I'll be honest about it; Midnight Club 3 on the Xbox is quite possibly my favorite arcade racer of all-time. It looks good, its got tons of replay value, excellent multiplayer modes and it made you want to keep playing it even after some particularly frustrating races later on. Yes, there were a few framerate issues here and there and the game simply boiled down to checkpoint racing, but I gave it a 9.1 and challenged anyone to find a better arcade racer. Now, a few months later, Rockstar gives us the PSP version of MC3: DUB Edition proving that the PSP is capable of massive environments, amazing graphics and RPG-length games. But does all this come with a hefty price attached to it as well? And will it overshadow everything that MC3 does so well?
Rockstar's Midnight Club 3 gives us an epic single player mode which should last the average gamer well over 20 hours to complete. And this is a racing game! You will be given three complete cities to race in where you'll take on challenges, win tournaments and beat rivals. In the process you will unlock various cars and car classes, choppers, SUV and some mind-blowing exotic rides. There are also some Rockstar icons hidden throughout the cities which will greatly rewards the keen gamer. And yes, there is the requisite car upgrade garage where you will be able to change everything on your car/bike to your heart's content. And while the game may require you to upgrade your car's performance to keep on wining races, it never requires you to change the look of your car just to satisfy a "style" rating like in other games do. A classy move by Rockstar.
If you've played MC3 on console, you know how massive this game is and I'm happy to report that the conversion to handheld is nothing short of amazing. Almost everything has been ported over; the wonderfully detailed cutscenes, the HUD, the entire environments and cities, the garage modes, the soundtrack, the various arcade modes, the multiplayer aspect, etc. MC3 will stun you from the start with its sheer size. But everything listed above comes with EXTREMELY long load times. You'll no doubt have heard about these and they have not been exaggerated. Anytime the game loads it takes forever. You switch cars in your garage; loading. You restart a race: loading. You change menus; loading. Having a game load is normal. Having it take upwards of a minute on a handheld (made to be played for short bursts of time) is unacceptable. Does it kill the game? Yes and no. Once loaded, you can wander around a city for as long as you like without further loading. When racing, there are no other load times until you finish or restart. But yes, the long load times will make or break this game for many and understandably so.
Thankfully, Midnight Club 3 handles well. The analog stick may be hard for many to use, but MC3 allows you to customize the directional buttons as you see fit. Using the D-pad makes the driving experience a lot more manageable. The arcade racing goodness is in full force here, complete with "special moves" like the slipstream turbo, in-air control, working hydraulics, burnouts, weight transfer, two wheel driving and a few neat tricks like agro. And yes, this is on a handheld. The only thing holding back the gameplay aspect of MC3 is that it feels overly slow compared to the console versions. Even with the faster cars, the sense of speed always seems off. This may be due to the proportions of vehicle versus environment or simply a the fact that a few graphical details that haven't been included. Still, the cars each drive differently and the upgrades performed on the engines really make a difference. Bikes are also included and are pretty fun to drive around too.
For the most part, Midnight Club 3 is about checkpoint racing. From experience, I know that this usually alienates many gamers, even hardcore racing fans. The problem has always been that developers want to give the gamer as much freedom as possible, but at the same time, make the next checkpoint as easily identifiable as can be. This is a very tricky balance, but Midnight Club 3 succeeds in doing the impossible. In each and every race, it is always easy to identify where the next checkpoint is and although there is usually a direct route to it, the game always allows you multiple paths in reaching it. A race that may seem impossible to win generally boils down to finding a shorter distance between two points. This may frustrate a few. Add the long loading times in between and it may lead to fits of insanity as well. You have been warned!
It should be pointed that MC3 is a challenging game that can madden, frustrate and just plain infuriate at the same time. While the A.I. is very good and also adaptive to your skills, it's sometimes the last 10 seconds of a race that can make all the difference between wining and losing. It is not uncommon to race a perfect race only to hit something stupid in the last 3 seconds before the finish line (and lose the race). This happens a lot, and it will drive you crazy, but rest assured that no race is impossible. The handheld version also feels a little easier than the console version if this helps anyone.
When not playing the story mode, you can play the arcade mode or network with friends (Wi-Fi LAN support and Ad Hoc mode - Infrastructure mode is not supported) for multiplayer game modes. In either case, you will be able to customize your races as you see fit. There are autocross modes (track racing with barriers) and ordered and unordered checkpoint races. You'll also have access to a few other racing modes that are much less conventional like capture the flag, paint and tag. And what would an arcade racer be without power ups? While completely optional in multiplayer games, the various power ups (disruptors, reverse steering, stealth, etc) and their careful and timely use can sometimes make the difference between wining a close race and completely blowing your opponents away. Many choose to turn them off to preserve the authenticity of street racing, but in some modes, a few power ups are just plain fun. The point is that, as with all things in Midnight Club 3, Rockstar has given you the option to do things your way. And for this, we are thankful.
Midnight Club 3 looks amazing! Even on a tiny handheld screen (although the PSP's LCD is amazing to look at) there is absolutely no denying this. The game looks sharp and feels alive. The cars are exceptionally detailed and the street traffic adds a layer of realism to the various cities. The only drawback is that it's sometime hard to make out where you'll be in a few seconds. What I mean is; while the foreground is always bright and crisp, the background and more importantly, your eventual destination always appears a little dark. This isn't a big drawback, just a minor annoyance.
In the sound department, Midnight Club 3 is more than impressive. The engine noises are distinct and each upgrade changes you car's acoustics as well. Better yet, Midnight Club 3 just plain sounds "slick" and "fast". You can almost feel the sense of speed just from its sound. The included soundtrack is both massive and full of quality tunes. The songs fit the mood perfectly and the soundtrack is so large, you won't be hearing the same song over and over again.
In the end, it's with heavy heart that I give MC3 the score it deserves. This game shows us the power of the PSP and gives us hope for other massive, detailed, expansive games to come. It shows us that a game as massive as MC3 on console can be ported in its entirety to a handheld device and that feat, in and of itself, is a giant leap forward for handheld gaming. But in the same breath, with the loading times as long as they are, it also shows us that the PSP, much like the PS2 in its infancy, is a system that hasn't fully been understood yet. Seek times for data need to be tweaked and streaming needs to be better implemented. Still, if you are a fan of arcade racing and MC3 in general, there is no finer street racing game available on PSP regardless of the score. The sheer amount of things to do, depth of gameplay and size of cities ensures that you'll be enjoying this title for a long time to come.