We suspect that many people stuck in heavy rush hour traffic jams have had the fantasy of stepping on the accelerator, veering onto the pavement and pelting past the queued masses, sending sandwich boards and lampposts flying, not to mention pedestrians scurrying for cover into the nearest shop doorway. If only.
But if it’s city-based driving mayhem of this sort that your soul craves, then Midtown Madness 3 provides the backdrops of Paris and Washington to tear around in. These cities are fabulously detailed, with accurate road layouts and landmarks, not to mention little touches like authentic road signs.
In Paris you can cruise around the motorway ring-road outside the city, churning up road cones (ahhh… revenge on the road-works!) before diving into the midst of town, zooming up the wide roads leading to the Arc de Triomphe and taking a scenic tour past the Louvre and Notre Dame. There are plenty of jumps, ramps, stairs and market stalls to crash through too. In fact, off-roading is positively encouraged and a total blast at high speeds.
Not only are the towns beautifully constructed, but they look great too with some top notch graphics giving the game a very realistic appearance. And the frame rate never drops, always staying high. Whilst the aesthetics might be realistic, the driving model is unapologetically arcade style, with multiple smashes not slowing you down too much. The emphasis is solidly on fun.
Having said that, the vehicles all handle differently. A car with a high handling rating will stick through corners, while a big bulky ambulance with low handling takes to two wheels when driven hard through even shallow bends. There are 32 cars, trucks and buses to play with and they’re unlocked by completing sections of the single player game.
This consists of checkpoint races (against computer driven cars) and blitz races which are time trials against the clock. You can play through these modes in either city, or choose to partake of one of the career modes (again, there are two of these, one for each city).
The careers are the highlight of the single player mode and during the course of these you’ll be asked to take on jobs as a pizza delivery boy, a limo driver, rental car agent, ambulance driver and so forth. The missions (there are 54 in total) are fairly diverse in aim and generally entertaining.
It’s true that many do boil down to “drive to point A, then point B”, but there are also more imaginative scenarios where you have to ram someone off the road, follow somebody, or even drive a stunt car through a series of jumps. The missions can feel a little repetitive at times, particularly when you get a tricky and lengthy job which can be frustrating, but on the whole we thoroughly enjoyed completing both careers.
Aside from this lot, there’s also a cruise mode in which you can take to the city streets and just bum around, doing your thing, exploring the city and searching for hidden paint canisters which unlock custom paint jobs for your various motors. This is a nice little extra, but Midtown Madness 3 doesn’t hold masses of longevity once you’ve been through the careers and races… unless you’re an Xbox Live subscriber.
Yes, Midtown Madness 3 is fully Live-enabled and what’s more it makes for a top online driving experience. Up to eight players can take part in a range of games, from standard races through to ‘capture the gold’ (basically ‘capture the flag’) and hunter (where one player is ‘it’ and others he catches join his team until only one ‘prey’ is left).
These are, to put an extremely blunt point on it, bloody great fun. It’s seriously addictive “look at the clock, we’ve been playing for almost three hours when it feels like 30 minutes” stuff. It’s also good to note that it was almost entirely lag-free (using an ADSL connection), even when playing in a game hosted in France.