Review By: Siou Choy
|Developer:||Rockstar San Diego|
|# Of Players:||1-8 (1-2 Split-Screen)|
|Accessories:||Xbox Live (play, download), System Link, HDTV 480p|
Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition isn't your typical racing game. Following on the heels of such tacky hip-hop based car customization shows as Pimp My Ride and (even more directly) the Fast and the Furious franchise, MC3D brings the gamer into the sordid worlds of both the gearhead and the street racer. The game opens with some annoying, bald, overweight, tattooed cholo in a wife-beater who can't even get off his cell phone long enough to hold down a 2 minute conversation with you about your entry into the wonderful world of thug life.I mean street racing. Not only does this guy talk like Cheech, but he can't even manage to speak basic English sentences at you. I wasn't sure whether to laugh (talk about taking hip hop records at face value) or look for a cheat code where you can make your character beat the hell out of this stupid S.O.B. What a moron. I really worry about the future of this country, if kids grow up thinking guys like this are not only normal, but somehow "cool".
Now those of us (like myself) who figure racing down your local drag in the middle of the night is somewhat of a rarity these days may or may not be taking the sheep-like mentality of the American public into question: apparently they just had a big raid on street drag racing in Newark the other day. To each his own, I guess. Regardless, the whole street-racing angle really doesn't have as large of an impact on the game as you might think. In fact, MC3D spends more time and energy on the whole Pimp My Ride bit, as the whole point of the game appears to be making your car look "damn fine, n*gga!" You earn money for all this chop shop nonsense through participation in street races (which, bizarrely, seem to happen at all hours of the day and when it seems like everyone and their grandmother is out on the road). I won't even mention the annoying, apparently invincible police cars that pop up every now and again to stop you - even if you back up and ram the bastards, they seem to take no damage whatsoever (unlike yourself).
Let's start with the basics, shall we? For those of us who would rather just pick up a controller and race than spend a good 45 minutes working on cars, we have Arcade Mode, which aside from the obvious attributes also contains a series of mini games to keep things from getting too repetitive. For those who picked this game up looking specifically for either the street-racing angle or have some thing with fixing up their cars, there's Career mode. Career mode is all about those cheesy car customizations made popular by the aforementioned Pimp My Ride and Fast and the Furious series. That said, the only relevant changes and additions that you can make to your car seem to revolve wholly around appearance. Any changes made to your car's engine, transmission, wheels, etc. do improve the car somewhat, but it really doesn't matter which engine you buy since each one will raise the power of your car the same standard amount, the only difference being the (apparently obscure and unfamiliar) brand name under your hood. Those of us who don't know much more about engine brand names than "I prefer the feel and power of a Chevy engine over that of a Ford or Mitsubishi, and a nice American 3.4 V6 over a torqued-up Japanese V4" will wind up randomly picking one to add to your car, as there appears to be no difference whatsoever in stats.
So basically, it's too bad for you if you aren't a total gearhead, because despite the option of Arcade Mode, it seems like the main purpose of MC3D is just that: to work up your car and make it look stylin'. The weird part is, after all that work you put into the damn thing, it's all too easy to smash up that precious vehicle due to the hundreds of pedestrians and cars jamming up the roads (who ever heard of street racing during the day?). Of course, being a racing game, the damage doesn't seem to be permanent - smash the car up bad enough, and a new one miraculously replaces it in the middle of the race. Nonetheless, it seems completely absurd that there would be a drag race going on while there were so many cars out on the road, and in this respect the game seems to owe as much to Crazy Taxi as any actual street race.
Also like Crazy Taxi, but far, far worse, is the use of direction arrows that are supposed to guide you through the course, but tend to point you in the wrong direction, into a highway divider, or right into an endlessly long wall of buildings more often than not. Missing one turn or taking the turn too early because of the arrow's inexactitude can cause you to lose the race or send you totally wrong area of the city. Apparently the developers wanted gamers to have to explore every inch of the cities they created, providing such horrible directions to force the gamer to find their own secret path through the city, and utilize whatever mysterious shortcuts you discover in future races - to this end, there's actually a Cruise option to allow the gamer to explore the city at their leisure. Also on these lines, there's an annoying caveat to each race in Career Mode: you actually have to drive around the city to find someone to race with, then drive back to the race location to start the race. This can be a real turnoff for those, like myself, who would prefer a more straightforward race. Thankfully, you also have the option of the Arcade Mode's Circuit Race, where you don't have to worry about either driving around town looking for someone to race with or confusing arrows, as extra streets are blocked off and there is only one way to go.
By playing through Career Mode, you are able to unlock over 60 cars. Thankfully, you do start out with a few decent cars to choose from (I stuck with the '64 Chevy Impala, which was close in feel, both engine-wise and in how it hugs the road, to my 15 year old Camaro). This is a good thing, since unlocking the rest of the cars can take a very long time and only those truly committed to the game will be patient enough to unlock every vehicle.
The soundtrack, well.it's no Crazy Taxi, that's for sure. A strange mix of hip hop, emo and what passes for reggae these days, the MC3D track list features a whole lot of unknowns beside a few more notorious acts (50 Cent, Sean Paul).but there's a problem. First of all, you never seem to get past the same 4 or 5 cuts (the booklet seems to point to at least 20) - every race starts with one of the same few songs. As if this weren't bad enough, most of these aren't even allowed to run for any appreciable length - the 50 Cent cut, for example, kept cutting off within seconds of his starting to rap!
Now, to the high points: controls and graphics. Believe it or not (and all too rare in a racing game these days), the controls are truly awesome, and one of the high points in the game. The cars handle very well, hugging the road and feeling very realistic in drive, at least when you choose one of the Chevys, and for a change, you don't feel like you're all over the road even on high-speed turns, effectively making MC3D the anti-Vanishing Point. There are also power-ups and add-ons that can give you an advantage in the race, but these can easily send you out of control when not used properly.
MC3D is definitely one of the nicer looking games on the market at the moment. Small details in the visuals of the cars and their environment really make the graphics stand out. These are some beautiful cars, and some really nice, realistic looking environments (insofar as each city looks like an actual city per se, but read on.). That said, it would seem that either every city in America has become a carbon copy of each other or the folks at Rockstar didn't spend as much time on research as they should have. While the cities do look different from each other, they don't appear to jive with what I've seen and experienced of those of them I'd been to. In other words, driving in Detroit didn't really feel that much different than driving in San Diego (and two more different cities, I can't imagine). With an uncritical eye, however, one can just sit back and appreciate just how well done both graphics and controls are, and that may be good enough for a lot of people - even those with little or no interest in the whole customization or street racing focus of the game.
Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition tries very hard to please all audiences in the hopes that everyone, regardless of background, will want to pick up a copy. For those who want a straightforward, easy pick-up-and-play racing game, we have Arcade Mode; while Career Mode caters to grease monkey types who want to spend an inordinate portion of their gameplay customizing their cars. There's (some pretty bad) emo cuts for the pop-punk crowd and hip-hop or reggae for the "thug lifers". All told, it's a worthy effort, if a fairly flawed one: one of the better looking and handling racing games out there, but there don't seem to be as many locations or tracks to race in as other, comparable games, and the extremely poor direction arrows and schizophrenic lack of focus (is it a customization game, or a racing game? For hip hoppers only, or for more general audiences?) may leave this one sitting on the shelf more often than not.
Posted: 2005-11-12 09:55:31PST