Reviewed: October 6, 2004
Reviewed by: Travis Young
Racing games have been around nearly as long as the PC’s and console systems to run them, but “street racing” is a fairly new phenomena, growing increasingly popular thanks to movies like The Fast and the Furious and even a recent episode Smallville on the WB.
Pimping out your ride and entering a dark and exciting nocturnal sub-culture isn’t just for the rich kids of Beverly Hills anymore. You’re likely to see low-profile tires, glowing neon, spoilers, and $10,000 paint jobs with vinyl striping in just about any town in America. But for those of us who have neither the time, money (especially the money), or the casual disregard for public safety, video games like Midnight Club, Need for Speed Underground, and now, Street Racing Syndicate, are here to let us explore this exciting new style of racing.
SRS has been in development for several years now, originally part of the 3D0 line-up of 2002 before they filed for bankruptcy and Namco picked up the project. This was obviously a bold move for Namco who already has a strong following of racers with their timeless Ridge Racer franchise. Even so, when you want to enter a new market, why not go with a project that is practically complete and just lying around?
As originally designed, SRS had some clever things going for it. The game was going to be rooted more in reality and presented almost like a simulation of the street racing culture, rather than a bunch of arcade races strung together with a menu. There was going to be dozens of cars, hundreds of aftermarket parts to enhance those cars, and even some strategy involving the use of rival racers’ girlfriends.
Nearly everything that was promised in 2002 made it into the final game with the exception of the girlfriend strategy. The way it was supposed to work was you would impress and hook-up with rival racers’ girlfriends then learn valuable secrets, either about their racing style or perhaps secret racing events. There was even talk about sabotaging the other racers’ cars. It was a very clever concept, but the SRS girls are now merely eye-candy to tease the teen targeted audience.
With so many street-racing games out there and several more on the way SRS couldn’t have come at a better time. Most people into this style of racing have likely already finished the previous Midnight Club 2 and Need for Speed Underground games and are patiently waiting for their sequels just around the corner. Then again, SRS could get lost in a virtual sea of racing games, both street and others.
SRS does manage to bring a few new concepts to the racing genre, or at least the street-racing sub-genre. The game is designed as an open city, three cities actually, where you are free to drive around town looking for random races or drive to designated hotspots to trigger any of the numerous events, both sanctioned and otherwise. There are no “secrets” in the gaming industry so it’s no surprise that this open-ended style is already being used in Test Drive: Eve of Destruction and will be used in NFS: Underground 2. For those who don’t have the patience or don’t want to risk scratching their new paint job in cross-town traffic, you can always “jump” to any section of town without actually driving there.
The two core components of SRS are money and respect. You have to have money to buy cars and parts, and pay those expensive repair bills, but you have to earn the respect of your peers so you “qualify” to race in various events to earn money. Respect also factors in when it comes time to start your private collection of racing slu...whor…err...girlfriends.
Ahh yes, just like high school where the guy with the coolest car got to date the hottest chicks, SRS allows you to locate several girls scattered about the city, impress them, then take them back to your warehouse and store them like extra carburetors until you need a boost of testosterone. There are 18 girls to collect and each girl has several videos you can unlock. You unlock the first simply by “winning” the girl, but then you have to keep the girl in your car while you go to the various events and earn more respect to unlock the others.
It’s all a fairly pointless exercise in cheap thrills. There is no nudity, only sexy (or slutty depending on your disposition) clothes, cutoffs, tank tops, and some lingerie you might find in the dumpster behind your local Victoria Secret boutique. The videos themselves are more humorous than arousing. I actually felt sorry for most of these women who were forced to dance to music totally different from what I was hearing, so nothing was in synch. Many seemed preoccupied with somebody else in the studio (like their jealous boyfriend) rather than the camera lens; so many of the dances were impersonal. If you’re looking for titillating female game characters, stick with The Guy Game.
The women are supposed “real models” affiliated with the street racing culture. For all I know they are out-of-work XFL cheerleaders reduced to pole dancing without the pole. Most of them look like the girls you see on tool calendars or in Hot Rod magazine. Once you remove the girls from the game, SRS is a fairly compelling racing game that unfortunately is often more fun in the garage than out on the street.
SRS offers a Quick Race Mode, a Street “Career” Mode, and Multiplayer, either with split-screen, system link, or online with Xbox Live. Multiplayer racing is likely to be the biggest draw for SRS with its various sub-modes like my favorite, the Collection Race, where you race around town collecting tokens. These races are more about “knowing the city” rather than your car or even your own skills, but being a good driver in a fast car certainly won’t hurt your chances.
Street Mode is where you will spend most of your time when you aren’t racing online. You start with a fairly large sum of cash that will buy you a respectable car and a few parts. Weekend mechanics can, and likely will, spend hours tinkering with the hundreds of authentic car parts you can install on your ride.
The garage is divided into four sections that allow you to repair, tune, pimp, or paint your ride. Keeping your ride in top condition is a must and you will need to repair any damage between events. There are hundreds of parts from manufacturers like Holley, Venom, HKS, Yokohama, and Brembo that allow you to boost performance. A new paint job or some slick vinyl art is just the thing to make your ride standout in a crowd, not to mention a complete line of new body parts to streamline your car.
My biggest complaint with the upgrade garage is that the interface isn’t the best at telling (or showing) you how each part is going to improve your performance and there is no way to compare parts without trying one, remembering the new stats, then switching parts and remembering those. Even on the Xbox, the load times for simply switching parts is an annoying 3-5 second hiccup each time you switch. It just slows down the entire process.
Once you have your car ready you can take to the streets in search of competition. There is a handy city map that you can pop-up to locate girls, races, and challenges. Events like Crew Meets, Respect Challenges, Street Challenges, City Locations and Cruise Zones are all color-coded. Pick your type and individual event you have the option to “drive” to the destination, now marked with a waypoint arrow, or simply “jump” to the event.
With the exception of the Cruise Zone, these events will earn you money and respect and allow you to progress through the career mode. The Cruise Zone is merely a showcase option that has your car driving through the selected portion of town, captured by several cinematic camera angles. It’s a bit like the menu background in NFS: Underground only a lot longer and much better looking. Plus, you can show off your hot new design to your friends.
Respect points are a core concept in SRS and are awarded for stylish driving, much like the “kudos” in Project Gotham Racing. Catching air, sliding through turns, leading laps, passing cars, etc. all earn you points. There is a set maximum for each race and the more respect your character has the more races you will be allowed to participate.
Clean driving will not only earn your respect, it will reduce the damage your car takes during a race. Damage is realistically modeled and you will have to pay big bucks to bang out those dents and replace shattered headlights or windshields. The more you pay in repairs the less you have for upgrades.
There are three cities that share the 72 races that make up the SRS career mode. With the exception of a few landmarks, you would be hard pressed to tell Miami, Philly, or LA apart. Midnight Club 2 did a much better job at recreating the actual cities. Even so, the cities are large and very complex giving you plenty of unique racing venues including street and track racing during the day as well as after dark.
The free-roaming city design gives the game a Tokyo Extreme feel where you can cruise around and learn the lay of the land and when a potential opponent drives by you can flash your high beams and challenge him to a race. Keep a watch for Johnny Law. Cops will often join in the race for entirely different reasons, but some skillful driving should help you elude them and keep the fines at a minimum.
Control is solid and the physics are really good for an arcade racer. I tried the game with both a wheel and Xbox controller and the controller seemed better suited for this style of racing. I was a bit disturbed at the sensation of speed, or rather the lack of it. I’m pretty sure this is a graphical issue, as everything seemed to look just a bit “too crisp and clean”. I think some blurring or streaks on the lights would have helped to sell the fact I was going through downtown at 150mph. Then again, after playing Burnout 3 everything seems slow by comparison.
Most of SRS is played at night and while the cities are impressive from a scale perspective, the colors are over saturated, the lights bloom like neon in a fog, and the wet reflective streets simply have to go. Come on. What are the odds of it raining just before every race in three difference cities? Sure it does a good job of showing off the fancy graphics engine but it ceases to impress when you use the effect all the time.
The car models and textures are all very nice with an unrealistic sheen that Turtle Wax could only dream of creating. You can paint your car to any of dozens of colors then further tweak the car with a huge selection of vinyl and other authentic manufacturer decals. There are some really impressive designs waiting for you in the garage.
The game movies are well done, starting with a most impressive opening movie then reverting to game-engine movies for most of the cutscenes involving the girlfriend challenges. I was surprised at how well the CG girls actually resembled their video counterparts. The quality of the girlfriend videos is good from a technical standpoint, but I think we've already discredited the premise as anything more than a teenage tease fest.
The framerate is flawlessly smooth and fast which only enhances the fact that this game has no real sensation of the speed shown on my display in the corner. Every trick in the Xbox graphics handbook was brought into play for SRS. You have real-time reflection mapping, real-time damage modeling, lens flares, volumetric smoke and fog, and plenty of flashy particle effects.
The female-enhanced menus and interface are nicely designed and everything is easy to navigate. The in-game driving cues like waypoint indicator and trigger zones for various events are equally, as easy to find, colorful, and fit with the theme of the game design.
The only thing more annoying than an Xbox game with a bad soundtrack is an Xbox game with a bad soundtrack that doesn’t support custom soundtracks. Of course music is subjective to personal taste, but I found the repetitive mix of rap, rock, and alternative just a bit too coarse for my liking. You can’t swap it out but you can turn it down or off.
The voice work is mainly that of the potential girlfriends trying to sound seductive. “You wanna hang with me you have to show me what you got”, then they assign you some mundane task like earning 50 respect points in 60 seconds by catching some air, usually in the flattest part of town.
Sound effects are fantastic. The engines roar, or rather whine, you can hear the turbo charger kick in, and the nitrous sounds like an F-15 afterburner. Crashes and even minor fender benders all sound painfully real and there is even special reverb effects used to create a realistic echo when driving through tunnels.
The entire package is presented in a Dolby Digital mix that surrounds you in sound. You’ll hear those other cars coming up on your rear bumper and will be able to tell which side they are trying to pass you on without ever having to toggle the rear view.
If you are just wanting to get through SRS you can speed your way through the career mode in 20 hours. Bagging all the ladies and unlocking their videos might take a few extra hours and there is countless potential for tinkering in the garage to create the ultimate race machine. SRS is certainly not lacking in single-player content, but the true value lies online.
Sure, you can play SRS in split-screen or with a system link cable, and those modes are fun, but the big draw for this game is its online racing, specifically the Pink Slip Races. That’s right folks, for the first time ever you can create your ultimate race machine then take it online for real underground street racing with real stakes.
Of course when your prize possession of over 10 hours of customization and thousands of dollars of upgrades are at risk you can bet there will be plenty of low-life gamers who drop connection before losing their precious ride. I’m still waiting for some type of anti-cheat solution to be included for Pink Slip mode. Meanwhile, you’ll just have to take your chances.
Street Racing Syndicate is a decent game that succeeds only because of its timing. If there were any other competition out there right now you’d likely not even give this title a second glance, which is a shame because there are some really interesting elements included in this title that will hopefully be used by future racers.
The free roaming city is a great concept and we should expect nothing less from any future racing title. I also like the respect system that rewards clean and stylish driving. Too often games encourage you (through lack of penalty) to ride the guardrail or carelessly use other cars to get you through tight turns. Paying repair bills and earning respect are great ways to bring arcade and simulation together in the racing experience.
If you are looking for a street racing game to keep you busy until Rockstar and EA release their sequels later this year, then SRS is just what you need, especially if you enjoy working on your cars as much as driving them. The massive parts list will keep you in the garage for hours on end, and the online racing will be the ultimate test of your skills as a mechanic and driver.