Rockstar Games released Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition a couple of months back to both fan and critical acclaim. Eschewing the overly commercialized, hokey, and downright stereotypical stylings of the street racing genre, it was a most welcome offering. Now, developer Rockstar Leeds has cranked out a PSP iteration of its console racer and has managed to cram nearly the entire scope of the console game onto one of those tiny Universal Media Discs. Unfortunately, a few serious liberties had to be taken to make that happen. Some ugly load times, minimal damage modeling, a few periodic sound bugs, and one unpleasant frame rate all conspire to make the PSP version of Midnight Club 3 a weaker overall effort. Sure, it's still a mostly fun and sometimes exciting street racer, but when put up against competition like Ridge Racer and Need for Speed Underground Rivals, it seems a lot more ordinary.
Like the Midnight Clubs before it, Midnight Club 3 offers up a huge, open-ended city for you to race in. Well, there are actually three cities. You'll begin in San Diego, but you'll eventually be able to open up the cities of Atlanta and Detroit as well. Unfortunately, it takes an exceedingly long time to load up each of these cities--upward of 70 seconds in most cases. The in-game loading times are also annoying. During gameplay you often have to switch between racing, cruising, and visiting the local garage, and jumping from spot to spot always results in some lengthy loading. The console versions weren't exactly quick when it came to in-game loading, but they were an absolute breeze compared to the PSP iteration.
Each city is chock-full of back alleys, hidden shortcuts, and special jumps that you'll be hard pressed to discover until you've spent ample time driving around. Thankfully, the game provides a cruise mode where you can just drive and explore, which isn't nearly as boring as it sounds, because there are also some hidden Rockstar logos strewn about that will earn you goodies when you collect them all. It's also useful to get familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the city, as knowing your way around is immensely beneficial come race time, since most of the races in Midnight Club 3 are checkpoint races. These checkpoints are scattered all over the place, and oftentimes there are multiple paths that will take you to each one. Half the challenge of the game is trying to find the best path to each checkpoint. The one problem with this methodology is that it can be quite frustrating the first few times you engage in a particularly challenging race because you won't know where all the required turns and potential obstacles are. This leads to a fair amount of trial and error that isn't altogether detrimental (especially since using the free-roaming mode gives you a good idea of how the city is laid out), but it definitely has its annoying moments. Fortunately, there are also point-to-point races and timed races to provide some variety to the action, and they're far less taxing to boot.
Midnight Club 3 is an arcade racer through and through. If you're looking for even a modicum of realism from this game, you might as well forget it. The physics are geared toward big jumps, taking tight corners at ridiculous speeds, big, exaggerated crashes, and frenetic action. The controls are generally tight and easy to pick up, though it will probably take you at least a little time to get accustomed to the different car classes. With more than 60 licensed cars available, there's a lot to choose from, including tuners, muscle cars, trucks and SUVs, motorcycles, and luxury automobiles. H2 Hummers, Cadillac Escalades, Mitsubishi Lancers, '64 Chevy Impalas, and Kawasaki Ninjas are just some of the many vehicles you can race with. Though nearly all the cars are fast and loose, every car type has its own strengths and weaknesses, which come in to play with the game's unique special moves system.
Yes, that's right. The cars in Midnight Club 3 actually have special moves. While that might sound a little wacky, it's not so bizarre. There are three types of special abilities assigned to the car classes. Big, intimidating cars can use an ability that knocks all the traffic around you out of your way; others can use an "agro" ability to inflict extra damage to cars you hit; and the speedier vehicles can use an effect that slows down time, letting you simply maneuver around any traffic that gets in your way. These abilities are handy, though perhaps not as well implemented as they could have been. The slow-down ability, for instance, slows down time almost too much, and it doesn't last long enough to be useful. Similarly, the intimidation ability the big vehicles use sometimes doesn't do anything except push the car in front of you farther ahead. Still, when the abilities do work, they're satisfying. And when you couple them with the preexisting nitrous and slipstream speed boosts, things can get pretty crazy.
Perhaps the best thing about Midnight Club 3's racing is that the difficulty never feels artificial. If you wreck once, or even twice, you still have a perfectly solid chance to catch up and win the race, as your opponents are prone to wrecking and spinning out as well. Similarly, if you catch the lead and can avoid wrecking or doing anything stupid, your opponents won't just magically overtake you.
The racing in the game is fast and frantic--so you'll do well to learn the city streets ahead of time, since there isn't much room for error.
The bulk of the offline racing you'll be doing in Midnight Club 3 will likely be in the robust career mode. You begin with about 20 grand in your pocket and an introduction to a local garage owner, who sets you up with a ride of your choice and an "in" to the underground street racing scene. Make no mistake, if you're looking for some kind of dramatic tale of intrigue or anything involving a lot of interaction with your typically stereotyped street racing characters, you won't find either here. The career mode focuses squarely on the racing, which is a welcome change from the hackneyed attempts at driving game stories that other similar games have tried.