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XBLA Review - 'Street Trace: NYC'

by Erik "NekoIncardine" Ottosen on Sept. 13, 2008 @ 4:52 a.m. PDT

Street Trace: NYC is an all-in-one hoverboard racing and arena battle game featuring multiplayer over Xbox LIVE with up to eight players and an up to a four-way split-screen.

Genre: Racing/Shooter
Developer: Gaia Industries
Publisher: Gaia Industries
Release Date: June 22, 2007

In Street Trace NYC, the future is an age without kindness, cleanliness or good play design. Hoverboards were invented sometime in the past. Parts of a heavily ruined New York City that look nothing like NYC are used for competition. You may have expected the competition to be a modern take on skateboarding games, but you'd be wrong. It's deathmatch time, baby. Sometimes, a game is bad enough that a year later, one can see how it encapsulates everything that was wrong with the previous year's games, and Street Trace: NYC manages to be the Xbox Live Arcade title to pull that off, in all too many ways. It combines its poorly implemented premise with annoying characters, pathetic controls, and lots of poor visual effect choices to make it one of the worst games on the Xbox 360, Live or otherwise.

In Street Trace: NYC, play centers around various combinations of scenario and map, consisting of essentially two modes with some variation between them. You'll either be racing through modestly detailed racetracks or acquiring points in some way, almost invariably requiring that you wreck your opponents. Get a set number of points or finish your laps first, and you win. To keep games from lasting too long, there are time limits, and the winner is the person who is closest to winning when time runs out. This is a pretty standard premise, but it's also where the problems start.

Each of the modes makes its claims on how to score in an attempt to make the modes unique. The problem is that every single race will invariably settle into a kill competition or a speed competition — or, once in a while, both. Why bother hunting the flags when shooting down the guys who are going for them is worth just as much? Why bother holding the flag and making yourself everyone's target when you can just kill everyone and win just as quickly? And why bother having any skill or taking any risks in racing when, in true combat-racing style, just shooting someone down and/or taking advantage of their "slipstream" will get you far faster lap times? Too many games subscribed to this philosophy in 2007, and sadly, the trend has continued into 2008's lower-end games.

You're fighting and racing on hoverboards with a one-handed gun that can fire rockets, drop mines, and throw out a multi-bomb stampede. Realistically, any competitive individual would be holding the thing two-handed so that he could aim while moving. To be fair, it seems like Gaia Industries wanted to represent this in the control scheme. The problem is that they managed to completely mess things up in the process.

In Street Trace: NYC, the thumbstick turns your character, the shoulder buttons fire your weapons, and the face buttons handle a few simple controls for the board. The problem is that without rotating your board, you cannot aim your attacks to fire in any direction except forward, unless you're in the middle of using the grinding mechanic — and as soon as the grind ends, you'll start moving in that direction. This makes the race feel ridiculous; it completely kills any sense of immersion and turns the act of killing opponents into a laborious chore.

You don't even get a decent auto-aim ability to help make up the difference, so if you shoot straight at a target, you'll end up with your shot missing underneath it! Apparently, the concept of tilting the gun backwards a little is foreign to people who hold guns one-handed and somehow fire perfectly in the direction their board is facing, every time, without exception. New control schemes are not a bad thing, but the number of bad control schemes that were introduced last year is ghastly.

There are six playable and three unlockable characters. All three females dress in fashions that even an average prostitute would consider too slutty, while the guys dress in generic street punk, except for one who wears a Hawaiian shirt and slacks. All six speak like street punks, with very little variation between them. They also only have one facial expression between them: the hardcore scowl, which means they speak with their mouths closed. Their boards don't differ in appearance either, so apparently the future forbids self-expression through painting one's board. There is no story line other than these people participating in a competition.

And then there are the two-tune soundtrack, PS2-quality character models, and the racetracks. You know what? I don't even need to talk about the first two. Let's just describe the racetracks. Courses consist of a combination of crates, broken things, and the following colors: brown, auburn, burnt sienna, hazel, mahogany — you get the idea. Power-ups can be picked up from the track and are represented by green dollar signs and yellow question marks. Visual effects consist of some basic effects, blurring and afterimages — lots of brown blurring and afterimages. The prevalence of the color brown causes disorientation, so the graphics, in their attempt to look cool, actively get in the way of you trying to play the game.

At this point, it's pretty clear just how badly Street Trace: NYC has failed. Even some bad games can be somewhat enjoyable, but this title started off badly and held up worse. In spite of a surprising lack of glitches and sporting signs that decent effort was put into the game, Street Trace: NYC manages to encapsulate way too many of 2007's video game flaws.

Score: 3.5/10

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