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Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition

Hailing from the hotbed of the street-smoking Essex Riviera (Southend-on-Sea), I've seen the rise in car-modding culture first hand. Every Friday night, bastardised hairdressers' cars cruise the seafront, giving us something else to laugh at when all the scrapping chavs have been carted off in a meat wagon. In the States the scene is much bigger. Tattoos are the new fake Burberry, and laughing at a fellow enthusiast's burger-munching girlfriend won't get you a slap, it'll get you shot. It's serious business, so American car mod mag DUB must be serious about lending its moniker to this racer too. Luckily, Rockstar's latest has got just what it takes to do the scene justice...

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Firstly, forget the furious; this game is very, very fast. Edge of your seat, make your eyes bleed, pack a spare pair of pants fast. Few games have been able to emulate the sheer speed spectacle that was Burnout 3, but MC3 does a damn fine job. NPC cars zip past in an stylised blur, and strapping into the first-person perspective is truly terrifying. It's a shame then, that this sense of urgency isn't conveyed during the frustratingly long load screens that precede each race, but hey.

There's certainly nothing new here, but MC3 still remains more fun than playing roadkill snooker at 90mph along the M4. The beauty of each race is that aside from the odd track-based time trial, there are no strict circuits as such. Instead, marked waypoints (that are so bloody obvious they look like 100ft-high burning piles of chav caps) show the general path you should take. Every track is a testing, punishing meander through the accurately recreated streets of San Diego, Atlanta and Detroit, and you'll be visibly shaking after doing 190mph through a twisting alley barely wide enough for your vehicle. Indeed, using the Force (or praying, depending on your religious persuasion) is the only way to navigate certain sections. We know how an X-Wing pilot must've felt flying into the Death Star, only here slamming into a wall won't result in your mates being blown to smithereens by a camp Imperial commander; you'll simply lose a couple of not-so-precious seconds. Often learning an exact route between stages (and the best time to kick in a nitro boost) is the only path to victory.

What MC3 does do with panache however, is provide a decent-sized freeroaming environment to play in. As in Need For Speed Underground, you can trawl the streets for like-minded players in Cruise mode. Marked on the accessible map are tons of non-essential races you can participate in for cash, to buy new cars, or tweak the shit out of your existing motor (see In Gold We Trust, page 072). Bodywork, paint, rims, tyres and decals can all be added and adjusted for a modest fee. Build up enough green and you can afford to ramp up your beast. Transmissions, clutch, and the onboard computer are just several aspects you can bolster to improve your performance. This level of depth is practically expected in street-racing titles nowadays, but if it all seems a bit baffling, just opt for the indispensable Auto Upgrade feature and hey presto - you're an instant headache to law-abiding citizens with your roaring exhausts and speed camera-busting ability. You can own as many different vehicles as you like, and when you factor in the huge amount of customisation on offer, this racer's got the mileage to run and run.

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Then there are the compulsory competitions. Face off against one of the many different characters for multi-tiered races and win, aside from several large ones, a shiny new car and a whole truckful of spares to go with it. This is also where you'll gain access to all the sexy bikes MC3 has on offer. Unbelievably quick to accelerate and nimble to manoeuvre, they're a top choice for loads of races, though your rider's vulnerability means just one wince-inducing smash will set you back. The general learning curve is very well measured, and lets players build up just enough cash and spare parts to comfortably compete in the next event.

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