Midtown Madness 3 Preview

Take a new look at Microsoft's upcoming Xbox-bound racing game.

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Though previously a PC-only property, the Midtown Madness series is coming to the Xbox courtesy of Digital Illusions, the development house behind Rallisport Challenge. Midtown Madness 3 shares many of the same features that made its PC predecessors quite popular, but it also includes a number of entirely new features, such as an objective-driven story mode and two environments--Washington DC and Paris--that are significantly larger than the environments featured in the previous Midtown Madness games. We recently received an updated build of the game, and it appears that Digital Illusions has made some steady progress in tweaking the game's technical aspects and gameplay mechanics.

 Midtown Madness 3 lets you race through the streets of Washington DC or Paris.
Midtown Madness 3 lets you race through the streets of Washington DC or Paris.

One of the more intriguing modes in Midtown Madness 3 is the "work undercover" option, which essentially serves as the game's story mode. When starting a game, you'll have the option to begin work in either Washington DC or Paris, both of which have a unique series of careers that you'll move through. For example, in Washington DC, you'll start out as a pizza delivery driver, rushing around the city and delivering precious pizza to various points on the map. In Paris, you'll begin as a delivery person who must deliver packages all over Paris within a given time period. These missions are similar in structure in that most simply require driving to different spots within a given time limit, but they'll also frequently require you to race against competitors or avoid damaging your car because you're carrying some valuable cargo. In fact, in the latter sort of mission, one of your rivals will even try to deliberately ram you into walls, cars, or other objects in the environment.

Each career, except for the very last one in both cities, has four missions that you must complete before moving onto bigger and better things, so you'll have to pay your dues as a rental car or limousine driver before working your way up to stunt car driver, paramedic, police officer, or special agent. Naturally, you won't have access to high-performance vehicles in the early going--some of the first cars you'll get to drive include a 1959 El Dorado Seville or a Micro Flea, neither of which is exactly the epitome of speed and handling.

As you progress through the work undercover option, better (and more interesting) cars will be unlocked in some of Midtown Madness 3's other modes. In the single race mode, you can select from one of three options: cruise, blitz, and checkpoint. Cruise gives you an opportunity to drive around either Washington DC or Paris without worrying about time limits, delivering packages, or completing objectives. You can check out some of the famous landmarks that have been re-created in the game, or you can just cruise along to test out a vehicle's performance capabilities. What makes the cruise option particularly fun, though, are the customization elements. After selecting a city, you can adjust the traffic density, pedestrian density, and cop density, as well as the time of day and type of weather. While the cop cars don't really try to do anything other than ram you off the road at this point, they can add a racing-like element to the cruise mode that otherwise wouldn't exist.

Of course, if you want a real racing experience, then the blitz option may be more appropriate. This particular game type essentially creates a race track out of the streets in the city, and it requires you to reach a series of checkpoints before time runs out. To help guide you on your way, you'll find a small map that displays the position of the checkpoints in the lower left corner of the screen and a large Crazy Taxi-style arrow that points you in the right direction at the top of the screen. If that isn't enough, a small icon indicating which side street is the best to take will occasionally appear. It's also worth noting that this particular feature is also accessible in the career mode.

The final game type in the single race mode, checkpoint, is similar to blitz in that you have to race through a series of checkpoints in one of the cities. Checkpoint simply adds a group of opponents who will take advantage of every opportunity to inflict damage on your car and knock you out of the race.

Midtown Madness 3 also includes support for split-screen, Xbox Live, and system link multiplayer modes. The only one we were able to test out was the split-screen multiplayer, which features checkpoint and cruise options. The frame rate seemed to take quite a hit while playing in this mode, but the frame rate also fluctuated in the single-player mode in the current build of the game.

The cities are absolutely huge, and there are plenty of environmental details.
The cities are absolutely huge, and there are plenty of environmental details.

There's no reason to think that this won't be fixed before the game ships, but it's somewhat understandable, considering the amount of detail in the game. The cities in the game are huge and packed with all sorts of detail, ranging from pedestrians to parking meters and newspaper stands. Indeed, most of the objects in the environment can be interacted with, and you can even drive through the windows of some buildings. Midtown Madness 3 also has all sorts of special lighting effects that are especially apparent during night driving, as well as some nice weather effects, including snow and rain. Any damage you've sustained over the course of a race will be depicted on the car models with bumps, scratches, and, in some cases, entire pieces missing from the chassis.

Midtown Madness 3 appears to be coming along nicely and seems to need only a little more polish. The game is scheduled to ship in June.

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