For those who have played many different street racing games, Midnight Club is going to be a bit of a shock. This is due to the fact that Rockstar has replicated exactly what the tuner scene is like in the United States, rather than giving into the mainstream hype and creating an unrealistic title. It is this feature that determines whether you will like the game or not because it is quite radically different to some of the other titles. The game modes are pretty much the same such as Arcade and Career but where it differs is in how the races play out and how you progress throughout the game.
In Midnight Club 3 you begin with a fairly basic car and have to work your way through a number of tournaments and races to gain more money, win cars and modify them. Where the game differs is the categories of cars. Unlike some other games where you can pit a highly modified car against the weak cars, Rockstar has introduced a progression system which restricts you from doing this. Only certain cars are made available at certain times and to unlock more parts, more races have to be won. The other major difference is in the majority of races you have to come first to progress, this can lead to a great deal of frustration.
Rockstar has basically taken the GTA 3 engine, modified it to feature real cities, worked on the racing engine and created a game around it. Now on paper this sounds fantastic and it is true that the cities are brimming with life and look stunning but with that bustle comes the traffic and this can be a problem. You see, because Rockstar wanted the ultimate simulation, they have put in a great deal of cars into the game and they become your nemesis. Sometimes you are punished for being too far ahead of the pack by plowing into an unavoidable tram. It feels like Burnout 1 and 2 where the game was heavily criticized for providing unavoidable crashes. The same can be said for MC3.
Other than that the racing is fantastic and at high speed you feel on the edge. There are a number of different races such as circuit, point to point and a unique mode where the game places a single point and the first car to get there by any means possible wins. Like the other Midnight Club's, Rockstar has included secret shortcuts such as driving through shopping centers or off a rollercoaster jump - you just have to find them. The racing is close as well. As you upgrade your car, so does the AI and thus the racing is never easy. The thing about this is that even if you're quite far behind the pack, with a few bursts of nitrous you can catch up and be up with the leaders again. Never ever give up in this game, unless you're swimming with the fishes.
One big change for the third iteration is the cars and parts are licensed. Rockstar has contacted companies that are associated with tuning in the USA and managed to get them all in the game. Again rather than cater to the mainstream, they have cars such as Humvees and Lexus; the exact models which stars from sports such as the NBA and NFL like to modify and cruise around in. You can go absolutely nuts in this game customizing with ultimate bling, fast parts and the ability to change and paint almost anything on the car. Another change is the special moves each category of car can do. You can slow down time in some cars, bash cars out of the way in more bulky cars and this generally removes some of the realism in the game. It is a quite cool effect and useful, however.
The three featured cities are also only in the United States as well; Atlanta, Chicago and the home of American cars, and thus very fitting, Detroit. They are all unique in their own way and while Rockstar has not replicated the cities road by road, store by store, you will find a lot of recognizable buildings featured throughout. The fact that it is only American cities is a bit of a disappointment when compared to the second game which featured Europe, America and Japan.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. It has a gritty feel that makes it look like a PS2 game but the cities, draw distance and detail on the cars puts it firmly in the Xbox field. It just feels as if PS2 was the main platform and then the game was ported. The cars are highly detailed and take damage. The damage is cosmetic and does not affect the driving however. One disappointment is the lack of an in game map with landmarks shown. You can cruise around but if you want to find cool things, you'll have to do it on your lonesome. Sound effects are fairly stock standard, but the soundtrack sticks out and even though personally I'm not a fan of R&B, while playing this game I can listen to it as it adds to the atmosphere and is inline with the tuner mentality.
Midnight Club 3 will be a disappointment to those expecting something like NFS Underground 3. Rockstar has made the ultimate simulation of the tuning world but doing so may have turned some people away. However those people will be replaced by the people who recognize that this is what the tuning world is really like and appreciate the level of depth that Rockstar has gone to. Not the most glitzy and glamorous racer around, but definitely the closest to the real thing yet.
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