Ah, Midtown Madness. I can still recall fond memories of gallivanting
around in part 2, taking a bus over a drawbridge and watching in delight as sparks
and debris shot up from the impact of its landing. Now, with the third release
in the series marking it a franchise, it's interesting to see that its new home
on the Xbox has given it more freedom, but also some unseen limitations that tend
to dampen the game's enjoyment.
Known for its robust cities and putting the player
on a long leash, the Midtown Madness titles have always tantalized gamers
by giving them incredible freedom to drive around a bustling city, but always
making them wonder what's beyond that point. This cause was taken up, and fulfilled,
by titles like Grand Theft Auto and Twisted Metal Black. Despite
the enormous popularity of seemingly pointless violence, it's somewhat refreshing
to see that Microsoft opted to skip out on making a clone of either previously
mentioned title and kept the series true to its non-gory, fast-paced roots. Sure,
it isn't believable to run over 10 people and see none of them die or shed a single
drop of blood, but it also doesn't take away from the fun either; and for those
who just crave unwanted destruction, there are plenty of cars, signs, and buildings
to slam into.
And there will be plenty
of crashing, whether it's intentional or not. Players are given two enormous levels
to play through: Paris, France, and Washington D.C., each of which is downright
amazing in its detail and openness. Filling the cities are little goodies that
add cars to the roster or paint jobs to vehicles; however, the vehicle must already
have been unlocked, and so the collectors out there will have some backtracking
ahead of them.
Both levels have their
own set of levels and storyline, but each is similar in style. The story-driven
portions are found in the game's Underground mode, while there are also others:
Cruise is a more traditional racing mode, Blitz has the player racing the clock,
and Cruise is a free-form option for those who want to check out the scenery and
possibly mix it up with the law.
missions involve such things as picking up customers and racing to drop them off,
switching cars, delivering pizzas, and so on. There are also standard races and
even some evasion levels for whenever a competitor gets a little too annoyed with
the player's skills. What really makes the title stand out is just how difficult
it is. Most tasks will leave very little room for error and will require multiple
play-throughs to get it right; this isn't only due to the aggressive and extremely
talented A.I., but also due to the game's unwritten restrictions on the player.
These restrictions are also the game's
biggest downfall. While the game gives the player an enormous city in which to
drive around, complete with alleys, crosswalks, and just about everything else
one would expect to find in a city, the player isn't really given the opportunity
to take advantage of all of this. Instead, most tasks will require the player
to follow the computer opponent to get their path down and simply beat them to
the punch. Unlike other titles, the player isn't rewarded with shortcuts and the
like for taking a chance and skipping off onto a side road, but are instead smacked
in the face due to an awkward navigation arrow and a mini-map that isn't always
accurate. Those wishing to try their luck might find an instance or two when a
side road is shorter or less populated, but the rest also happen to lead to dead-ends
that are no way to get to the finish line.
combination of the tough difficulty and limited range can really wear out the
game's welcome. There are plenty of levels that will require another character
to be driven somewhere or raced, and since each tends to have obnoxious accents
and only a handful of phrases, look forward to hearing the same annoying things
over and over and over. However, the other modes, including an enjoyable Live
experience that features a Tag and Hunter mode, really help to level things out.
If the developers had just planned out the courses better, the sheer vastness
could've been taken advantage of and enjoyed, but instead the player is still
left wondering about what is out there.
While I wasn't too impressed at first, I have to say
that the graphics grew on me relatively quickly. The cities are amazing and feature
incredible detail, with things like the Vietnam Wall and the Reflection Pool adorning
bustling streets that are filled with vehicles and pedestrians. The vehicles look
good and have some nice shadows, although some seem a bit jaggy. The main thing
I wish had been given more consideration was the collisions; the sparks look a
little exaggerated and there's no extended body damage done to the car.
Arggh! Shut! Up! I thank whoever decided to add the 'mute' function
to televisions; otherwise, I think I would've gone through three or four sets
because of Midtown Madness. Now, I don't mind some outlandish characters
here or there, but it seems as though every level has one, and each only has a
rolodex of five obnoxious sayings, and they aren't happy until they say each one
forty times every three minutes. The music and sound effects were fine, as were
the voices used to introduce a new task, but the in-game people are beyond annoying.
I wish my car handled like the computer's supposedly identical car apparently
does. Instead, I'm left trying to compensate for a vehicle that isn't capable
of turning on a dime and accelerating to 100mph in three seconds. I'll chalk that
up to the challenge factor though, since every level can be beaten. The stable
of vehicles might seem similar, but each has its own little nuance that'll make
it a challenge, and none are too bad to give up on.
I may seem to be getting down on Midtown Madness 3, but the truth
is, I had a very good time with it. Sure, the A.I. can be unforgiving a good chunk
of the time and the NPC can get obnoxious, but the game is really a fantastic
release for those who just want to see how well they can navigate a true-to-life
city with the pedal to the floor and the competition on their tail. The variety
of cars and level objectives (for what limited tasks one can do in a car, I think
MM3 covers them all), along with the other modes and especially the Live
function, means there's a lot of game here for those who are craving an adrenaline-pumping,
if somewhat frustrating, arcade racing experience.