Midnight Club 3 Dub Edition

We have to admit to not being 'down' with the whole street-racing lifestyle. It's not that we hate cars, or are so into games that anything else the world has to offer is entirely inconsequential - nothing of the sort.

It's just, in the real world, the whole culture surrounding cars is quite dull in comparison to what can be found in games like Rockstar's newest racer.

In Midnight Club 3 you race hard and drive fast - very fast. And you crash. And then you get into scuffles with policemen on motorbikes - sometimes knocking them off into the dirt. You can crash through buildings, drive up conveniently positioned ramps and launch yourself high into the air...

Yes, videogame car culture is much better than real life. OK, so you're not actually in a car (you're sitting on a sofa, surrounded by empty Pot Noodle containers and the scent of loneliness and self-loathing) and you don't feel the actual sensation of speed that usually accompanies moments of trying to outrun the police, but that's OK.

Midnight Club 3 is all about making cars cool and fun. And it does this with a bit of The Fast and The Furious mixed with a generous dose of MTV's spectacular Pimp My Ride.

On one hand you get to race hard against other racers in similarly shiny and extravagant cars that you'd never be able to afford in real life (let alone care so little about it as to take it into the dangerous world of street racing). On the other you have literally days to waste in the game's garage, equipping and decking-out your own collection of cars.

While some racing games alienate casual players by presenting them with baffling-yet-necessary engine options, Rockstar's game is more about the look of the outside than what's happening on the inside.

That's not to say you can't optimise the performance of your cars - the option is there, along with a welcome auto-upgrade feature that works out what you need for you - it's just the main emphasis is on looks.

You can upgrade and change almost any part of the car as long as you've got the cash. Any boring car can be changed into a wild, flame-coloured savage by the time you've finished weaving your magic.

As you can probably work out for yourself, money is earned by racing. Although this time you get money even if you come second or third, or so we're told - we, of course, always win. This way, everyone gets a fair stab at gathering money for their new upgrade, even though they race like they're driving an elderly relative to a garden centre sale.

One bonus is if you're doing badly in a particular race, you're not stuck with it. The free-roaming nature of the proceedings means you can drive about the cities (Atlanta, San Diego and Detroit) at your leisure, play any number of available races and challenge other street racers.

The free-roaming aspect continues into the races as well, with players able to take any route they choose between checkpoints just as they could in previous games.

Also worth mentioning are the useful abilities you're presented with throughout the game, serving to make winning that much easier. The speed boost you get from driving in another car's slipstream is the one you'll use most, and it creates some dramatic race finales when your second place position changes to first right before the finish line, thanks to skilful boosting at the last second.

It's that feeling that sums up the whole Midnight Club 3 experience. While the game is not as polished, or as stable in the frame-rate department, as the current arcade-racing leader Burnout 3, it is a highly dramatic, intense and, above all, fun racing experience. And that's before you play it online against real humans or decide to experiment with the infinite possibilities of the race editor.

Midnight Club 3 is awesome fun, with plenty to do and loads of replay value. If you like racing games, there's no reason not to own this. And, in addition, by buying this you'll be helping oust FIFA Street from the top of the UK games chart, thus beginning its welcome demise. Do it.

Midnight Club 3 is out now for Xbox and PS2 and will be released for PSP later this year