Dub in the club.
Why get the whip if you gon' cover it up? That's a very good question, asked by hip-hop artist/producer extraordinaire, Jay Dee. Never heard of him? Well, if you've listened to any Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Talib Kweli, Erikah Badu or even some George Clinton grooves, then you've probably heard Dee's music. Labeled as "the most important man in hip hop," his inquiry makes perfect sense.
Why would you spend a quarter of a million in U.S. cheddar on custom parts to mod a car if it's only to be seen at car shows? Don't pretentious car owners know inertia is the natural scourge of any skillfully customized ride?
Well if they don't, Rockstar San Diego does, and they prove it with the excellent Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition. The DUB comes from DUB Magazine's involvement in picking cars and parts to be used in the customization, which alone is deep enough to swim in, and that's saying a lot for an arcade racer. We just wish the whole thing required a bit more skill.
You begin in San Diego with $20k and can initially choose from a modest list of cars to purchase. That eventually grows to a whopping 60 available vehicles from over 20 different car and motorcycle manufacturers, including Maclaren, Ducati, Cadillac and Pontiac. You can choose from tuners, muscle cars, SUVs, luxury sedans, choppers, exotics and sports bikes. An impressive list, no doubt.
The customization is carried out in the Career mode. You can buy and tweak everything from performance parts (engine, transmission, brakes, chassis, computer, intake, headers, exhaust, nitrous, etc.) to over-the-top aesthetics such as 22-inch rims, fat tires, hydraulics, under-glow neon FX, spoilers, window tints, decals, license plates and more. Many of the aesthetic customizations are free of charge so you can pimp your first ride right after you take it off the lot. There are even three paint options to choose from: matte, gloss or pearlescence. Each style has a set number of free colors, but if you want to access the palette and customize your paint job, you have to pay. It's a great way to make you feel like you're modding and personalizing your wheels without forcing you to spend nickels on every single thing.
But once all the twin digits, chrome and switches have been slapped on a worthy whip, it's time to hop behind the wheel and put the pedal through the floor. With mercifully no stupid Story to speak of, modding and hot-rodding are what you do most.
Once you leave the garage, you peel out into one of three large, open-ended cities. You can quickly access a map to choose a competition type, spearheaded by one cocky driver after another, or you can simply cruise the streets to find those same drivers while enjoying the scenery and your smokin' set of wheels. Each competition yields both money and potentially new rides or parts to purchase from the garage. It should be a familiar scene to those who dig the NFS: Underground games.
You can choose from quick Street Races, City races specific to each locale, or Club races, which require you to use a specific vehicle class (exotic, muscle etc.) and test your racing mettle against the longevity of the Tournament races. Unlike the others, these are a series of races which must be completed to collect the bounty and the automobile prize at the end. The ability to tour the city and pick a race at your leisure was sweet in the last Midnight Club and is just as cool here.
The competition is tough and gets tougher as the game progresses, so not only is tweaking your car to perfection a must, but you'll really need to master the in-game tuning and special moves if you want to succeed. The former occurs once you get out on the street, where you can tune your car a bit more by adjusting the brakes, drift and gear ratio.
Special moves are specific to the different car classes and give the game its arcade flavor. Choppers and muscle cars can send out a 'Roar' shockwave to force surrounding traffic into the competition. SUVs, trucks and luxury sedans can trigger 'Argo' to plow through traffic like it were cardboard. 'Zone' is easily to coolest addition. This special move for tuners, sport bikes and exotics slows down time with a beautiful effect, allowing you to steer with Max Payne precision. Drifting, weight-transfer, two-wheel driving and others make a welcome return, finalizing your repertoire of special moves.
The specials and the blinding sense of speed make for an exhilarating experience, and one that can be enjoyed in many ways. Tracks and cities that have been unlocked in Career mode are then available in the Arcade mode's ten various game types. You can race the clock alone in Autocross or against CPU-controlled racers in Track. Capture the Flag, Cruise, Ordered and Unordered checkpoint races flesh out the variety.
In addition, there are traditional Circuit races and the imaginative Frenzy game type. Here, each racer's car is constantly accelerating while the brakes and special moves have disabled. The goal is to score as many points as possible in the allotted time period, which is done by dodging as many cars as you can while hitting a series of checkpoints to keep the timer from running out. It's nerve-wracking and a lot of fun.
All of the arcade game types are also available in up to eight-player online or offline modes. Online is relatively lag free, but I just wish there were support for at least twice as many racers or perhaps some more interesting modes.
She doesn't look half bad, though. The majesty of a well-flossed whip sitting on 22-inch chrome while you're hitting the hydraulic switches looks too cool to put into words. Reflective surfaces, spinners, cars rising and lowering before a race " it's all stunning and helps immerse you in the mood.
The difference between the PS2 and Xbox versions is slight. A bit more slowdown is found on Sony's lovechild and more polish and sheen can be seen in Bill's black box. The Xbox also allows for customized music, but otherwise the two games are identical.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition is the car control, which once again is just too simple. The game requires no particular skills in the modding or in the driving, as the damage modeling is kept to a minimum and the controls themselves are a little too basic. Despite the fact that you're driving a really nice Escalade sitting on chrome 22s, you never really feel like you're playing anything other than those first Midtown Madness games from which all the Midnight Clubs are derived. A steeper control learning curve would have done wonders.
But unmistakably, this game is damn fun. The speed is amazing, the customization is more involving than any other arcade racer and the DUB factor gives it authenticity. Hopefully, the result of Rockstar and DUB's collaboration will force even the most pretentious car tuners to uncover their whips.