Microsoft's Midtown Madness series has been a huge success on the PC platform for several years now, and console owners are finally going to get in on the fun as the third installment hits the Xbox. While it eschews realism for arcade thrills, Midtown Madness 3 is an addictive and enjoyable racer. As you'd expect, there's a good selection of standard licensed vehicles such as Volkswagen Beetles, BMW Mini Coopers, Lotus Esprit Turbos, and Hummers. There is a good number of these factory standard cars. However, what sets this apart from most other driving games is that players have access to an assortment of odd vehicles including police cars, taxis, garbage trucks, school buses and more. This definitely gives MM3 a unique feel that sets it apart from other racing games on the market. As you unlock more vehicles, you'll be able to race sports cars, custom hot rods and several classic vehicles. In all, the game offers more than 30 different cars, though only a few are available initially. You'll have to earn the rest by winning races and unlocking them.
Once you have selected your vehicle, it's time to choose the race locale. This isn't an easy task because Midtown Madness 3 allows you to drive in one of two large urban areas, either Paris or Washington DC. Each of these cities is quite large and surprisingly accurate to the feel of it's real-world counterpart. During the game, you'll pass many of their famous landmarks, streets, parks, neighborhoods and other familiar areas. For example, you can drive by the Capitol in Washington and underneath the Eiffel Tower in the French capital. The street layouts are accurate and feature numerous short-cuts and secret areas that can help you get the jump on your opponents. The cities are alive with pedestrians and other civilians who'll jump out of your way. Players will also have to contend with oncoming traffic to varying degrees. The traffic can range from very light to quite heavy, depending on the mission. There are also other variables such as time of day and weather that can also have an impact on the outcome of the race. While the difference between day and night isn't huge, playing on snow or wet surfaces definitely affects the vehicle's performance.
Midtown Madness 3 offers several different play modes including several single player races. There are three basic types of single-player races included and they offer a lot of variety. These are easy to get into and make a good foundation for the more challenging multiplayer games. In Blitz mode, you have to race through checkpoints before the timer runs out. Checkpoint is a straightforward racing mode that pits you against other drivers. Finally, there's cruise mode which allows you to travel and explore the city. While cruising seems like a waste of time, learning to anticipate intersections, mastering each city's layout and dodge through cars has a major impact on the success or failure of each race. MM3's single player modes are somewhat fun, but become a bit tedious after awhile thanks to the lack of real tension and rewards. They mostly serve to help you master the controls and learn the city layouts. The real heart of MM3 lies in the cool career mode missions that have been included. When you go undercover, for example, you can take the role of a pizza delivery driver and have to deliver all the pizzas to customers before the clock runs out or a rival driver completes the route before you can. Another mission involves film producers, while another has you going undercover as a police officer. Both Paris and Washington have a unique set of missions, and there are more than 50 of these missions. These will take you awhile finish and completing them is a lot harder than it sounds because the game gradually increases the difficulty level. Each mission mode is split between three or four different sub-missions. Completing all of these usually unlocks a vehicle and allows you to move onto the next mission. These undercover episodes are lots of fun, and can become quite addictive, though the mission goals and setups become predictable after awhile. After all, you can only run through so many checkpoints before getting bored.
In addition to its excellent single player missions, MM3 also features several ways to play online. Two players can battle it out using the split screen and can play in a couple of cool multiplayer modes including modified versions of the Cruise and Checkpoint modes. Several other modes are unique to multiplayer including Tag, Capture the Gold, Hunter and Stowaway modes However, where MM3 really shines is in its online mode that supports up to 8 players simultaneously. Here, you can play through all the other multiplayer modes as well. The game retains its fast pace while online as well, thanks to the seamless Xbox Live service. Players can get right into the action and set up games, options and or other modes for a perfect game. Adding to the fun, the voice-communicator headset can also be used to trash-talk opponents in real time. Playing online is definitely a lot more exciting than against the AI opponents because the other cars aren't nearly as predictable. Since the transparent Xbox Live setup isn't that complex, you jump right in and play online without much effort.
The game is very easy to understand and Midtown Madness 3's controls only enhance the pick up and play value. The vehicles control quite well using either the analog stick or the D-pad and can be quite responsive, though don't expect the subtlety of Gran Turismo. The physics and AI are relatively simple, but this stripped down approach works because it allows you to plow through streets and objects without worrying about car damage too much. Players don't really have to worry to much about tuning or anything and can instead concentrate on beating the clock or other drivers. Players can also select either manual or automatic transmissions, though obviously, the automatic enhances the arcade feel. The onscreen interface is nicely setup and shows the map, your speed, and the position of the other drivers. You can choose to turn the map on or off and can select from several different viewpoints either inside or outside the car. Overall, the game's controls are smartly designed and simple to use, though players used to the added complexity in a lot of other racing games will probably find the controls too simplistic.
While all of this sounds really cool and impressive, the one area where Midtown Madness 3 disappoints is in its visuals. The cities and environments are impressively large, but the individual elements in the game aren't rendered with as much detail as one would like. The renderings of buildings and streets are passable, but nothing to really get excited about. While its cool to race in populated cities, the pedestrians appear a bit flat. These visual shortfalls are hard to overlook and occur with enough consistency to make the game feel a tad dated. This is especially true when you set MM3 next to more sophisticated games on the Xbox like Project Gotham, Apex and, Sega GT. Obviously, the developers weren't striving for realism, but the lack of polish in the visuals is really disappointing. However, the game runs at a good clip and offers a speedy ride, and its simplicity may be why the online game doesn't suffer from lag as much as it could. The other annoying element in MM3 are its poor voice-overs, which are poorly done and tend to be more distracting. MM3's lack of polish is disappointing since the concept is strong but that the poor execution and sub-par production values fall short of expectations.
Despite these graphical shortcomings, players should still be able to find a lot of fun in the game itself. Its accessible controls and simple gameplay mechanics make it easy to pick up and play while the mission structure makes it harder to put down. Midtown Madness 3's online modes really shine and go a long way in mitigating the game's lack of visual appeal. Another element that helps the game are the vehicles themselves, which give the game a unique feel. Some of these, such as the taxis are fun to drive and step out from the norm and unlocking these vehicles definitely adds to the game's replay value, though the single player missions could have used a bit more variety. However, the multiplayer mode is excellent and more enjoyable and addictive than you'd expect by playing the single player modes. While it may not be the most polished Xbox title out there, Midtown Madness 3 is a decent arcade-style game that's surprisingly addictive once you get beyond the mundane single player modes. It's a fun, though shallow title for gamers that who like their racing fast, furious and, mindless.