadable areas for both cities.

The visual side of Midtown Madness 3 seems to be progressing nicely. Both cities appear to be completely modeled, and we were able to instantly recognize several different monuments in the Washington DC area, all of which appear to be built to scale, or at least close to it. There was already plenty of secondary detail within each city as well, ranging from pedestrians and traffic to mail that flies into the air when you plow into mail boxes and other objects lining the streets that you can interact with. You can even shatter glass windows on various storefronts. Digital Illusions is currently working to get the frame rate locked down at 30 frames per second. As for music, there won't be any licensed music in the game, but Midtown Madness 3 does have an audio ripping feature, so you can customize your own soundtrack. Midtown Madness 3 is currently scheduled for a spring 2003 release.

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