Street Racing Syndicate
When 3DO had its fire sale one of its most highly touted properties was Street Racing Syndicate. I’ll admit that I was pretty concerned about the fate of the title as well. When I saw it at E3 2003 it wasn’t exactly amazing but it had some pretty compelling elements that could have added up to an intriguing game. Instead, it seems like the developers took a complete 180 in every single fathomable way and created a game that’s so poorly developed that it lacks the staple of the very scene that it looks to depict, the Honda Civic.
But I’m probably getting ahead of myself. SRS is a racing game well along the lines of Midnight Club II and Need for Speed Underground. In the core gameplay mode you will be competing in races in order to win cash that can be used to upgrade your ride. It breaks the mold from the two aforementioned titles by allowing you to choose your races and explore the town at your own discretion. In order to prevent everything in the game from being available to you at the start, the game uses a respect system as its artificial barrier. By winning races and performing tricks (like powerslides or jumps) you’ll earn points. As you gain more points more cars and races will be made available to you. In all the pacing of the game works really well, although you can get the game’s crown jewel, the Nissan Skyline, in fairly short order.
You’ll run into problems the moment you boot up the game. That’s because the initial load time is just a precursor of all the waiting that you’ll be doing in the game. Not one portion of the game’s design is streamlined, resulting in long wait times and endless frustration. Buying cars is frustrating because the game takes some time to load up each car’s stats so that you can compare it to others. Perhaps most puzzling is the lack of Honda vehicles in the game. It doesn’t make sense; the developers managed to acquire the licensing rights from other Japanese makers like Toyota, Nissan and Mazda, but they missed out on the biggest one of all.
Equally frustrating is the upgrade system which bows to the same flaws. Most of the fun in these kinds of games is supposed to come from tricking out your vehicle, but SRS somehow makes that facet seem like a chore. You get instant feedback on how well each part performs but for some reason, you have to wait for a three to five second load time each time you want results on a part. As you might guess this leads to a pretty agonizing experience. There are plenty of real-life parts and components but chances are you’ll get tired of waiting and opt to just rush through it. Upgrading should be simple and fun but instead it turns into a frustratingly hair-pulling experience. To put it short the game’s design is severely flawed and even worse, it carries over to the streets.
If you manage to make your way through the poor interface you’ll be greeted by a sub-par racing experience. This is due largely in part to the game’s poor sensation of speed. A little meter in the corner might tell you that you’re going 120 but your eyes and brain will tell you that you’re going 40. Objects pass by very slowly and the car always handles superbly. All of the vehicles feel very light and feathery and don’t exhibit any real weight or mass. When coupled with the poor sense of speed you’ll find yourself having difficulty taking turns because your mind has failed to realize that you’re actually approaching the turn at a high rate of speed. That means plenty of unnecessary spinouts and wall scraping that should easily be avoided. It seems like the designers knew what they had on their hands so they decided to compensate for it by providing you with brain-dead opponents. The game is a breeze from start to finish as you’ll blow away opponents with very little effort, fanfare or enjoyment.
If there’s an area where SRS must be commended is in its attention to reality. Similar titles allow players to drive recklessly and bang into walls without any real consequence or repercussion. SRS changes this by forcing the player to pay for the damages that they have accrued. This forces the gamer to rely on their ability to react to turns than their ability to use concrete dividers as guidelines. The designers also must be commended for the superb physics system that they have created. I’ve driven a few of the cars in the game and can testify that they do indeed handle like the real thing. Eutechnyx decided to take a simulation-style approach to their vehicle physics and the end result is pretty good.Unlike NFSU, Namco opted to let the player roam freely and explore the city of LA at their leisure. This affords you the option of challenging other drivers in unsanctioned street races. Unfortunately the city is so poorly designed that this feature seems more like a chore than a joy. I assume that the designers realized this as well because they included a “jump” feature which warps you to all of the events and locales on the city map. Namco tells you that SRS takes place in Los Angeles but aside from the little graphic that says “Loading Los Angeles” that appears on load screens (trust me, you’ll be seeing a lot of this) you probably wouldn’t know it.
You won’t be impressed in the way of visuals either. Vehicle models are decent but they lack any sort of shaders to give them that extra bit of oomph. Real cars look shiny and have that special bit of sheen to them; SRS’ vehicles don’t. They look very dull, almost as if they’ve been sitting out in the middle of the desert for the past two years. SRS tries to go for that NFSU perpetually wet streets look but comes up short in most respects. The texture work is really weak and none of the roadside objects are particularly appealing. Other vehicles that populate the roads look like square boxes with no real detail or definition. Activating your high beams will yield a simple white texture that doesn’t utilize any sort of specular lighting or shaders. In short the game looks flat and lifeless. Only the post-race celebrations look decent but it’s nothing amazing. And then there are the “girlfriends” that appear in the game.
If the game had stopped here and omitted the girlfriends feature I might call SRS a respectable entry in the market that was plagued by 3DO’s own financial ineptness. But this feature was planned in the game from Day 1 and it was awful when I saw it at E3 2003 and it’s awful now that I have the final product in my hands. In short, the feature allows you to win challenges which will win you the ire of an import model. After passing the challenge you can have her be the flag girl that initiates races. It goes further than that though; upon winning races you will unlock new videos of the girls acting like they’re dancing against an imaginary stripper pole. God, if you want porn or lurid dancing watch Cinemax at night; don’t pollute video games with it. What’s most insulting about this feature is just how poorly it was implemented. All of the women look god awful in the game and bear little resemblance to their real-life counterparts. Seriously, how could any of the girls in this game actually approve of this? Their virtual chests are just humongous and they lack normal features like, oh, hips. “Girlfriends” is by far the worst and most embarrassing feature implemented in a video game this year.
But don’t get me wrong, “girlfriends” isn’t the only thing pulling this debacle down. The audio engineers decided to do their part by challenging WWE Day of Reckoning for the title of “Worst Soundtrack of 2004.” There’s one song in particular that keeps repeating the line “Microphone, check. One, two. Microphone, check. One, two.” After about fifteen minutes of non-stop punishment you’ll turn down the music if you’re smart. This is a shame too because the rest of the game’s audio is pretty well done. Every car sounds unique and if you own those vehicles, you’ll appreciate the attention to detail.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where SRS went wrong, especially when there’s so much to choose from. When the poor sensation of speed isn’t bothering you the soundtrack is. When you’re not annoyed by clunky interface you’ll be embarrassed by the “girlfriends” feature. This is a dirty shame because Eutechnyx had a decent idea on its hands, but the end result is far less than desirable. Pass on it unless you’re desperate for a street racing fix.
Sometimes you just have to wonder why a game was made. I mean, why pollute an already crowded market with a clone of a vastly superior title? This is exactly what Namcoâ€™s latest entry, Street Racing Syndicate does. It desperately wants to be Need for Speed Underground but it falls horribly short, featuring elements and designs that are so poorly implemented that theyâ€™re embarrassing.
Rating: 6.4 Flawed
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile