Reviewed: April 23, 2005
Released: April 12, 2005
There are several key ingredients required to make a great video game; excellent gameplay, plenty of content, awesome graphics and sound, some killer multiplayer when applicable, and throw in a dash of old-fashioned addictiveness. When all of these elements are brought together in a perfect blend you get something pretty special.
Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition has all of these ingredients yet for some reason that is beyond me, fails to be all that it could be. To borrow an analogy from my editor, ďall the ingredients for the cake are here; they just forgot to bake it.Ē And even after 30+ hours of solo and multiplayer I still canít put my finger on it. I really donít ďlikeĒ this game, but I nonetheless canít stop playing it.
Midnight Club 3 is the sequel to the 2003 release of Midnight Club 2. The DUB Edition is a reference to the input (and recommendations) by DUB Magazine for the various brands and car parts to be used in the game. Other than the title you might see a few DUB references through decals and window stickers, but thatís about it.
Once again we take to the streets of three sprawling cities (San Diego, Atlanta, Detroit), full of details, back alleys, rooftop shortcuts, and even a few Blues Brothers-inspired dashes through indoor shopping malls. The cities are alive with dynamic traffic and pedestrians who are obviously on loan from Midtown Madness, as it is impossible to hit anybody.
The racing is fast and furious, yes, even faster than the impossibly fast Burnout 3: Takedown. When you kick in that nitro just clinch your butt cheeks and grab your controller for the ride of your life. And once the cops get a whiff of your nitrous, itís all over.
Midnight Club 3 delivers a full stable of cars, trucks and motorcycles spanning several generations of domestic and foreign models. There are more than 60 licensed models and for the first time in my recollection, this is the first game where we actually see licensed cars get damaged, or at least scratched and dented a bit. Now you can drive that Hummer off the roof, roll it six times and crash into a light post, and see what it might really look like.
Donít get me wrong, Midnight Club 3 has a lot going for it, but itís one of those situations where for every good thing, I can think of at least one bad to balance it out, and as I stated before, I donít really like the game and I feel guilty after playing it for 4-6 hours straight, but I just keep coming back for more.
I think my biggest complaint about Midnight Club 3 is that it has no purpose. I know, you are all saying, ďItís just a racing game!Ē and I agree. I certainly donít need a reason to sit down and play Ridge Racer for a week straight, but with underground street racing and a thriving city, and the inclusion of some nice cinematics, I was just hoping for something more.
Perhaps I was spoiled by NFSUG2, admittedly light on story and some people didnít appreciate the comic panel presentation, but at least I had a reason to play, a goal to shoot for, a light at the end of the tunnel. When I play Midnight Club 3 I feel my only goal it to knock off a few more percentage points on the completion stats. I just donít feel like Iím involved.
This goes even deeper when it comes to car customizations. In NFSUG you had a respect gauge that was based on how cool your car looked. In NFSUG2 this got developed even further by allowing you (no, requiring you) to get your car looking cool before you could advance through the story. There were also photo-ops, magazine covers, DVDís, etc. Midnight Club 3 has none of that, so when it comes time to pry a few grand out of your wallet for visual upgrades you have to ask, ďwho am I trying to impress?Ē Certainly nobody in the game.
Even performance enhancements donít play as big a role as they should in Midnight Club 3. I completed most of San Diego (the first city) with my initial car (Mitsubishi Eclipse) and level 2 parts upgrades. The only reason I ended up buying a 350Z was I got bored looking at my same old car for hours on end. The level of competition never seems to rise, at least on any significant level of progression. Races are generally won by exploiting the new and old features of the franchise.
Fans of Midnight Club 2 might remember having to earn certain racing features like drift, nitro, weight control, etc. You get all of those when you start this game, which I supposed makes sense logically, but certainly takes away from the gradual increase in game difficulty. To be blunt, Midnight Club 3 is too easy. The only time I ever lost a race was when I fell victim to the very system I was exploiting to win.
The biggest detractor from the racing challenge is the slipstream turbo. Basically, you fall in behind another car (opponent cars only) and a gauge fills up on the right side of the HUD. When this is full it flashes and you now have several seconds of sustained boost, even if your car doesnít have nitro. Essentially, this concept makes it beneficial for you to remain behind the pack until the end of the race then you can zip past them all to a spectacular finish.
There are three new special ďpowersĒ you can obtain while playing the career mode. Each move is specific to certain types of vehicles and activated through special driving techniques. Zone is a Bullet Time effect that slows down the world giving you unprecedented control for weaving through traffic jams or making a last-minute sharp turn. This mode is powered up by clean driving.
Argo is specific to large cars, trucks, and SUVís. You fill up the meter by hitting traffic and environmental objects and when full you can activate Argo for a limited duration of invulnerability where you can plow through traffic like a bulldozer. Roar is the final special ability and is specific to choppers and muscle cars, anything loud. You charge the meter by drifting around turns and when full you can unleash a sonic boom that will send cars scattering.
All of these new features are fun to play around with but they only serve to make an already-too-easy game even easier. Certainly, no one is forcing you to use these abilities, but it would have been nice if the game had been tailored to encourage and reward their use rather than just pad your already-comfortable lead.
A.I. is both good and bad. Cars with nitro will use it off the line, which is good for you since it gives you somebody to draft, but they appear to be unable to slipstream turbo off of you. A.I. cars will take shortcuts, which is good because that is how I learned a lot of them and they are very aggressive in their driving, often running you off the road. I canít begin to count the times I got sideswiped at just the wrong time and ended up four blocks off course.
Oddly enough, itís very hard to screw up so bad you cannot win a race unless you do it on the final lap or within 3-5 checkpoints from the finish line. There is plenty of A.I. rubber banding, meaning that the cars will slow down if you get too far behind. I literally gave the entire pack a 30 second head start off the line before I even hit the gas, and I still won the race by 2.6 seconds. All you have to do is catch the car at the rear of the pack (one always hangs back extra far) and use him to slipstream boost up to the rest then itís just a series of boosts to the finish line.
I was disappointed in the lack of racing content, or more accurately, a variety of racing content. Everything is a checkpoint race in Midnight Club 3 or at least a derivative of checkpoint racing. You have your ordered races that require you to go through dozens of checkpoints, usually spaced close enough together that you canít get too creative with your routes. Then you have There and Back races that put a lone checkpoint somewhere across the city and you have to race there and back to the start planning the best route as you go.
The cities are free roaming and you can drive around engaging in optional challenges earning money to upgrade the inside and outside of your car, or perhaps purchase new vehicles. Each city also has a dozen or so hidden Rockstar logos scattered around. Youíll need to drive around in free roam mode to find these since they arenít generally part of any scripted race routes. Most are extremely well hidden, so plan on hours of meticulous searching or dropping $15 for a strategy guide with maps.
There are also roving opponents, but unlike NFSUG2 where you had upwards of 20 street racers roaming the city at any given time, you typically only have a few cyan triangles indicating major players. Fall in behind one of these cars and flash your high beams for a quick series of challenging races with big rewards.
There are also structured tournaments. These are slightly more challenging (or perhaps aggravating is a better word) than the single races since they are a series of races with points awarded based on your finishing position. Unlike single races you cannot restart a race within a tournament Ė you have to restart the entire tournament, so if you get screwed to the curb on race 3 of 4 you either have to suck it up or do the first two races all over again.
Again, the game isnít hard, but accidents do happen, mostly totally random and totally out of your control. There are a few places where it seems the game is scripted to screw with you. One race I remembered had me swinging wide on a turn near the end of the lap just before the finish line. I would gently graze the wall, bounce off and continue going Ė no problem. Except on lap three (the final lap) where I would graze that same wall at the same angle at the same speed and my car would roll and the rest of the pack would cross the line with me watching upside down. It happens every time on the third lap only.
Car customization is really good but a lot more simple than it was in NFSUG2. You basically have three (sometimes four) levels of upgrades that fill in a segmented meter for each classification of part. You can choose to upgrade everything individually or for those of you who would rather race than research car parts, there is a very nice auto-upgrade that does it all for you.
Visual upgrades are also in great supply allowing you to tweak just about every aspect of your car. Again, itís not as comprehensive as NFSUG2, but all of the essentials are there. But keep in mind, there is no ďgame reasonĒ to even paint your car let alone dump $30,000 in rims, tires, neon, paint, and carbon fiber body parts.
All upgrades must first be unlocked through successful progression through the career mode before they can be purchased. You are also awarded various prize vehicles for winning tournaments. These are often cars that arenít even for sale and many will be useful in future races where a specific type of vehicle is required.
From a content perspective, Midnight Club 3 is loaded. Even after you finish the major events in each city there are 6-8 optional races that shuffle around the map. I must have played for hours trying to exhaust the potential of San Diego before I realized that even though the race was in a new location it had the same name and the same prize money. You can keep racing these for as long as you like and collect a massive bankroll.
Control and physics definitely sway to the arcade end of the spectrum with speeds breaching the sound barrier, or at least it seems that way. Control is tight, I have to admit, and it felt comfortable and natural skidding around right angle turns in downtown at 140mph. Then it would get totally crazy, as I would ramp off a set of stairs with nitro burning out my trunk and literally fly four complete city blocks.
It takes a bit of experimentation to figure out the physics of the world. Trees will shatter into bark and leaves with little slowdown to your car while lamp poles will get stuck under your front bumper and grind you to a halt. You can ram into cars and smaller trucks with minor slowdown, but cement trucks and larger construction vehicles will bring you to an immediate stop. And then you have the fine art of the ďgas station shortcutĒ where itís a coin flip to determine if you make it through the pumps unscathed or set off a baby nuke of an explosion that sends you flying across town in slow motion.
Everything about the design is arcade-like and fun right down to the ability to pop up on two wheels and thread through traffic or control the orientation of your car by shifting weight in midair, not to mention those nifty new superpowers. Itís just a whole lot of fun, which is why I probably keep coming back to play even though the game doesnít give me any reason to do so other than to simply complete it for completionís sake. Thereís no girl to save, no warlord to dethrone, just lots of fast racing.
Midnight Club 3 is one hot looking racer with only a very few minor detractions. The framerate resides in the 30fps area rather than the 60fps I would like, but with this much going on and at these speeds I must admit any lapse in framerate certainly never affected gameplay and would likely be unnoticed unless you looking for it.
Despite the HDTV 480p support the game does exhibit some noticeable and annoying jaggies, mainly on the car models. Thankfully, these are only visible on the pre and post race camera sweeps. Once you are cooking through town at 200mph there is no time for imperfections.
The cities are massive with a draw distance to the horizon. There is a bit of fogging, more of a mist actually, but for the most part the cityscape is all there in glorious detail with lights and structures, and so much detail down at the street level you can actually go window shopping. Even driving down the center of the indoor mall you could see various stores and all their signage.
While Iíve been to all three cities depicted in the game, itís been years since I was actually in any of them so I cannot vouch for their accuracy. Iím sure liberties were taken, but I did recognize several key landmarks. The city design is seamless in that you really canít tell which buildings are open inside and possible shortcuts. Sometimes logic or intuition might indicate an impromptu path, other times you might have to watch the A.I. for hints.
These massive cities are populated with massive amounts of traffic and pedestrians. People will always manage to dodge out of your way at the last second but cars are not as lucky and you can create some pretty spectacular pile-ups. Obviously with this much traffic consisting of numerous car types and 3D models, their artwork is much more simplistic than yours or the other racers. They are generally flat-shaded colors with a possible metallic sheen.
Weather and time of day effects are wonderful. While street racing is illegal and generally done late at night you will have more than a few races in semi-light conditions, either at sunset or sunrise, all with great lighting and shadow effects. There are also rain and fog conditions, and while the rain doesnít dot your screen with the abused raindrop effect (thank you Rockstar) it does create some blinding rooster tail showers from the cars ahead of you. Rain also has a major impact on car handling and traction.
Special effects are blinding, complete with motion blur on all tail and traffic lights and that famous particle shower effect when a streetlight crashes to the ground and goes skidding. Once you kick in the nitrous or slipstream turbo the world becomes a blur of lights and motion and you are left to your instincts and reflexes. Vision has little use now.
There are flashing barricades, custom shop signage, water effects, and just about anything in the world that could be broken can be broken. Rockstar even managed to convince the car manufacturers to show their rides in various states of destruction. We arenít talking exploding body panels and rims like in Burnout 3 but more like taking a polygon model and tweaking the various point nodes to deform the shape and warp the textures. Itís not exactly a true wreck but itís better than anything weíve gotten in the past. More interesting to me was the subtle damage to paint and vinyl that would scrape away to reveal primer and undercoating.
Kudos to the excellent menu design that whisks you through the city at Mach 2 and ends up on the face of a skyscraper with a semi-transparent video playing on the wall and menu items laid out in perfect perspective to the face of the building. Picking a menu item will whisk you away to another building with more choices. The in-game menus for car selection and customization are nicely done, easy to read and informative without becoming cluttered.
Midnight Club 3 also has intermittent cinematics strewn throughout the game. Even though there is no real story these movies help move you through the career mode and often prove mildly humorous. Character design is excellent and the animation is flawlessly mo-capped giving these characters real personality.
You come to expect a certain type of ďundergroundĒ urban style of music to go along with these racing games that portrays the seedier side of back alley racing. Midnight Club 3 delivers 100+ licensed tracks divided into six styles of music ranging from rock, techno, and dancehall to hip-hop and drum and bass. With so much music packed onto this game, and given my broad scope of musical taste I have to admit I was unimpressed with the soundtrack. Of course musical taste is subjective, so I wonít fault the game for music that many others will certainly enjoy.
Normally, in games like these I find at least two or three favorites and welcome their return in the rotation. Not so here. I merely turned the music volume down to enjoy the sounds of racing. The game supports custom soundtracks, but all my attempts at using my own music resulted in the game crashing consistently, usually at the end of a long race and with me losing my progress. Iíve confirmed this with other people who have played the game (including my editor), so itís not a system or DVD issue. I had the same problem with DOA Beach Volleyball. The problem goes away as soon as you start using the built-in music again.
Sound effects are really great with unique engine noises for the various cars and the glorious sounds of destruction as you smash through windows, crunch through trees, or crash through traffic. Kicking in the nitro or slipstream turbo is like hitting the afterburner on an F-16 and the slow motion distortion of the Zone effect is just too cool.
Speech is excellent if not somewhat stereotypical, especially the Hispanic owner of Six-One-Nine who seemed more gansta than mechanic. Eavesdropping on his side of numerous cell phone conversations, I couldnít tell if he was running a chop shop or a legitimate garage. There is also plenty of radio chatter, usually praise for winning and criticism for losing. Funny - I don't remember installing a CB radio in my car.
The entire sound presentation is mixed in excellent 5.1 Dolby Digital for powerful low frequency crashes and excellent positional sounds for traffic and racers coming up on your rear. The cities all have their own specific sounds that bring them to life.
I canít deny, there is a lot of gameplay in Midnight Club 3 for those willing to play through it with little to no reason for doing so. If you skip the moneymaking optional races you can finish the core components of this game in 15 hours or less depending on how good you are. Searching for the hidden Rockstar logos (without a map) can take you 8-12 hours of dedicated searching, as you wonít likely find them while racing.
Multiplayer racing has been severely overhauled since the last game. There is standard two-player split-screen racing for those without Xbox Live, but the game really opens up when you explore the possibilities of online multiplayer.
Up to eight players can race using only those vehicles they have unlocked during their own career modes. This means that early online racers may be at a disadvantage when racing against people who have finished or played through more of the career mode than they have. Additionally, you can only host races that you have unlocked in your career mode, and while other racers can potentially join that race even though they havenít unlocked it in their own career, they still must have a valid car for that type of race.
You can track your progress, stats, and overall rankings on Xbox Live, and using the advanced filters and game hosting options can easily setup all types of races for certain types of racers. You can even form your own car club, creating officers, inviting pledges, and schedule races. Clubs are much like ďclansĒ in other games, usually a gathering of friends or likeminded drivers looking to dominate the game on Xbox Live. Car clubs have no membership limits, but players can only join one club at a time. You can even transfer ownership of a club to another member.
Online play has been vastly improved with new host migration, so if the person who initiated the game drops out the game moves to the second person that joined in. There is now "asynchronous join" so you can join a game session already in progress and actually race when the next event starts. The host can now change race options and settings without quitting and restarting a new race. It's all designed to keep you racing rather than hanging out in the lobby.
The track editor is back from the last game and you are free to layout your own series of checkpoints on any city you have unlocked in career mode. You can then use those custom tracks to challenge others online.
There are nearly a dozen online racing modes including four from the previous game and six new ones. ďTrackĒ racing eliminates the checkpoints and has you racing laps on a predefined circuit. ďPaintĒ is a form of domination where drivers pass through checkpoints and turn them into their custom color. The first to color a certain amount of checkpoints to their color wins. ďCTFĒ is standard with racers trying to return the flag to their own base, ramming the opponent to steal the flag if necessary. ďFrenzyĒ is perhaps my favorite and has you dodging traffic while racing through checkpoints with nitro firing off every 15 seconds. Did I mention, your brakes donít work?
There are several more modes, each one just as enjoyable and challenging as the last, and each of these modes has several parameters that can be used to further customize the event. Whatever Midnight Club 3 lacks in compelling single-player gameplay it more than makes up for in online competition. This is the Unreal Tournament of auto racing.
Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition is one of those games that you canít stop playing, even though you arenít really sure why you are playing it. The gameplay is fast and furiously addicting, and even though the overall difficulty is generally way too easy (thanks to slipstream turbo), there are plenty of random events that will cause you to lose more than your fair share of races.
With so much going on at any given moment in these living and breathing cities, itís almost a perfect example of ďchaos theoryĒ. If a butterfly farts in Thailand why does my car rocket five blocks off course in Detroit? Just one of many unanswered questions since Iíve become hopelessly addicted to this latest street-racing escapade.
I miss the depth of the NFSUG2 visual upgrades and respect system and the lack of any driving story certainly hurt with my immersion into this game world. At times it just seemed that Rockstar had created these wonderful cityscapes and were randomly dropping in a series of hoops for me to jump through with no substantial reward for my efforts. I want my piece of cheese when I run through your maze.
I love the action, but I just wish I had a more compelling reason to play the game other than the sake of completing it. I supposed unlocking all the cars and the races for multiplayer is the ďrealĒ goal here since playing Midnight Club 3 online is infinitely more fun than playing it by yourself. But whether you are a loner or live online, this is one racing game you definitely need to check out.