Release Date: August 31, 2004
It's hard to talk about Street Racing Syndicate without comparing it to EA's Need For Speed Underground (or, for that matter, Rockstar's Midnight Club series). This is because it’s quite easy to get spoiled by that game, if you’ve played it enough.
I never played NFS:U myself; the whole street racing game phenomenon pretty much passed over my head. I did, however, spend a good number of hours watching my friends play that game.
That being said, I was still spoiled by the time SRS hit.
When a game you’ve had actual hands-on time with feels inferior to a game you’ve only been exposed to visually, something’s amiss.
SRS is, as you’d expect, Namco’s take on the whole underground, sometimes-illegal-sometimes-not world of street racing. You start out as a nobody, and for little reason, you decide you want to get some money, power and respect; so rather than doing it the hard way and earning it by moving up a corporate ladder, you decide instead to go into street racing. Your objective, should you decide to accept it, is to buy yourself a ride, trick it out, then use it to impress street racing crews, make some fat cash, and score all the fly honeys you can, who may or may not score with you later depending on how well you do.
Not too bad a premise; however, the execution needs work in all the places you wouldn’t expect it to. Readers who have followed my reviews up to this point (…do people actually do that?) know that one of my fundamental beliefs of videogaming is that atmosphere and presentation (presentation not being synonymous with how high a polygon count you can pump out of a game system—there’s a difference) can nearly ruin a game if done badly, or pull a game out of the dumpster if done well. Here’s a case of the former. In a game where you have to take on a role and do things most people just don’t get to do (that is, blatantly break the law), making the player both believe and enjoy it is high priority indeed.
First, let’s take a look at how the game succeeds in achieving its goal. The driving physics are nice—not too arcade-ish (though trick out your car enough and control will become almost as easy), but not like the old Driver games for the PSX where you could hardly do anything. There’s also a nice selection of cars (though many are locked at the start) and upgrade parts to choose from. Tuning up your car and seeing the difference it makes is way more fun than it should be, and getting neons for the underside of your baby is one of the greatest guilty pleasures this world has to offer, right up there with playing volleyball with ninja girls.
The game uses detailed, to-the-street model versions of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, among other places, and they’re all gorgeously rendered to boot. The XBox does right by this game. I do wish the girlfriends--or for that matter, any of the human models--looked at nice as the road, though. There’s some strange rendering going on there. While cruising around a city, you can head to meeting spots, but the city is also alive. You can get in trouble with the police, and you can start races with other people driving around by driving behind them and turning on your high beams. The latter is a very nice touch.
All of these nice touches, however, have things to cancel them out, and detract from the player’s immersion into the game, thus making it not as great as it could be.
The sound, simply put, is as bad as the visuals are great. I suppose one can chalk up the music to personal taste; while I like hip-hop, I expect it to… um… hip and hop. There’s one track in this whole song that didn’t put me to sleep, and that’s the song used in the title menus. Everything else is just meandering and generic. The voice acting, however, is… is… I can’t even describe it in normal words. It’s totally fake ghetto. Your running buddy sounds stilted, the crowd not all that believable at all. Instead of sounding like they’re from the ‘hood, everyone sounds like they’re reading their lines from under a hood. That doesn’t fly with me.
Second—illegal street racing, tricking out your car, all that stuff… they all depend on a feeling and rush of blistering speed, right? Well, uh... someone forgot to tell Namco that. Seriously, I’m playing Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition all over again here. For those of you who don’t get that amazingly obscure reference (shame on you; I’ve been waiting a week to bust that one out), it means that even though your speedometer reads 90 miles an hour, the most you will ever feel like you’re going is a leisurely 20. The landscape glides by, instead of rushing or whizzing past you. You feel no wind in your hair—instead, there is a sudden urge to whistle, or rest one’s eyes, and you would if crashes didn’t have such a high consequence. The fact that you can take damage to your car and have to have it repaired is another nice touch, hampered by the fact that the damage repair rate is almost akin to such rates in real life. Simply nick walls even a few times and you’ll be hurtin’ in the wallet rather quickly. There is multiplayer, but the lack of speed factor means that your buddies will probably want to play other racers instead—ones that actually make you believe you’re racing.
Street Racing Syndicate does a lot of things right, yet for some reason, they tend not to matter as much because it’s just so hard to get into the game and stay there enough to appreciate them. This title should still be checked out; it delivers some very nice racing action (even though it’ll hardly feel like it), and options to boot. Unfortunately, given what the game is touted as, it falls below even base expectations.
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