You owe me a ten second car
The biggest in-thing at the moment seems to be the 'tuner' scene and with magazines like DUB joining forces with Rockstar Games for the rip-roaring Midnight Club 3 DUB edition game, games like Need For Speed Underground 2 are made and broken on the strength of their customisation options, what parts can you fit on your car and what cool features can you tweak.
Midnight Club 3 for the Xbox and the PS2 hopes to push this particular new-wave even further by adding the 'deepest customisation yet' to the genre, the question that I have to ask is - what is the deepest customisation? While Midnight Club 3 is a good game and offers a rapid-fire full-throttle thrill-ride, it suffers from a few hiccups that can't be ignored which are thankfully only in the actual gameplay and not in the graphics.
Since this is a cross-platform review it's going to be a bit different to my usual style, as I experiment with methods to get the information across. I will point out my core task here is to review the game and not bitch about the lack of features on the systems, or how the PS2 graphics look dated compared to the Xbox, because in this case Rockstar know their stuff and have eked every bit of performance out of the PS2 to make the game look and play as well as the Xbox version.
What I care about is Midnight Club 3 DUB edition, not the war of the consoles in this case - since there's very little difference between the versions, to warrant any wrists slapped.
Yeah, right, forget the story and let's put the pedal to the metal. It's about tricking out your ride and slamming the gas. You join the scene as a young but pretty good driver, make a few tuner friends and get into the highly illegal street racing scene, from then on its faster cars, breakneck speeds and big air all the way.
Racing titles have really come a long way in the last few years especially as fans have demanded more bang for their buck. It's no longer a matter of climbing into the driver's seat of a mid-range automobile, gamers want to be able to drive the virtual beast of their dreams and deck it out with enough nitrous oxide to blow a big hole in the ground if they could.
Midnight Club 3 is up against tough competition to slam-dunk games like NFSUG2 and provide something we haven't seen before. For some people racing has to be either, realistic or arcade and some folk like me would prefer a mix of both, with a bit of realism and some insane driving stunts, back flips and two-wheel manic tyre-screeching.
The gameplay at its core is simple; you drive around 3 big virtual cities over the course of the game, find illegal street races and enter them. You can also challenge other drivers and unlock various parts, bonuses and upgrades to your car - not to mention win new rides and so on. The more you do the club races, the more you earn the respect to advance and the story progresses - eventually you'll be in the second city and third city racing for bigger and better prizes.
We've seen this kind of thing before in a dozen other games, so what's different about it? Not much to be honest, if it's not a broken formula, why should you fix it?
Rockstar did add a few Easter-eggs to be found in each city, in the shape of their trademarked spinning R logo, find them all and you'll unlock some cool number plates.
So what did Rockstar do that added a new flavour to the game, if it's just similar to other titles.
They added three special moves unlocked via Career Mode, we shall come to those later.
Now this might not sound like much but when you unlock them, by completing the key races they transform the whole experience into something a lot more - well - fun. Midnight Club 3 isn't about looking pretty as you drive, it's about flooring the gas and whipping onto two-wheels, it's about slamming the nitrous until you leave the ramp and sailing gracefully through the air for about ten seconds (that's a lot of airtime believe you me).
For those people that like to squeeze every ounce of performance out of their car, Rockstar have provided an in-game tuning feature that allows you to alter the drift, traction and understeering attributes of your car on the fly, so you can perfect the tune that suits you best.
The trick features of Midnight Club 3 in detail
If you're like me and you don't really care how many terra-pixel flip-mops you can get out of the graphics, and you just want to know why you should play the game then you've come to the right place, if you're expecting a pixel-per-pixel comparison and waffle about the latest advances in game and console tech, this review isn't for you.
If you care about cool gameplay features and tricks you can do with your cars, then you've come to the right place - since Rockstar have added big air moves and insane stunts galore to this game, enough to keep fans of The Fast and the Furious and Gone in Sixty Seconds happy.
Drifting: Just tap the button for the emergency brake and you'll be able to slide around corners while oversteering in the direction you want to go, get it right and you'll look good and babes will love you, well, the babes might not - but your mates are going to think you're the daddy.
In Air Control: If you catch some huge air in the game, which is highly possible in the second city more than the first - you can hold the weight transfer button and pull off some insane flips, rolls and twists by pushing the left thumbstick - go on, you know you want to do it while humming the theme from James Bond.
Nitrous: You can have up to four tanks of speed-boosting madness installed on your car of choice. Press the button and you'll have to pull your head out of the back seat.
Slipstream Turbo: If you get close enough to another racer's rear you will see small trails of air, slipstreaming off the back of the car. You'll see your slipstream meter start to build and when it starts flashing and sounding off, you can punch the nitrous button to gain a quick burst of speed and zip past.
Two Wheel Driving: Hold the weight transfer button and slam to the left or right, you'll soon be on two wheels, denying anyone a slipstream turbo and looking cool while doing so.
Weight Transfer: On motorbikes you can wheelie, stoppie and lean hard left and right by using the weight transfer button.
Zone: Think of Zone as bullet-time driving, the world slows down and you become aware for a few moments of everything in your surroundings. You can execute insane turns and nip through narrow gaps at 200mph that would normally see you buried in a wall or someone's rear bumper. Zone can only be used with import, exotic and sport bikes. Zone replenishes as you drive carefully, avoiding bumps and impacts.
Roar: When you drift successfully you charge the Roar meter, when it's charged you can let loose a burst of sound that shoves opponent and civilian traffic out of the way, this move is useful for slamming your fellow racers into other cars or walls on a tight turn when you need a good lead. Only muscle cars and chopper bikes can use this special move.
Agro: When you ram into sidewalk clutter and traffic, you begin to charge the Agro meter. Once it's charged you can activate it and become nearly unstoppable for a short time, your car stops taking damage and knocks other vehicles aside if they come into contact with it. Agro is only available to SUVs, trucks and luxury sedans.
This is the true heart of the game and it's where you'll spend a lot of your time, earning money to buy new cars, deck them out with a variety of parts and aftermarket kits. You'll find that you can challenge other street racers for quick races that will earn you bonuses, new rides, new bits and bobs and perhaps some other secrets you might not be expecting.
For a quick top up on cash you can find red circle, city races and take part in those for a good way to earn some good money fast.
Club Races are represented by gold stars on the map and they have strict entry requirements based on your vehicle class. It's usually in these races that you'll unlock one of the three special moves, such as Zone, Agro and Roar.
Tournaments are where you sort out the men from the boys and the boys from the lads, these races are pretty gruelling and collect big money at the end, good for allowing you to soup up your rides - but they are a tough challenge.
Your Garage in Career mode is the place where you're going to spend even more time; money and effort in making your ride not only look sweet but also perform well. You can tune the performance of your car, throw in turbo-chargers and slap on some extra features while changing the rims, tyres, width and height of the ride. Every feature that you want to add or play with has been provided, all barring the tuning of the engine itself and the gear ratios etc - this is an arcade racer not meant to be a Gran Turismo or Forza game.
Not just the core of your car can be tinkered with; as you progress through the game you'll unlock a lot more. You'll be customising your ride with the latest spoilers, bumpers and bodykits, slapping on some new paint and decals. Adding flashing neons and even custom number plates, you can enter your own name for that personal touch - or rude words if you're like certain friends of mine. You can even add custom text decals on the front and back windows, changing the font and giving them a chromed look in any custom colour you like.
There's a lot to do in the garage before you are satisfied with the look of your ride and there's a load of cars to buy/unlock, enough to keep the thrill-speed freaks happy I would say.
Unlock cars, buy new motors and customise them in the Career game, then bring them here to Arcade as well and mess about with any number of quick races. You can even have a friend tag along and race split screen, with or against you. You can customise the weather, time of day, pedestrians and traffic, turning them on or off, changing features at will until you're happy - it's all about how you want to play.
Autocross: Race through the streets, confined by barriers and try and get the best/fastest times over a number of selected laps.
Track: The same as the above except you're not racing against the clock; you're against other racers this time.
Capture the Flag: Now we start getting to the good stuff, there's a flag, a drop off point and it's a race to grab it and drop it off. You can nick the flag from the flag-holder by ramming into them. There are a number of options you can customise too, so it's worthwhile checking them out before you start.
Paint: There are a large number of checkpoints scattered about the track at the start of the race, all in a neutral colour. The objective is to race to any of these and tag them with your team's colour. Previously tagged checkpoints can be stolen by repainting them and the first to colour a predetermined percent of the checkpoints wins.
Cruise: Explore the cities as you want with no hassles and no rules.
Frenzy: You have a timer that starts ticking down the moment the race starts, and you have to hit a never-ending series of checkpoints, if you hit other vehicles you slow down and that slim timer could run out. There's a couple of catches: your vehicles special abilities and brakes are disabled - you can use the handbrake however - a further complication adds the biggest dose of fun, your nitrous fires the moment you start and then every 15 seconds after that - don't let the timer run out and score as high as possible.
Ordered: An ordered race is a typical checkpoint, after checkpoint, ordered romp through the city: plain and simple.
Circuit: Just like an ordered race except you're going around and around in a circuit, the choice for the traditional racer.
Tag: Another fun race type, giving you a checkpoint at the start of the race, burn to it as fast as you can because if you're the last to the check, you're IT. Other cars can score points by being in the zone around the IT car, for a certain time. If you hit another car, they become IT.
Unordered: There's a load of checkpoints, no order, hit them all to win!
To make Arcade mode even more insane Rockstar have added Powerups to the game, which can be turned on or off at the race option screen, these little pickups can add a level of tactics and insanity to the game that would be lacking otherwise.
A couple of my favourites include:
Go: When hit by this discharge, the target's brakes are disabled and they are given a top-speed boost, bye bye, uncontrollable car tearing off down the track, good for a few laughs.
Stop: Both brakes kick in, car grinds to a halt.
There are quite a few more to discover and experimenting on your friends/enemies is the best way to find out how effective they are.
Networking has been enabled, go online and play with friends or make enemies by using the game lobbies - couldn't be simpler.
Any city that you have unlocked is available in this mode; you can fly through the streets and drop checkpoints anywhere you like. There are extensive adjustment options available in the race options menu and you can change the weather, time of day and so on.
It's not really a case of level design, its city design, they might not be the most realistic portrayals of cities yet but they don't need to be. Rockstar's emphasis is on fun and madness, so they are larger than life - full of short cuts and mega-jumps, in fact MC3 is probably one of the best games to catch big air in when you're racing through the streets - it leaves the competition behind in that respect.
The Xbox has the edge over the PS2 with this game but only just, Rockstar have really pulled out the stops to keep the other console version looking as nice and shiny as the Xbox version. There a good amount of graphical eye-candy in this game, with motion blur, bloom effects and good atmospheric lighting all round. These machines look good and they are shiny rides especially with a lick of pearlescent paint, the graphics engine pumps out a good solid framerate on both machines and the sense of speed is maintained throughout.
By the look of things, and we pushed this game hard to review it, even tho Rockstar seemed to be nervously awaiting the review (eh Ben?) there's no pop-up and the game tears along at an amazing rate of knots, even possibly out burning-out games like Burnout 3.
These are some nice machines and Rockstar have gone for a slightly more arcade design that trying to replicate every nut and bolt, faceplate, headlight and feature on the vehicles - what you get however is top notch stuff and you can tell they've spent a lot of time looking at the design of the vehicles from real life, they have a distinct Rockstar touch and that's a trademark I never want to see change.
There's a lot of difference between the player/opponent vehicles and the regular traffic, but it's only a minor niggle since when you're flying by at 200mph you're not exactly looking at how detailed the other cars that make up the civilian populace of the game are.
Certain parts of the cars/vehicles are animated, spinners and elements of the bikes/choppers, the riders look good when they move and roll around amusingly when they fall off. There's also a nice little trick when you're cruising around, if you pull up next to a pedestrian, they will admire your car and even walk around it - if it looks good enough.
The engines of these machines sound good on both consoles and take advantage of their sound hardware; the rumble of the muscle cars is distinctive enough to be discernable from the purr of a tuned sports car or a sport bike. The screech of tires and the whoosh of the air as you tear past another vehicle are exceptionally well done.
A mix of techno, rock, hip-hop and other styles adorns both versions and the choice of custom soundtracks on the Xbox of course makes it even more killer compared to the PS2 version. Rockstar have chosen some of the better and brighter bands around now and even the default music can be switched to play all or just one of the genres, we spent most of our time listening to the rock part of MC3s soundtrack on the PS2 version since we couldn't use the custom soundtracks.
My only gripe with the Xbox version was our soundtrack required the other sounds in the game to be turned down, and the TV to be turned up so we could hear it - it seemed a lot quieter even at max volume than other games with custom soundtracks.
There are CG scenes that move the story of the boy racer along, these are pretty well acted and the in-game dialogues have the right flavour, we've come to expect from Rockstar's stable of available talent.
This is where I have a lot of my troublesome issues with the game, the AI seems to be on a perfect driving line at times, and then other times it'll act as dumb as a nail. But that's not the real problem, what really irks me is that there's a ridiculous amount of 'rubber band' catch-up which can't be disabled on the opponent cars, you pump the nitrous and tear ahead only to be caught up moments later by a car driving at default speeds with no nitrous or slipstream turbo activated.
Just no, please, no more rubber band catch-up, those days are over...we have better methods for keeping the driver's difficulty challenging. Or even if you do use it, just make it less than a full taught elastic band next time.
Arcade style all the way with this one, big jumps, impossible speeds and mad crashes all combine with a pretty good damage system that lets you know how bad your car is, break it and you'll respawn, to race again. Go...go...go!
Replay that again?
It's got a good replay camera that keeps the action nicely focussed on your car, even putting in bullet-time like rotation if you do a big enough jump, you can activate the usual camera controls and watch the replay frame by frame, or pause it.
The bottom line, Vroom baby, Vroom!
Well that's about it to be honest for MC3. The game runs well on both systems and there's only a few points difference between the Xbox and PS2 version, it's certainly not a battle of the titans by any means regarding MC3. If you like slightly better graphics and the option of a custom soundtrack, then you're going to want the Xbox version - you'll definitely want it to play online, as the various modes and unlimited races from the game's players add to the replayability.
It's a solid game and an excellent title, it does have the annoying catch up but even then it can be forgiven and for an Arcade race-addict like me, it's got enough tuner bits to keep me going for ages pimping out cars and doing them up. The arcade style mix of high-octane driving and punishing special moves and powerups with an Arcade mode makes it a highly enjoyable thrill-ride that deserves to be driven to destruction.
A winner from start to finish.