The First Midtown Madness graced my dilapidated PC keyboard with its total disregard for human safety and pedestrian rights. It was a breath of fresh air, and ever since I have awaited each installment with starry eyes. But while the original and its sequel were developed by Angel Studios (who later went on to bring us the Midnight Club games), the third iteration has been handled by developer DICE, the race heads who brought us the excellent Rallisport Challenge.
In truth, the first two lacked depth and innovation, though they made up for it by doling out plenty of mayhem, allowing you to careen through massive cityscapes with an untold level of interactivity. The no-nonsense online multiplayer really thrust the series into the upper echelon of fast-paced arcade style motor-rollin'.
Thankfully, Midtown Madness 3 is not much different. It might be a three-year old gaming experience, but it's fresh and brand new for thousands of console gamers.
You won't find much 'fresh and new' in the all-too familiar checkpoint driven single-player Career mode known as "Work Undercover." You choose from a list of thinly veiled checkpoint related jobs as a Driver. You'll drive everything from Hummers and buses to several high-performance sporty little numbers, which then become available for the Cruise, Blitz and Checkpoint races against CPU drivers.
The single-player modes are truly old-school staples. Cruise is your standard take-a-drive mode where you can leisurely tour the streets of each city to take in the lay of the land for the real races. Blitz is your basic time trial where you race against the clock. Checkpoint racing is a series of AI races through several established checkpoints that can be hit in any order the driver chooses. Just grab them all before any of the CPU racers.
The sense of speed is readily apparent as you whip through the city streets smashing through poles, garbage cans, bus stop stalls, flower stands, pylons, barricades, traffic meters and so much more. The cars are well detailed with plenty of gloss and sheen to the paint jobs. The framerate is smooth, managing no slowdown even with heavy roadside calamity and all eight racers on-screen. She's no Grand Turismo 3, but the graphics work very well and are greatly complemented with the surprising level of interactivity.
You will also pay a price for your reckless driving by way of vehicular entropy. The harder you drive your Lotus Esprit or old-school 70s 'Stang, the more damage it takes. You can easily find your front-end missing (and possibly dragged several blocks) with your hood bouncing up and down, threatening to fly off its hinges. Windows shatter, trunks pop open and the guy at the detailing shop is just licking his chops when he sees all those dents. It's fun to see all the cool damage modeling slowly erode your car.
The single player games hold their own for a while, but the AI isn't really competitive enough and there's no customization at all. So if/when you tire of playing alone, I highly recommend taking these wheels online.
Made for the no frills-user, Midtown Madness 3 features really solid Xbox Live support. You simply select multiplayer and your account is located and logged in. You can hop right into a Quick Match or you can choose Optimatch, which allows you to fine tune your search down to race type, skill level, city and other options. You can even drop right into a race without waiting for it to be completed, so there is no waiting. All the cars are available (though the host may block a few rides) regardless of whether or not you have unlocked them.
The game modes include Hunter, where one car is the hunter and must bash other cars ("prey") in order to transform them into hunters as well. The driver who remains prey for the longest time wins. Standard player vs. player Checkpoint races and the Cruise modes are also offered online.
The best of the bunch is Capture the Gold, which plays much like Smuggler's Run multiplayer. Gold is spawned somewhere in the city. The driver who snags it must then cart it safely to his brightly marked pen placed elsewhere in the city. But all it takes is a well-placed collision for your claim to be jumped, a great catalyst for chaos. The host can also place a weight on the gold to further burden the gold-fevered racer.
The banter can get pretty hilarious over the Xbox Live voice communication. You can set filters to disguise your voice, plus you can choose to scold all players or just your teammates with a press of the left analog stick.
Though this is an all-around solid game, there are a few significant potholes. Two immense cities - Paris and D.C. - are just not enough. Hopefully the option for downloadable content (none at this time) will address this in the future. The arcade-style control makes for a mellow learning curve, but all the cars wind up feeling identical. More precision and distinction between the vehicles would have upped the replay value.
Midtown Madness 3 is a fine racer despite relying heavily on its online component, which I must admit does extend quite far, and functions as a solid rival to the Midnight Club series. More single-player depth would have been great, but I guess they need room for improvement for the fourth game, eh?
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