238th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Xbox
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Digital Illusions CE
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

As you know, we had to obtain an Xbox a while ago to go with our Steel Battalion controller. We didn’t make much use of it since, but knew we’d need it for the games that weren’t compatible with the 360.

When we picked a random game a while ago, Midtown Madness 3 came up, which never gained a backwards compatibility patch either. Combined with us gaining some extra free time over a holiday, we decided to take up the challenge and have an Xfest, similar to our Dreamfest a while ago.

Midtown Madness 3 is a driving game. I’ve played around a bit with earlier games in the series (although it was more my brother who loved it). Let’s see whether it’s a worthwhile start of… XFEST!

Our Thoughts

One of the ever-present questions that plague us at this blog is one of categorization: What is the difference between racing and driving games? They’re categorized separately, some being in both, others more complicated. With this game, at least, the distinction is clear. While you race, the focus on this game is on driving around the cities the game is set in, Paris and Washington.

The basic game, then, is first the sandbox mode. These two cities are fully modeled (fairly accurately for a 2003 game, in face this really was one of the big selling points of this game), with plenty of alleyways and different routes to get to places. This, of course, includes a number of collectables and such for you to find as you’re driving. In many ways this game really did suffer from the better selling Driver franchise which offered very similar gameplay and whose first installment was released within moments of the original Midtown Madness.

There are plenty of challenges still. Most of them are of the race form – go from place to place and be faster than everyone else. These, however, still offer more freedom – there can be multiple ways to get to your destination (even if there is one ‘recommended’ route) and in a number of them you can reach your goals in different orders (even if one is recommended and often faster, if you get lost they can give a way out). This creates a racing game that still takes place in a city, with challenges that aren’t about getting around a track quickly, but have their own goals, even if the basic gameplay is still the same.

These goals are the ones that get a bit odd at times. We started off playing the French missions and found that the voice acting was horrible. Overdone, terrible French accents that would be used as the funny part of a last sketch on a crappy sketch show. Borderline offensive, not very funny and completely unnecessary. What doesn’t help is that the worst offender here is also your main opponent during the Paris section of the game, taunting you as you race against her or she tries to ram into your car as you try to make an important delivery. To be fair the American accents in the Washington levels are just as hammed up, strange for a games company based in San Diego (which is weird considering how authentic their later game, Red Dead Redemption, was seen to be).  

Even so, with that the game plays well. Control is good, with cars feeling quite different between them without any of them becoming too awkward to drive around in it. There’s a nice variety in cars, although most of the more special ones are tied to specific challenges.

The challenge becomes quite large, with the game imposing some quite tight challenges on the time and some good driving from your opponents – despite their general annoyance, they have pretty good AI – making this a tough game to defeat. Not in the impossible range, but if you’re like me, you’ll struggle from the start. Probably not a bad thing, really.

Final Thoughts

The original Midtown Madness game was a pioneer of open world racing and was an influence on the Burnout franchise. It was a lot of fun and is a sad state of affairs that this was not patched for X-Box 360 backwards compatibility… makes no sense to be honest.

  1. […] the book. This usually matters little, but occasionally leads to odd results. We’ve discussed the difference between driving and racing before, but sometimes it’s the individual game that is […]