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Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition

Publisher: Rockstar
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Release Date: June, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone 10+
Genre: Racing
Price: $49.99
Where to Buy

Review posted August 2005 by Alex Lifschitz

Rockstar may be the most talked about game studio of all time. Aside from making great games, they are masters of controversy, thanks to their famed Grand Theft Auto series (and recently, the much-publicized "hot coffee" mod). Their other games - while not nearly as controversial - still reflect their ingenuity and devotion to making great games. The Midnight Club series, the yin to Need For Speed's yang, is also a notable lineage of games, and their most recent iteration of the beloved series, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, is just as deserving of praise, and the PSP version impresses just as much as its console brethren.

Gameplay

Midnight Club 3 covers a ground that has been tread many times over in the video game world - Car racing and customization. What Midnight Club 3 brings to the table is an unparalleled sense of realism within this familiar realm of games. The game starts you off with a dream and $22,000, which you use to purchase your choice of four cars. From there, you are left to earn a reputation, more money, and, of course, more cars. As you amass more victories in street races, you are challenged by more advanced and well-known groups of racers, each specializing in a certain vehicle type. You must beat them at their own game by purchasing and racing their kinds of cars, be it muscle cars, SUVs, tuners, sports bikes, or others. You can also race individual racers in whichever car you would like to drive.

Each car type has its own distinct advantage. Sports bikes handle better, trucks can ram their way through traffic, tuners are better for speed, etc. Different car types also get one of three bonuses. As each car performs a certain action, a meter on the right side of the screen slowly fills, and once it is full, it allocates you a unit, of which you can have up to five. The three bonuses are Zone, Agro, and Roar. Zone, which is used mostly by tuners, sports bikes and the like, fills up as you drive cleanly (without crashes), and once a unit is used, time slows down for about 5 seconds, and your car gets a noticeable increase in handling. This will allow you to weave through an otherwise disastrous array of cars, or take sharp turns at 200 M.P.H. Agro is used mostly by trucks, and fills as you plow through cars and objects. Once used, your performance is slightly increased, and all cars that hit you will simply bounce off of you, which is useful for plowing through blockades or through cars in front of you. The third bonus is Roar, which is used for muscle cars and choppers, and this fills the more you drift. When full, you can create a roar by revving your engine, which creates a shockwave that clears every car around you out of the way. This is useful for dispersing a crowd, or even helping you win a race by blowing away adversaries. It can also create an obstacle for the cars in back of you, as they try to navigate through the havoc left in your wake. There are also bonuses such as Turbo, which can simply be available in limited quantity from the start of the race (depending on how many tanks of nitro your car has), or can be unlocked by following an opponent's Slipstream, meaning that you can fill your nitro meter by simply staying behind a car for long enough, then boosting past them. The turbo can be used in conjunction with these bonuses. For instance, if the last checkpoint is on a straightaway, and there is an opponent in front of you, you can use your boost, and as you pass him, use the roar to knock him off course and secure the victory. You can also do things like use Zone to line yourself up with a checkpoint and boost away.

The game takes place in three free-roaming cities. When you aren't racing, you can simply cruise around town, see the sights, familiarize yourself with the shortcuts and jumps, and grab Rockstar icons that unlock new features for your cars. As you find racers, you can challenge them at a whim, and engage in a series of streets races. There are street racers, which are unlimited, and can be used to win cash, as well as individuals you can beat to unlock new parts and receive invites to race against whole auto clubs. There are also tournaments, in which you gain points for doing well in races (starting over means starting from race 1 again, and having the most points by the end means victory), but they will ultimately yield cash and new cars as prizes.

There is no real striking character development outside of the mechanics you meet in each of the game's three expansive cities, but then again, this is a racing game, not a game involving deep human interaction. The difficulty level is well balanced - Forgiving enough to keep you encouraged, but hard enough to spur you on to beat certain races after multiple tries, though occasionally, you will be cost a victory by something as aggravating as having a civilian car pull in front of you at the last second (though this kind of distraction comes with the territory), or simply missing a single turn. It is also fairly simple to recover from being dead last in a race, so there is no need to restart every time you lose your position, which is a welcome feature to any racing game. Unless you are an expert at the geography of the city, you will most likely find yourself retrying races multiple times, uncovering the ins and outs of the particular track you are racing, looking for shortcuts and opportunities to take over the lead.

Tracks are not defined by a set road, but rather, a series of checkpoints that must be reached in succession. They are spaced far enough to allow you to get your bearings on the right path, and the nature of these checkpoints gives the player a refreshing amount of freedom to find their way to it. For instance, the A.I. players may take a preset road, but maybe you know about a special jump that will allow you to overshoot them by a block, or perhaps you realize that you can plow through a glass display to cut through a building. Maybe you can even just take the freeway and avoid sharp turns and heavy traffic. In certain races, such as those where you must reach a number of checkpoints around the city in no particular order, this kind of knowledge is essential for victory, and the feeling of getting the upper hand by use of this knowledge is very rewarding. It keeps the races fresh and interesting, as opposed to determining a victory based on who can drive the fastest. There is even a track mode where you race around a track and try and get the best time, though you race by yourself (you are judged by the best times of the A.I. racers).

Controls

The game's controls are simple at best, but very efficient. The analog stick is used to steer, and if the hill camera is activated in your options, moving it up can give you a view that will allow you to see obstacles over an incline. The X button accelerates, the Triangle button activates reverse, and Square and Circle can be used to activate any car-specific bonuses and nitro boosts. The R button is the handbrake, which can be used for drifts (or a quick stop if used in conjunction with Reverse), or to peel out by holding R, accelerating, and then releasing the handbrake. The L button activates the weight transfer. In cars, this allows you to drive on two wheels, eliminating your slipstream (so enemies can't use the Slipstream Turbo) and allowing you to squeeze through tight spots, but it also makes you more prone to a complete flip if hit during the transfer. This is especially useful on sport bikes and choppers, as it allows you to make sharp turns by leaning with no penalty for being grazed, as well as allowing you to crouching to duck under trucks and boost acceleration, and to pop a wheelie for a momentary speed boost. Pressing up on the directional pad activates your headlights, while pressing down allows you to look behind your vehicle to see approaching cars. Pressing left allows you to activate hydraulics (if your car has it), which can be controlled using L and R, and you can rotate your camera while performing hydraulic maneuvers using left and right. This is particularly amusing before races, while a camera pans around the cars.

 

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The controls are very responsive, and turning is tuned just right to make sure that you don't spin out because you turned too hard. Your vehicle can also be tuned from the options menu to allow you more control over your handling. The analog stick is sensitive enough to allow precise steering, and everything is right at your fingertips. The ability to peel out allows you to stay in a race even after a major, time-consuming crash, which alleviates the frustration factor, and the analog stick allows you to direct your car while still stationary and before releasing the handbrake, which means no time-consuming three point turns found in other racing games if you turn the wrong way

Graphics

The graphical capabilities of the PSP truly come to light in a game like this. Though the occasional texture may be a bit muddy on a building or two, each car is rendered in striking detail. Car enthusiasts will note the intricacies of every car, and each car part is distinct. The array of options for car customization is simply dazzling, with new parts unlocked as you progress further into the game. The car surfaces are sleek, and even the minor details, such as tiny badges, are noticeable during the races. This level of detail draws the player in as they customize they car, and gives a sense of accomplishment to splurging on those cool rims or that new hood. Individual manufacturers are also represented in the parts you can buy, from nitrous to bumpers, or even brand name decals. The cities themselves are intricate and involving, and most of the scenery is well rendered. However, the cars show little to no damage when repeatedly struck, retracting from the realism.

The intricacies and magnitude of the cities may account for one of the game's primary drawbacks: The loading times. Loads are almost always in excess of a minute, and initiates whenever you choose to do something. Want to go to the garage for customization? Loading. Participate in a tournament? Loading. Even if you've just been driving around in the city and challenge a street racer, it reloads the whole damn thing. While I appreciate the effort put into the cities and cars, the loading times can be unacceptable for the impatient. If you have no problem with waiting a minute or two, don't consider this a problem.

Most of the races will take place at night, which adds to the only other fault of the game: Color blending. Many obstacles and much of the scenery is dark, and this will occasionally hamper your perception of the surroundings, especially when two textures match, like when there's a shortcut through a building. This can cause you to miss a crucial alleyway or jump, or even make you slam head-on into walls that look like scenery. Turn up your brightness to max while racing at night, and you may be able to avoid these mishaps.

Sound

The sound for this game is surprisingly good. Sound effects are true to life, from horns honking to brakes screeching. But what really made the sound quality shine through was the soundtrack, which is actually quite good and varied. It offers a wide range of music styles, from rock to hip-hop, from dance hall to techno, featuring many mainstream and underground musicians suitable for the game style. If you are a bit discriminatory in your musical tastes, like me, you can simply go to the options and set it to play only a certain type of music. The only problem with this feature is that you can only set it to play one genre at a time. I would have much preferred a genre checklist that allowed you to mix and match genres. Thankfully, most songs don't get old, and you can skip individual tracks that you don't particularly like. The quality in itself is quite good, and if you use headphones, it's a lot like listening to a standard MP3.

Conclusion

Overall, if you like racing games, this is a must-buy. The non-traditional racing style and customization will draw in most racing fans. Even if you're not a fan of racing games - I know I'm not - You will be sold on this game thanks to the abandonment of traditional setbacks of most circuit racers. If you can looks past the rampant loading times, and if you have a decent amount of patience and tolerance for error, this is one of the best and most fun games for the PSP currently available, even for those partial to racing games.

Playing Hints and Tips

- Though sport bikes may wipe out easier - Namely, if you hit anything - the superior handling will allow you to take turns easier and keep a slower pace, and still get the upper hand on cars that don't handle as well. Plus, they have some of the best stats of any vehicle in the game.
- Always race individual street racers first. You can get good parts and upgrades from beating them, as well as invitations to race auto clubs.
- Certain vehicles may be better for certain tracks. For instance, on a track that has a lot of straight-aways, tuners may be good for acceleration and the zone feature, and for tracks that have a lot of heavy traffic; trucks or SUVs may be good for plowing through cars. It all depends on the context.
- Conserve your vehicle bonuses. You may find yourself needing that crucial agro or zone, and not have it - Of course, feel free to use them in the final stretch.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

The graphics of both the cars and cities are stunning. However, similar tones can blend, and cause you to wipe out by not allowing you to see things fast enough to react.

Sound

The soundtrack is wonderful, and the quality is top-notch, but you can't pick and choose genres - Either listen to all of them, or one at a time.

Fun Meter

Customization and races are fun and involving, but frequent, cheap losses because of a civilian car or an unseen obstacle can get on your nerves - Not enough to detract significantly from the overall entertainment factor, however.

Addictivity

The constant quests to upgrade your vehicles and win races are a compelling reason to keep playing. The sheer number of things to do and the multitude of racers will provide you with many hours of playtime. And yes, the WiFi multiplayer is also quite rewarding.

Total Score= 4.25 Dragons, 85%



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