Review: Here comes yet another contribution to the racing section of the Xbox game library.
One thing the Xbox console has plenty of is racing games. We've had good games (Forza, PGR, Rallisport Challenge) and bad (SEGA GT Online, IHRA Drag Racing), but the one certainty has been quantity of racing games. The street-racing sub genre is often tapped to provide fast-paced arcade experiences, and for the second time on the Xbox, Rockstar is delivering an entry with the Midnight Club label.
The first Xbox version, Midnight Club 2 (the first MC was only on PS2), was a very good game, but it had a few drawbacks. The racing was arcade style, but there were some slight sim elements in regards customization and car models. The game provided a great sense of speed, a decent customization, and an entertaining career mode. The annoyances came from random AI in the game that seemed to ?catch up? or take you out far too easily in races, and the game had some instances that were a bit too punishing if you made any sort of mistake. In addition, the online wasn't that accessible to everyone who picked up the game; those who unlocked cars would have a huge advantage over racers just starting out, and this created some one-sided races. Some small lag issues were present for MC2 as well, but Xbox Live was in its infancy then and was the likely culprit, there.
This time with Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, the gameplay has been evened out to have more competitive races against the AI, there's more customization options (even featuring DUB specifications, as the title alludes), and the online mode has had some improvements. These changes and upgrades don't make the game AAA title material or genre-defining, but they certainly build upon the second Midnight Club game and make this version a better experience overall.
This third game, much like the second one, features a great sense of speed when driving through the checkpoint-style courses. The game is going for an obvious arcade feel, but doesn't go so over the top (well, not right away anyway) that it's laughable. You'll be able to time starts off the line to grab better acceleration, draft your opponents to get a quick speed burst, hit the NOS on your car for mega speed, and even crash into any racer to potentially screw them up (of course you might get messed around too). As said, the game's races are mainly in the checkpoint style, meaning you'll go from checkpoint-to-checkpoint until you hit the finish. The other race types have you go from one point to another by any means necessary or put you in a time trial situation. The one goofy element that has been added are special moves for cars; these often involve blowing all the other cars away from you or making you ?uncrashable.? While these moves don't up the realism factor, they are kind of fun and keep some variety in the racing action ? always a welcome element.
The AI and gameplay quirks that hampered the previous game seem to have been improved upon quite a bit. I was now actually able to catch up in races where I crashed, and it never seemed like the AI racers were completely avoiding traffic or always taking the best path(s) like before. This definitely helps make the racing feel more ?on the level,? which gives the game replayability. It does still get frustrating when you take a wrong turn or get wiped out from an obstacle because you don't know the course or whatever, but with less ?cheap? AI, the races are more enjoyable to redo; the special moves and speed bursts help out in this area, too.
When racing, you can change the camera angle from close up to far away or anywhere in between. One other camera feature I found cool was that you could press up on the left thumbstick while steering and have the camera pan up above your car, giving you a great perspective on all the incoming traffic ? this is great for avoiding annoying crashes that should really be avoided. Speaking of the cars, you'll have your choice of all sorts of wacky arcade-type cars like Hummers, Cadillac Escalades, Impalas, and even crotch rocket Kawasaki Ninjas. The car selection might not be as deep as some games, but it definitely is a fun assortment of cars to drive, to be sure.
The majority of racing will come from Midnight Club 3's expansive career mode. You'll take to the streets of three different cities ? Detroit, San Diego, and Atlanta ? and each one will have specific landmarks, jumps, alleyways, and buildings. Throughout this mode ? where you take up the usual mantle as underdog or ?new guy? or whatever ? you will be racing in various challenges, tournaments, club events, and the like. Oftentimes, you'll roll up on someone on the street, flash your lights, and then compete with them in a series of races. Eventually, you'll have enough credibility (and money) to go into tournaments and club events, and after that, you can start moving around to different cities. This mode has always worked in Midnight Club games, as it borrows free-flowing ?sandbox? elements from GTA and puts them in the racing world. You'll always have something to do, whether it is a tournament or just a simple point-to-point race. The mode should take anywhere from 15 to 25 hours depending on your skill level and how much optional stuff you take part in.
One element that could take up your time is the game's garage/customization section. With DUB magazine providing recommended parts and styles, you'll have plenty of options for tricking out your car. You'll first have to stick to all stock parts for your car that will only slightly upgrade speed, handling, etc., but eventually you'll be able to buy upgradeable parts that are shipped to the garage and add them into your cars for a real boost. Some elements are only for looks (paint job, rims, tinted windows, decals), but if you really want your car to look how you want, you'll have to fork over some more cash. Much of this customization is fairly easy to do, and you'll always have a reasonable amount of money in which to do it with. Another great aspect of the garage is that it is not hard to get to, as in other games like Need for Speed. It's often frustrating to have to physically drive to a garage when you just want to make some quick changes ? not the case here.
Another mode that has received some improvements is the Xbox Live multiplayer support. Up to eight racers can take part in variety of races, and now the host has much more control over the type of races and cars that will be played, which is a good thing. One neat addition is a ?clan? system of sorts that allows you to organize members by rank, much like in Halo 2. The game still isn't that accessible for new people coming into the online arena, but Rockstar did make some upgrades here, and the performance online has actually improved a good deal, with much less lag than in Midnight Club 2.
Another quick notable about the game is a track editor, which allows you to design any style of race in any of the game's three cities. This is a pretty cool idea, and is reasonably doable with the simple drag-and-drop icon system for placing checkpoints/waypoints/end markers. You can navigate the city streets in a flyby camera mode that enables you to move around fairly quickly and scope out some back alleys and side streets that could make the created races more interesting. While this feature is obviously quite simplistic, I was pleased to see it in the game, nonetheless.
Graphically, Midnight Club 3 tows the line quite well from the second game, with plenty of blur and speed effects being the standout performers. There's nothing quite like drafting an opponent or hitting the NOS and feeling that crazy sense of speed as you blow by the competition ? good times, indeed. The cars all look very detailed, and it's always really cool to see how your purchased additions look in actual gameplay. The cities are all different (in some ways), with each one having various landmarks and such to make it stand out. The lighting effects off street lamps, cars, and buildings always provide a good atmosphere for the night setting, and they really set the tone that the game is obviously shooting for. There are also some cutscenes in the game to progress the career mode, and while they aren't that prominent, they do actually look pretty good. 480p support for HDTVs is also included.
I was happy to see the soundtrack take a turn away from some of the wacky rap selections used last time and instead go towards more dance, hip-hop, and rock tunes. Most of what is in there this time is pretty cool to race with, including tacks from Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, MIA, Beenie Man, and Suburban Knight ? sorry Rockapella fans, they aren't in there? Do it, Rockapella!! If you do want to have your own stuff in there, including the aforementioned Rockapella, feel free to add a custom soundtrack to your experience. Sound effects are also quite good, with car crashes, dings, flips, and crunches all coming through quite well. The speed effects also sound real good, and they really help convey how fast your car is moving and how out of control you feel. All in all, quite good stuff from the audio this time around, and everything can even be heard in Dolby Digital, if you have the set up.
So Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition definitely makes some improvements over the last game, and particularly in the areas that you'd want it to. The gameplay is now a lot more balanced, the soundtrack is much improved, and the other features (online, track editor, customization) have been added to and improved upon. It's not the best racer out there for Xbox, but fans of the series or people who want a good sense of speed would do quite well checking this one out.