Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition is the latest street racing game to hit consoles. The rise in popularity of modified vehicles - obviously helped by 'MTV's Pimp My Ride' - has made everyone aware of the world of custom tune-ups, and videogame publishers have made the most of it. Much like EA's Need for Speed Underground 2, MC3 lets you roam open cities, upgrade numerous high-performance vehicles and take on other car tuning enthusiasts. While Need for Speed Underground 2 failed to hit the spot, Rockstar's MC3 delivers one of the most entertaining arcade racing experiences ever to hit consoles.
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 more wins opening more tournaments, further cities (Detroit and Atlanta) and more cash. Eventually, even the most prized vehicles will be available to you.
During your career you'll predominantly race 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.
During your career you'll acquire new vehicles 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 part manufactures, so anyone who fantasises about tuning up their battered old Ford Fiesta can finally have the car of their dreams. MC3 doesn't quite offer the same customisation depth that NFS Underground 2 offers, but the user interface is a lot easier to use and what's on offer is more than enough for most players.
Racing isn't as simple as you may think. Cars can be equipped with Nitrous, enabling 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 (or with a single friend) you can take your vehicles online and compete with the rest of the world. You can also form clans online and race against rival clans to see who really owns the streets (not literally). Online play is generally pretty smooth and lag-free, but just as with almost every online game, there are moments when players will warp to new locations. Both the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions offer the same online experience, but the PlayStation 2 version doesn't include voice chat while in the game, with players having to make do with text chat.
An excellent feature is the game's route creator. By flying through the streets of any city you have unlocked, you can place markers down to create your own custom made course. If you spot a nice section of the city while cruising, exit out to the editor and create the course you imagined. Due to the games totally open nature, these custom made courses are no different to what you play in the main game and the feature is an excellent life-extending addition to the game.
The sense of speed in MC3 is pretty phenomenal. It's comparable to that seen in Burnout 3, but the increased levels of traffic found in MC3 make high-speed racing an intense experience. City lights illuminate the dark skies and headlights smear across the congested freeways. It might not look as crisp or as vibrant as Burnout 3, but its rough, urban aesthetics fit the game perfectly. The only slight blemish is the game's somewhat faltering framerate. The Xbox version generally runs pretty solidly, but the PlayStation 2 version is a little less stable.
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. If you aren't into the music the game offers and you're playing on the Xbox version you can set up your own custom soundtracks, but the music provided really helps you get into the mood to play the game.
Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition is unashamedly an all out arcade racer, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that. It might not offer the depth of the Gran Turismos and Forzas of the world, but few games can deliver the same thrill that MC3 offers for its duration. The game's Career mode will last you up to 20 hours and online play could see you playing this for months to come. Even if you have no interest in car modding, Midnight Club 3 should be experienced for the sheer adrenaline rush that it offers.