Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Street Racing Syndicate for Xbox (first draft)

Street Racing Syndicate, or SRS, was originally going to be released by 3DO in the summer of 2003, but 3D0 went out of business. Namco swooped in and bought the game from the bankruptcy sale. And apparently decided the game needed an overhaul, which delayed the game by about another year.

Driving is pretty realistic, actually. Cars handle about how they should, and there is a good sense of inertia in the system - bigger cars feel heavy, while small cars feel light. Control is perhaps a little tight at first, you have to tendency to oversteer, but after a bit you get used to it.

There is an analog clutch if you want to use it, but you have to turn it on (it's control scheme #4). Since I have trouble driving a stick shift in real life, I simply use the automatic tranmission. There is actually a compromise for people like me - semi-auto, which lets you make upward shifts, but will shift down for you.

Most of the game play takes place in L.A. I can't tell you how realistic it is, since it's been 15 years since I've been there, but it's fairly good sized. Not huge, but perhaps about the half the size of the city in the GTA series.

What's impressive though is the graphics in the city. The detail is amazing. For instance, you can see a menu at a roadside diner. Not quite read it, but almost. Each neighborhood also has it's own theme. Some part of the city are also in different times - that is, some parts of the city are in nighttime (most in fact), while others, the northern outskirts, are in daylight. The transition is pretty much concealed by having to drive through tunnels - go in daylight, come out night.

What I also like about the graphics is that it offers a "hood" view. That is, it's like you are looking out the car from the driver's seat and see the hood (well part of it). The first game that had it that I had was Apex, and I great to love it in that, and Toca 2 also had it. There is something of a price to pay in this game - I think the frame rate drops a bit when the hood view is used, but not enough to stop me from using it.

In "Street Mode", which is the meat of the game, you start off with $30,000 to buy and outfit a car. You then basically drive around LA, looking for races, to gain more money and more respect, the latter is kind of like the kudos system from Project Gotham Racing (or Metropolis Street Racer before that), you gain it by "drifting" and doing stylish things, as well as simply winning certain types of races.

There are several different race types you can do. Sanctioned races, "Crew" races, street challenges, and finally simply flashing the headlights at a passing car (or at least the ones that are raceable). You can actually get to any of the latter by either driving around the city to the location they are held at, or simply picking the location on the map and pressing a button.

Sanctioned races are legal, and held outside the city proper. The first one you are likely to enter is on an old army or air force base. The graphics are strange on this one - there's neon everyone. The result is something out of Blade Runner, or if you remember it, the old PC racer "Megarace". I suspect many who try this game are turned off by these graphics - they are funny looking. The second sanctioned race series is held in some storm drains. They pretty much look like stormdrains.

"Crew" races are probably the most important in the game. These are the illegal street races held during the city. You race against 3 other cars, and have to ante up a certain amount of money to enter - this money becomes the "pot", which the winner of the race gets. You can also make side bets with one of the other opponents, as to who will finish first, you or him.

Crew races are a combination of point to point races and circuit races (ie, where you have laps. Sometimes 2, sometimes 3).

If you have a "girlfriend" (the in the game kind) with you at one of these crew races, she will start the race. Each woman has a different opening sequence, which is kind of a neat, if useless, detail to the game.

In order to pick up these women, you have to earn their respect, by completing a 'respect' challenge. Which is basically a driving test. There's a variety of these, some you have to follow a car without hitting it or letting it get away too far, some you have to drive through checkpoints, some you have to earn a certain amount of respect in a small amount of time (for these you really need the Trueno).

If you do win a series at a crew race, besides the money, it will unlock another video of the real life analog of the woman. In many cases, the virtual version doesn't look like the real version. The videos aren't especially racy, not coming even close to Sports Illustrated swimsuit standards. And most of them can't dance very well, either.

You should be able to blow through the first few crew races and the first sanctioned match with your first car. It should be very easy in fact. But after that, the opponents get better cars, and you'll probably be evenly (or outmatched).

I wouldn't exactly call the AI brilliant, but the AI seems to pretty much play by the same rules as you do. For instance, it can be tricky driving the high powered rear wheel drive cars through hairpin turns in this game (just like real life) - it's easy to spin out if you hit the gas too much. I've seen that happen to the AI.

There may be a slight catchup effect in play, I've noticed that the last place car usually has the best lap time. But it's only by about a second, so it's not like the rubberband AI you find in most racing games. You're told the basic stats of the opponent cars (hp, 0-60 time, top speed) before the race, and they seem true to them.

Earlier races are fairly sedate, but once you get a fastish car, say a 350z, and your races take place at 130+ mph much of the time, they get to be fairly frantic. Later races also take place in busier areas, or at least, not as empty. Some later races have you race backwards on a highway, that can give your nerves a workout.

There is damage in the game, but it's relatively forgiving. That is, it's not realistic, ie, one crash you wreck your car and end up in the hospital, but you do hurt the performance of the car. The most obvious effects are visual - my favorite is how the hood starts to flap if you are using the hood view.

Most cars are locked at first, and have to be unlocked by gaining more and more respect. But most cars should be unlocked before you are 50% or so into the game (say 15 hours). In fact, when I was at 51% complete, I had all cars but two unlocked - and one of those has to be unlocked via the arcade mode.

The car list is one of the downsides of the game. You basically have:

Celica, Golf, Jetta, Trueno, MR2 Spyder, Skyline, 350Z, RX7, RX8, a Lexus, a Lancer EVO, Ecclipse, Supra, and Impreza. So basically 14 different car models. Yes, there are several variations, like 4 versions of the Impreza, 6 versions of the Celica, 5 Skylines, 5 Supras. But there's not a huge difference among them. You can have 50 cars in your garage.

You get the Trueno by completing Ironman in arcade mode on easy, a special RX8 by beating it on medium, and something (I think a super RX7) by beating it on hard. You get a Lancer by beating the checkpoint race on hard. Not just unlock, you get a free car, so it's worth getting at least the Trueno, which should take about 5 minutes and is easy to do, and is a pretty fast car.

Similarly, the car modding aspect of the game is somewhat less than you'd expect. There is a wide variety of car part manufacturers, but most only have one or two parts. For instance, there are 2 makers of Turbos. Both are about the same, but only one has an intercooler. There are two choices of spark plugs, but you'll always want to pick Bosch, as they are better.

It's also not always obvious that two parts are the same basic thing. For instance, you can only put an intake manifold (there's only 1) or headers on the car (again, only 1). I don't think they are the same thing, actually, but I don't know how cars with fuel injectors work, so I don't know for sure (I'm more into muscle cars).

All the modifications are unlocked, so if you have the cash, you can max out a car's horsepower and torque. However, is not necessarily the wise thing, as you can overpower a car, and actually the driving ability. Especially in rear wheel drive cars.

Also key are the tires. There are basically 4 types of tires, and each has vastly different performance. One set has the quickest 0-60 times, but these have terrible performance when it comes to turning (they are drag racing tires). The difference between the others isn't as obvious, but you can really feel the difference.

Visually, you are pretty limited. You can paint the car about 20 different colors. There's generally only 1 body kit per car (some don't have any). There's about 15 different vinyls or decals that cover your car, and most of these are pretty ugly, except for the secret Pac-man one you can unlock (using the GORETRO cheat code).

On the plus side, you can change the color of your wheels. I always liked gold or red colored wheels on a car. On the down side, the choices of wheel are pretty pedestrian - I was hoping for some of the 3 spoke, futuristic ones.

I think there's 6 different colored neon lights. These actually don't look very good in the game. They don't look neon, they look more like colored normal lights. There's no flourescent effect to them.

So, after something like Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3, which lets you mod the car pretty much the way you want (including a paint editor to change the paint job pixel by pixel), this is a huge let down. Though the Pac-Man vinyl does help (I wish it also made the car go "Wocka", but it doesn't).

All in all, a pretty fun game. Probably shorter than I liked, I think probably around 25-30 hours before you can unlock everything, or give up in frustration. Not bad for an RPG, but this is a driving game, so it's sort of short.

I think it's a very solid core. I hope to see a SRS 2 with more cars, more races, and even more girls (with less clothing). But this is just a bit too short, and has too few cars to be a great game. I would give it a very solid B though, or an 8 out of 10.

It's going to be compared to Need for Speed: Underground a lot, unfairly I think, since I believe this game actually started development before that one. But I think this is a much better game that that. Pretty much everything I hated about NFS:U, this game does in a way I like or love. I also think if you like arcade games like NFS:U, then you won't find this game to your taste.