Genre: Street Racing
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Release Date: March 13, 2006
Midnight Club is a game which is both extremely awesome and yet incredibly flawed at the same time. It takes street racing, one of the most visceral thrills out there, and adds in some incredibly realistic parts control – right down to the manufacturer from a list of real car and parts manufacturers – and then throws in over-the-top physics, sluggish graphics, and special moves which completely eliminate the expected realism. The final result is impressive, and extremely fun, but not quite one of the ultimate legendary games of the system.
Now, first thing's first. I mentioned over-the-top special moves and physics, but this is not Burnout Revenge. There is a similar visceral thrill, but the game is a very different experience. It is a thinking man's racer, where knowing every shortcut in the city, exactly how your car handles, and even considering exactly where to use each special move, all combine into a deep and careful experience. This does not mean that you have to be playing the game like it's chess; in fact, you can beat much of the game on the same skills you have from older Burnout titles.
A Midnight Club race is pretty much the same between any two races at its core. A series of checkpoints (of which the next two are shown on your mini-map) define where you need to go. Don't worry about being too precise – if you cross the intersection or otherwise get close, you're good to go – and each racer decides how to get there. Of course, this is in the streets of some of the busiest cities in the world, so you're going to have traffic – including pissed-off cops with expertly tuned super cars – jumps, and other obstacles between you and the next point. Some races do have a minor gimmick of limiting you to certain types of cars – sorry, but if you're racing against a Choppers club, you're not going to be using a Hummer – but other than that, it's mostly consistent, with the variety being in the exact courses and cop locations. This is not a bad thing, given the way this game handles things, getting a greatly varied feel out of the courses while offering some familiarity.
The game's Career Mode allows you to freely explore the city and find races. Strangely, empty intersections have road flares which represent race start points, along with a few drivers and riders who you can challenge, and of course, traffic. Just flash your lights, and you're good to go. If you want to upgrade, go to six-one-nine or one of the other city garages – you do all of your upgrades, looks customizations, and (oddly enough) car purchases here. You can't upgrade motorcycles, although you can tweak the looks of your bike and its rider, but then again, in the real world, bike customizations aren't all that common.
A short aside: The motorcycles are a second attraction compared to the cars, but they're a well-developed second attraction; you can't do as much in them in terms of hitting things, but you can take shortcuts and paths that four-wheeled vehicles – even those that temporarily become two-wheeled with the L1 button – just can't touch. I sort of wish you could get Harleys or Japanese makes, or for that matter racing cycles instead of just Chopper-style, but from a balance standpoint, Choppers were probably the better choice.
Overall, the gameplay is excellent with only three flaws. First, the specials – which include nitrogen boosts, a "power boost" if you tailgate, and three "meter" powers which benefit specific play styles in specific vehicle types – do not really contribute to strategy, instead reducing its importance. Second, the physics are extremely over-the-top – you will be flying like you had Speed Racer's jumpjacks. Third, the fact that, most of the time, the police will be a bigger threat than the other racers, especially if you are riding a Chopper.
Graphically, the game takes the interesting route of lowering the framerate – and thus overall feel of speed – in favor of making things as beautiful as possible. This game seems to push the limits of the PlayStation 2 and probably comes pretty close to pushing the limits of the Xbox, with beautiful light, excellent car reflections, and incredibly detailed vehicles, right down to things such as the rims on your wheels and the fast rotation thereof. Minimal use of speed blurring helps to increase the sense of speed, and the environments, as a whole, load at an incredible rate, using the same obvious-load-time-free streaming that Rockstar made famous with the Grand Theft Auto series. The end effect looks incredible, and while it may have been preferable to favor speed from the standpoint of maximizing the emphasis on visceral racing, the end result of Midnight Club 3 looks beautiful.
The sound does not hold up quite as well, unfortunately. The sound effects and voices are both up to Rockstar's par, and while neither particularly stands out (and the attendant at six-one-nine ends up sounding generic), the music proves to be a real problem. The menus and "occurrences" (taking or completing a race, for example) all offer a fairly good set of instrumental music. Regrettably, the in-game soundtrack is, by a majority, low-quality rap, with the balance of rock, some fairly good techno, and a few other genres. There are no music options besides "All," "One Genre," and "Off," preventing you from getting away from the grating rap music without using a custom soundtrack.
If you want gameplay length, Midnight Club 3 is going to be an excellent choice; a solid day's worth of play got me through two percent of the game, and the second day resulted in three more percent and a new vehicle. There are over a hundred unlockable items by my count, ranging from cars to better components, to new decals for your cars to new riders and costumes for your motorcycle (you're stuck with torn-shirt white guy for the first Chopper race or two, though). These unlocks generally are opened by winning "story" races (generally anything that isn't one of the generic city races, especially if it's introduced to you by a cut scene), although unlocking the item does not mean having it. You have to use that money somewhere, right?
Some people reading this review are probably asking, "Why haven't you discussed what's new yet?" Well, for one, it's fairly well-integrated into the game. The new cars aren't just cosmetic – starting with the new Scion TC, you get several upgrades right off the bat – a BIG boost is expected in the early game. The new city, Tokyo, is given its own Career mode, Tokyo Challenge, and it is indeed a challenge based on how badly outclassed I was with said Scion TC. There are new licensed songs, and apparently a few minor cosmetic updates to the cities. Unfortunately, all of the problems I have highlighted here are the same ones that were in the original Dub Edition, and a few – such as a truly hideous car selection system – are made worse with the amount of new content. Was anything stopping Rockstar from separating the cars by manufacturer, class, or cost instead of putting them all in one giant slow-scrolling wheel? This said, the amount of new content is moderately staggering, and given this is the Greatest/Platinum Hits release, is well worth the $20 cost to those who have already mastered the original version.
If you're a fan of thinking-oriented "pure" racing, add Midnight Club 3 to your collection and don't use the specials. I could clear every race without using a single special, and I'm not exactly a master of the genre. If you are looking for a masterpiece of racing as a genre, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix probably isn't quite it, but it's plenty close, with open-ended free play where you can choose what to do freely. Some will enjoy the soundtrack better than I, while others will prefer to just ignore it as I ultimately did, many will find the little flaws here and there annoying, but I'm going to say that 90% of those who get Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix will find it well worth the cost, and those who enjoyed the original Dub Edition will find Remix to be worthwhile for the large amount of extra content.
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