Heart of darkness

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In a shaky blur of lights and color, the whine of acceleration rises like a cumming lover as I whip my tricked-out Chevy 300C through the roadway clusterfuck beneath Cobo Hall. The splatter of hard rain forms a mist inches above blacktop, and makes for unruly conditions as I hard left onto Randolph from Jefferson, avoiding an SUV sent into a tailspin by one of the racers ahead of me. I hit the turbo and roar up the street like Tom DeLay chasing a lobbyist, slipping in front of one competitor by cutting through Comerica Park’s box office area.

I tail the guy ahead of me close enough to suck his slipstream, which soon entitles me to a free nitrous charge. (While I enjoy the buzz, the nitrous is strictly for my ride’s rocket-funny-car burst of speed.) Taking a turn onto the I-75 ramp, I edge one racer into a concrete reinforcement (at a comfy 140 mph, natch) slowing him down momentarily.

By avoiding contact with other vehicles (and walls, people and lampposts), I enable "the Zone," which temporarily slows the action down as if I’m that mouth-breathing non-actor Keanu Reeves, allowing me to skirt — Matrix-style — oncoming traffic. Weary of the highway, I turn off and go Bo and Luke Duke on my opponent’s ass, jumping the People Mover and skidding across the finish line into the Second Baptist Church with the victorious crackle of steel and mortar.

Set also in Atlanta and San Diego, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition is almost as bold a step forward as Rockstar Game’s other noteworthy franchise bestseller, GTA: San Andreas, is over its predecessor. Not only have they licensed the cars, but the cars are fully name-brand customizable. Customizing the vehicles also extends the game; you can pimp your ride to your heart’s content (provided you’ve the bankroll). The cities provide a variety of landscapes and weather too — from sleek, bright, ocean-side San Diego, to the Southern sprawl of Atlanta and the snow-lined streets and riverfront of Detroit’s pseudo-revitalized, post-industrial core. Plus, providing much of the MC3 sound track are, get this, the brilliant Mike Banks and Underground Resistance.

The layout is conventionalized — not everything’s here, and, of course, it’s not really like driving in downtown Detroit. Unfortunately, while a great advancement on MC2, the gameplay is still a bit shallow. Sure, you race to earn money to pimp your car, but there is very little to it aside from that. But the pace and handling of the game kicks.

The latest Tom Clancy Splinter Cell release, Chaos Theory, offers a lot more to chew on in comparison. As the wry black-ops agent, Sam Fisher, your job is to quietly (and with the best weapons and toys available) solve international incidents and intrigue. Set in 2008, this third-person "shooter" is as much about stealth as killing. Or it can be. Unlike prior iterations, which penalized you for kills and canceled a mission if too many alarms were sounded (because you weren’t cat-like quiet, and didn’t hide the bodies), Chaos Theory offers a far less circumscribed experience.

In addition, the game’s more open play and new approach (from stealth to guns-blasting attitude) is refreshing. The comfortable learning curve accelerates slowly enough to give newbies plenty of time to master the moves. In fact, series vets may want to up the difficulty level before playing.

The game has a wonderfully dark, washed-out look, and is beautifully rendered (from an old ocean liner to a Japanese teahouse). The AI is sharper, and soldiers will investigate ajar doors and malfunctioning lights, as well as peculiar noises. Clothed in a light-absorbing suit and wearing night-vision (as well as heat and electromagnetic-sensitive) glasses, you’re able to hide inches from your prey, reaching from the darkness to disable them from behind. Sound and light meters key you in when you’re liable to be discovered. The game is incredibly immersive, re-creating the tension of spydom without being so restrictive as to suck the fun from it. This is the difference between Midnight Club 3 and Chaos Theory — while both are intense, MC3 gets old a lot quicker and is best suited to people who already love racing games.

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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