Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition

Spoilers, bumpers, exhausts, bonnets, tyres. The extent to which you're thrilled by such a catalogue of car parts will give a good indication of whether or not the third iteration of Rockstar's Midnight Club street racing series is for you. For, while the driving aspect of the game has been tweaked and tuned to deliver a corporeal improvement over the racing experience offered by its predecessor, it's the customisation side of the things that developers Rockstar San Diego have really gone to town on.

To this end, the staff of have been brought on board as creative consultants to ensure that the game offers an "aspirational" level of customisation. If gamers dream of electric wheel rims, they're in the right place.

Everything in Midnight Club 3 is licensed. Not just the 60-plus vehicles - which run the gamut from SUVs and trucks to concept cars, street bikes and muscle cars - but also the mods, even down to the brands of tyre. Customisation covers virtually every aspect you could think of, including vinyl and paint options, decals, window tinting and, yes, rims. Meanwhile, performance mods - which have an impact on how your vehicle actually handles - cover brakes, transmission, suspension, tyres and engines. Rockstar claim this is the "deepest selection of customisation options ever seen in a game" and, frankly, we believe them.

But if the thought of spending hours fiddling with go-faster stripes fails to fill you with glee, you'll be pleased to learn that Rockstar are keen to point out that the title's real focus remains firmly on the gameplay, with the idea being that MC3 will offer a "pick-up-and-play arcade racer for gamers of any level".

While the basic premise closely resembles that of its predecessors - take whatever route you can to hit checkpoints during frantic races through stylised versions of city centres - it's been improved and updated in every key area. From what we've seen thus far of the game's three environments - car capitals Detroit, Atlanta and San Diego - there's an immediately obvious improvement in the visuals, with the level of detail and the lighting models much better than they were in MC2.

The main Career mode is now a cash-based endeavour and you begin with just enough dosh to buy a basic car. Win a race and you'll be rewarded with either more money, a new car or an unlockable secret. The good news though is that you don't have to win every race in a city in order to progress to the next location, resulting in a less linear experience and also one that's less frustrating than the main single-player mode of the previous Club.

Elsewhere in the game, we were impressed by the array of massive jumps on offer (it's even possible to pull off mid-air 360s if you get the timing right) and the more organic feel to the cities, replete with pedestrians and a whole load of 'civilian' traffic.

As for the online side of things, you'll again be able to race with up to eight players and we're promised a selection of new online team-based modes. Other tweaks include being able to join in mid-game; the buddy list feature now also appearing in the PS2 version; and the fact that, if a race's host leaves halfway through, another host is automatically chosen, allowing the chase to continue seamlessly.

The overall experience will be familiar to anyone who's played the earlier games in the series but we're sure that this will be a much slicker and better executed representation of illegal neon-fuelled street speeding. The original Midnight Club - a PS2 launch title - offered a "new genre of racing" according to Rockstar. It'll be interesting to see whether the third instalment is able to reclaim its oil-splattered crown from the plethora of street racers that have hurtled on to the scene since.

Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, originally due out this Christmas, will now be released for PS2 and Xbox in January 2005