Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Release Date: March 13, 2006
When the sun goes down the city streets are filled by those with a strong interest in driving very fast but not the motivation to find somewhere safe to do so. Those of us with the ability to distinguish between reality and fiction and an aversion to seeing hospitals and our own blood have to get our adrenaline rush somewhere else, like in a game. Part 3-and-a-half of Rockstar's illustrious racing series, owner of the awkward and redundant subtitle "DUB Edition Remix", Midnight Club 3 is the latest street racer from Rockstar San Diego updated with the addition of a new city, new cars and new music, all for the value price of the Platinum Hits line. This small package contains more than eighty licensed cars, all of which can be customized in an absurd number of ways, for furious and fast racing through the dark streets of San Diego, Atlanta, Detroit, and Tokyo, as the player collects fast cars, cash, and street cred to conquer the scene from the humblest of beginnings.
Midnight Club 3 begins by in the garage of Six-One-Nine Customs as the player chooses their first car and gets an education in racing and customization from Oscar, proprietor of 619 and the game's guide to San Diego. Oscar functions as an approximate tutorial and introduction to game features and vehicle styles. He also keeps the player up to date on available races, newly acquired cars, and changes in status, accompanied by helpful mechanics from the other city.
It may be odd to spend time focusing characters in a racing game, but Oscar and his compatriots are well voiced and animated, combining with nice shakey-cam work to capture the feel of hanging out in a garage talking smack before the big race. The laid-back tone of the cut scenes and the cell phone chatter help the city feel lived-in, while the realistic dialogue contains plentiful information while hinting at back story and a history for the racers and their world. It's the little touches like this which construct a real city rather than a bunch of tracks jumbled together.
Of course, the real characters in Midnight Club 3 are the cars and the cities. The other racers are the enemy, the direct competition in each race, but they're really just minions of the true antagonists, the territory for this conflict: the cities. There's a map which can be called up at any time, even superimposed on the screen during races, but it cannot fully depict the levels. Around every corner is a helpful detail (well, except when one is needed right now), maybe a narrow alleyway or a tiny gap, or perhaps an absurd jump or a handy hallway separated from the street by just a few panes of glass, easily destroyed. These little features need to be learned and internalized, because Midnight Club's brand of street racing necessitates using every advantage in finding the fastest route from point A to point B.
Since the game drops the concept of barriers and narrowly defined race tracks for simple checkpoints, which can even be tackled out of order in some races, knowing the unique layout of each level, and where around the next bend that alleyway will be, is a fundamental skill. Each city differs not just in the details of the street patterns but also in the basic structure of the city. San Diego serves as the introductory level, with fairly open streets and a more flattened terrain. Shortcuts are more likely to be wide lots and the weather is generally nice. Atlanta is more gothic, with muggy weather and rain falling on old southern houses, the high-tech downtown, and the cemetery that takes up a chunk of the level. Streets tend to be fairly twisty, with a lot of up-and-down hilly areas. Detroit blends wide streets with decaying industrial sections, with an emphasis on the highway, and it's the only level with snow. Tokyo has narrower streets, with lots of alleys, twisty turns, and neon, some convenient train tracks, and everyone drives on the wrong damn side of the road. All the cities are visually distinct, with a unique style that's true to real life, with plentiful detail and very nice lighting. There's no loading times when driving, allowing free exploration of each city, but loading of a somewhat irritating length takes place before and after every race. Still, each level fosters a slightly different style of driving and a careful choice of vehicle to complement its unique challenges.
Midnight Club's cars to choose from total more than eighty, ranging from the smaller two-wheeled vehicles like sport bikes and choppers to to mid-weight vehicles like tuners and exotics, all the way up to the powerful but weighty muscle cars, trucks, and SUVs. Each vehicle has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own advantages and drawbacks. Motorcycles have a lot of agility and can use their small profile to squeeze by obstacles, but are hard to steer and easily derailed by collisions, especially with other racers. SUVs and trucks aren't fazed by running into obstructions or other vehicles, but are difficult to fit into gaps and suffer from a large turning radius. Tuners tend to fit a middle ground, with a little more presence than bikes and more agility than trucks. They're a good place to begin. To complement the variety of vehicles there are a wide variety of customizations for every vehicle. Performance customizations improve the vehicle's racing ability and are a good way to tune around weaknesses. There's also a wide variety of cosmetic tweaks available to create a unique vehicle. Any changes are clearly visible on the accurate car models, which are nicely detailed to closely match their real-world counterparts all the way to accurate and evocative engine noises. Both customization modes can be ignored, with a convenient option to automatically upgrade a car's performance within the available budget. Most important, though is how well these shiny cars fit within the game.
Luckily, Midnight Club 3's gameplay is polished and distinct. Rockstar San Diego has created a tight arcade racer with enough realism to add integrity to the vehicle breadth, without overcomplicating the controls (with the exception of the bikes, perhaps). MC3 mostly emphasizes liberal use of the gas pedal, with careful application of the brakes, and avoids the dependency on e-brake drifting that sinks so many other arcadey racing games. Within the races the elegant controls push the focus towards planning a route, which is where Midnight Club really shines. There's a broad variety of different race styles, especially in Arcade mode, but Ordered tracks are the most typical of the game.
Ordered tracks are simply a straightforward series of checkpoints. As long as each checkpoint is hit in order the route from checkpoint to checkpoint is up to the player. This creates a broad flexibility in tactics, leading to frequent choices about direction and rewarding those who know their vehicles and the terrain. The real peak of Midnight Club is the Unordered races, where a bunch of checkpoints are strewn across the map for the player to navigate in whatever sequence they chose. Initially this provides an alarming and confusing level of freedom, but the challenge of trying to create and drive the ideal route is intoxicating. If that's not wild enough, there's also the Frenzy mode, which takes away the brakes, puts the gas all the way down, and challenges the player to dodge traffic and navigate endless checkpoints with nitrous turbos firing off automatically.
Worth noting is that this isn't just Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, it's the turbocharged Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix. This means new music for the already excellent soundtrack, which ticks all the boxes from rock to drum ‘n bass to dancehall and hip-hop. Plus a double-handful of new cars, including a sexy beast of a ‘98 Diablo. And most important, a brand new old level, Tokyo, the final city from Midnight Club II. Tokyo adds almost another third as much content to the game, with new races in a slightly more difficult to navigate city. Sadly, Tokyo doesn't have quite the polish and personality of the primary three cities, but it's still a great new challenge, especially the elevated highways that serve as traps for the unwary. Midnight Club 3 players will be glad to know Remix can import MC3 saves so players can continue where they left off or start exploring Tokyo with an existing car collection. Tokyo and the new cars are also available for MC3's excellent Live play, allowing players to show off their skills and pimped out ride online.
Verdict? Midnight Club 3 is probably the finest street racing game available, filled with beautiful cars, awash in polish and options, and held within wonderfully realized racing-friendly adaptations of three distinct cities. Rockstar's partnership with Dub magazine has blessed MC3 with a sense of realism and style few games can match, and the authentic if exaggerated street car culture is far above the clichés of most "We street, fo' real dog" games. Remix takes an remarkably solid and realized game and stuffs in even more content, while dropping it to a Platinum Hits price. It's like taking a Ferrari, tuning it faster and sparklier, and selling it for the price of a Civic. Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix is an exceptionally good game at an exceptionally low price, and it's recommended to all racing fans and pretty much all gamers. If you like driving cars (and bikes and trucks) you'll like this game.
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