PLATFORM: Playstation 2, Xbox
DEVELOPER: Rockstar San Diego

Get this:
I was doing about 130 mph around the rain-slicked perimeter in Atlanta when I
realized my next destination was back towards the city. No problem; blast
through the breakaway railing and fly down a slope and across Peachtree

On the
headset I can hear two chumps in plastic coffins chattering behind me. They’re juiced
with slipstream boost and talking shit about my ’64 Impala. Now I know what
‘lol’ sounds like.

I hit the
ground and flick a look back. They hit a second later and boost at the same
time. One boosted too soon, no traction, and he goes sliding into the corner of a
building. The other, on my left, lands square, boosts fine and turns into Mary
Lou Retton as he goes head-on into a bus that crests the rise right in front of
him. I’m cackling because my heavy-ass Impala would never do four flips
straight up in the air. His import rejects gravity and I fly by.

is for toys, not cars.

The Pitch

Six years
ago, Angel Studios made the first truly great urban arcade racer: the PC-only Midtown
. A couple years back, Angel became Rockstar San Diego, and here
they are once again, turning out another truly solid successor to their early hit.

nothing here you haven’t done before. The cities may be new – San Diego,
Atlanta and Detroit – but the play is a mix of checkpoint races and closed city
tracks. You’ll challenge roving ‘hookmen’, random racers, and enter races which
require a specific type of car to compete. But the basics are always the same:
super fast driving with no consequences, as long as you win.

The Play

really. There are no consequences. Spend hours perfectly tuning, painting and
tricking your ride, then smash it into a museum and it’ll look good as new for
the next race. Cops can’t arrest you, only add time to the lap. Your car can’t be
killed, but someone else might win. Lose a race? Just run it again.

because Midnight Club 3 strips away everything that doesn’t pertain to
fast arcade racing. I’m sad that there’s nothing but a cosmetic damage model,
but then I drove through a tree and forgot about it. Then I tried to drive through a dumpster, nearly stopped dead, and
realized I had to learn what would crumple and what wouldn’t.

Tail End.

things make the game what it is: speed, physics and AI. The speed is paramount,
and the sensation is pretty incredible. There’s no Burnout rush, but the
motion blur and nitro effects do a damn good job at convincing me I’m cruising
at twice the speed Doc needed to go back in time.

And those
collisions I described exercise the physics. It’s all arcade tuned, which is to
say forgiving, but demanding. Unless you’re already half off the ground and get
clipped into the air, a head-on collision is little more than a pause. But
handling changes dramatically from car to car, and then again with each performance
upgrade. And when you’re heavy and fast enough to t-bone cross traffic so that
cars spin into the path of your opposition, try not to smile.

there’s the AI. Not ‘smart’ per se, but aggressive, and it doesn’t cheat. Crash
a couple times, and you might catch up because the other cars are driving hard
and crashing, too. Pull out in front of the pack, and as long as you hold the
line, the AI won’t elasticise it’s way up to you.


At first,
there’s not much challenge. Once I realized that all the races aren’t as easy
as initial courses imply, I began to anjoy the anticipation of each new race. Over
time, I found myself being genuinely challenged by the AI, simply because it
gorws more aggressive and doesn’t use any machine tricks.

Using the
aforementioned slipstream boost helps. This is a carryover from MC2;
spend a few seconds on the tail of a competitor and a gague will quickly fill.
Hit the boost button for a burst of speed, but do it on a straight bit of road.
You’ll also unlock a few other car-sensitive special moves, the roar, agro and
zone, which offer new ways to push the competition off the road. Along with the
two-wheel driving ability, these are all fairly ridiculous, and are better
suited to multiplayer showboating.


As far as
the whole ‘tuner’ aspect goes, MC3 is far more reserved than I
expected. Sure, you’ll find scads of decals and cosmetic playthings, but when
it comes to performance upgrades, everything is offered in stages of three. The
most powerful upgrades need to be unlocked and then purchased. And while you
can choose from a bevy of manufacturers, there’s no performance difference
between them.

that’s all in line with the arcade approach, and if nothing else, the system is
as streamlined as every other aspect of the game. Apart from the framerate chug
as you explore some of the menus, upgrading a car can be done in a matter of
seconds. For the hardcore tuners, that’s probably a downside, especially since
there’s no dyno or other performance evaluation, but I was happy with
Rockstar’s choices.

The Presentation

where it gets a bit shaky, at least at first. Remember how lousy San
looked on the PS2? This isn’t quite that bad, but for all the
shiny bits and flashy lighting effects, there’s a great load of aliasing and
rather messy textures. I’ve been playing MC3 on the Xbox, and it’s not a
patch on Project Gotham II, which is still the best-looking racer on the

Corvette Ass.

said, Rockstar got most everything else right. The draw distance is insane, as
is the amount of stuff on the screen at any time. You’ve got traffic,
pedestrians, seven other racers, and environmental damage like crazy. And with
the exception of some frame rate lags in the heaviest situations, the graphics
engine purrs.

While the
aliasing affects some cars heavily (like the weighty, straight line rides I
dig) there’s no lack of identity to each auto; you can tell a Lexus from a
Honda in a second, and with the ridiculous amount of cosmetic upgrades races
become moving showroom floors. The NPC traffic in the game can get routine,
though. Those drivers are meant to be obstacles, not eye candy.

all the detail adds up to fairly long load times, even on the Xbox. The wait
varies from one situation to another, but it’s typically longer than most comparable

is mixed. The soundtrack is sprawling, and can be sorted by genre. The
new Nine Inch Nails track, a lame single in any context, sounds particularly
limp when driving at 150mph, but most of the choices are good, and some are

I wasn’t
thrilled with the sound effects, but few are actually bad; most just sound a
bit generic. Dialouge and voice acting are still pretty lousy, especially when
cops are yelling ‘pull over’, but Rockstar was smart enough to leave the spoken
word to a bare minimum. Outside of a few cutscenes to introduce important
aspects of the game, you’ll find little in the way of irritating voice work.

The Replay

This is where it gets good for anyone willing to play online. Straightforward
races, user-configurable checkpoint challenges, and variants like capture the
flag, tag and a paint mode. There’s a lot of variety, and MC3 allows players to
enter or leave a race at any time, with up to eight rolling at once.

Clans are also supported, which is a great touch. I’ll never use
it, I’m sure, but since there’s already a huge car club element to the game,
I’m really happy that Rockstar has facilitated player-created clubs.

Even offline, there’s a lot to do. Since clearing each city isn’t
required to move to the next, you can open all three cities and still have ten
hours left. There’s a lot in here, period.

The Verdict

If the
words ‘arcade racing’ make you salivate, then get on it. The first two games in
the series were fun, but very flawed. MC3 fixes almost all the flaws and
leaves a super-streamlined game.

At first
I thought the result was too much like other games in the genre, and in some
ways that’s true. But as I played more, I discovered I was consistently having
fun…a lot of fun, really. Without the aliasing and load times I’d be totally in
love. As it is, I’m sure I’ll be playing Midnight Club 3 for quite a while.

8.5 out of 10