Midnight Club pioneered the open city/car modding race genre but its success has led to complications. One of the chief complications has been the emergence of stiff competition since MC2 came out in early 2003 - namely the hugely popular Need for Speed Underground games, but also recent contenders such as Juiced. The developers at Rockstar San Diego obviously didn't take these challengers lightly and the resulting game blows all the others away.
While there is an excellent arcade mode for quick fun, the core of the game is Career mode. You begin in San Diego and will unlock the cities of Atlanta and Detroit after some success. Maybe natives of these cities would recognise landmarks, but there isn't a great deal of visual difference between the three cities, except that Detroit can have snow on the roads.
Initially, you have a choice of only a few cars: the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Golf R32, Dodge Neon SRT 4, 1978 Chevy Monte Carlo, and 1964 Chevy Impala. All vehicles can be taken for a test drive before purchase, and it's wise to give all a spin to find the ride that fits your driving style. While you don't have any money to go modding straight away, paint jobs are free. Once you get some cash from race wins you can modify almost all vehicle components, from tyres to chassis, engine to body.
Thanks to the involvement of DUB magazine, there are all the cool after-market parts you could possibly want, and you can deck your car out right down to customised number plates and decals. Cruise mode lets you explore the city as you wish, discovering shortcuts and finding competitions. There are various types of events, ranging from single drag races to multiple race tournaments, and while most occur against opponents on traffic-filled streets, some are against the clock on fenced-off racetracks. As you win races, increasingly difficult and rewarding races become available. The more cash you earn, the more vehicles and upgrades are unlocked to spend your money on.
One of the most notable additions in MC3 is special moves for different classes of vehicle. Awarded in Career mode, these tricks have a real impact on gameplay and work brilliantly. "Agro" is the special move available to Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), trucks and luxury sedans, and when activated, any non-competing vehicle struck by the player will be sent flying. "Roar" is the move used by muscle cars and choppers, and this sends out an engine rev so loud that any car in the vicinity will swerve and lose control. "Zone" is available to import exotics and sport bikes, and this is basically "bullet-time", slowing down the world and allowing you to avoid collisions and squeeze through narrow spaces.
Apart from the new tricks, all your favourite moves from MC2 return, such as drift, powerslide, in-air control, two-wheel cornering, nitrous and Slipstream turbo (which is much improved and one of the game's highlights). While trailing closely behind an opposing racer, you'll notice wavy lines signifying that you're in the slip stream of the car in front of you. When the meter on the right hand side fills, you can activate a slipstream turbo which acts like a nitrous oxide boost. If you are at the back of the pack, you can slingshot yourself to the front by slipstreaming from competitor to competitor.
Since MC3 is available for PS2 & Xbox, we tested online gaming on the Xbox and it was pure bliss. In our experience we suffered no lag, regardless of the opposition's location (mostly US) or the number of players (it supports up to eight). There are plenty of fun game modes and features and you can even send feedback to players or clans following a bit of on-track dustings. The only problem is racing people with souped up machines doing twice your speed, so it's best to find (or start) a race with car restrictions to suit your current category of pimped-up beast.
MC3 is the ideal game for those who think GT4 and Forza are boring. Amazingly fast and incredibly enjoyable, Rockstar has done it again!
Visuals: A veritable treasure trove of visual stimuli, the level of customisation for your car is unfathomable Audio: The soundtrack adds that special element and nothing screams fun like the sound effect of "nitrous" being used Gameplay: Fast, frantic racing action. Top of the heap in car modding/racing titles Score: 5 Publisher: Rockstar Developer: Rockstar San Diego URL: www.rockstargames.com/midnightclub3