Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition from Rockstar arrived on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox earlier this year and quickly became the No.1 street racing game around. With blazing speed, online play, customisable vehicles and a pumping soundtrack it left its rivals in the dust. With the PSP version of NFS: Underground Rivals on the PSP not being able to compete with its home console sibling, can Rockstar claim pole position on the PSP as well?
MC3 has a lot to offer, mainly through its lengthy Career mode. You start off in a standard car and are thrown straight into the action. For the opening few hours of your career you'll be cruising around the streets of San Diego, looking for challenges and entering small-time tournaments. A few wins will give you the money required to buy some custom parts, and then you're on your way to car (and bike) customisation heaven, with wins unlocking more tournaments and cities (Detroit and Atlanta), and earning you cash. Eventually, even the most prized vehicles will be available to you.
During your career you'll predominantly compete in checkpoint races, speeding through the open-ended cities from checkpoint to checkpoint. These races rarely fail to be enjoyable, but on occasion their 'find your own way' style can be frustrating. One wrong turn can send you off down a path that you just can't recover from, so you'll often have to run through courses multiple times before you have the route fixed in your mind. Certain sanctioned races take place in sectioned-off parts of the city, but you'll generally have to contend with busy streets and congested motorways.
You'll acquire new vehicles throughout your career that will let you take part in special tournaments. These speciality races force you into changing vehicles and make sure the game doesn't become stale. Of course you'll want to make sure that your cars and bikes are fully tricked out with all the performance upgrades you can afford and as many decals and body-kit additions you can fit on. The game includes parts from a multitude of real life manufactures, so anyone who fantasises about tuning up their battered old Ford Fiesta can finally have the car of their dreams.
'Certain vehicle classes have their own special abilities that are unlocked during the career mode...'
Racing isn't as simple as you may think. Cars can be equipped with Nitrous, giving you limited bursts of insane speed, and slipstreaming opponents can give you speed boosts. How well you use these boosts becomes vital in the more difficult races. Rather oddly for a semi-serious arcade racer is the inclusion of 'special moves'. Certain vehicle classes have their own special abilities that are unlocked during the career mode, which if used at the right time can help you achieve what seems impossible: AGRO is a special ability for trucks, SUVs and luxury sedans that allows you to plough through any vehicles that get in your way; ROAR is available to choppers and muscle cars and when activated clears the path ahead of you; and Exotic cars and sportbikes gain the ability to get into the ZONE, allowing you to slow down time and easily manoeuvre yourself out of trouble.
As new race types, car classes and special abilities are opened, the game shows you short informational videos to make sure you're familiar with what you're about to do, meaning you'll never have to consult the game manual. You'll also be treated to some cutscenes with a number of garage mechanics who tell you about new challenges that have opened up. You're not going to get much in the way of story, but the cutscenes work well and help break up the racing.
Outside of the career mode you have a series of instant action arcade modes, ranging from 'capture the flag' to 'tag'. All of these modes can be played with a number of pick-ups available to racers, but you can tailor this to how you wish. If you get bored of playing by yourself you can take your vehicles and race against friends wirelessly. Unlike the home console versions of the game, the PSP version can't be played online, but assuming you have enough friends who own the game you can play together while hanging out.
The sense of speed in the home console versions of MC3 was pretty phenomenal, but unfortunately the PSP version isn't quite as special. The motion blur seen in the original versions has been toned down so much it can barely be seen and the game's frame rate isn't all that smooth. While the PlayStation 2 version had a few frame rate issues, the PSP port never really reaches something that you could call smooth; for the most part, though, the game is perfectly playable, with gameplay-affecting slowdown only occurring now and again. Damage modelling has also been cut back, with vehicles hardly showing any damage at all. However, the vehicles have all been modelled well and compare well to the PS2 and Xbox versions, even sporting reflections.
The game's soundtrack is perhaps the most fitting I have ever heard. Rockstar - no doubt experienced in the art of the soundtrack after their GTA titles - have put together a track-listing which includes artists such as Twista, Beenie Man, Queens of the Stone Age, Ash, Calyx and more. However, there are a few issues with sound effects that hurt the game's audio, such as some quite terrible sounding tyre screeching at the start of a race, and a few sounds that are repeated far too often, but the soundtrack is good enough to counter these problems.
I'd have liked that to be the end of the review, but there is one problem that has yet to be discussed: load times. It's worth pointing out that we haven't experienced any of the 70 second loads that our American friends were talking about in their reviews of the game in June, so we expect Rockstar have tweaked things a little. However, loads still take between 25 and 50 seconds. If you are one of these people who plays their PSP at a desk while doing something else, this is no problem, but when sat on a bus or train this waiting may start to grate. The frame rate issues become less apparent as you become immersed in the game, but long load times are always a problem.
Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition is unashamedly an all out arcade racer, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that. The game's Career mode will last you up to 20 hours and while the PSP port isn't perfect, it succeeds more often than not. Perhaps Rockstar should have aimed a little lower with their first PSP title, but anyone wanting some portable street racing probably won't be disappointed.