Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Fast and the Furious (PS2) Semi-final

The original Fast and the Furious movie came out about the same time the Playstation 2 did. I remember because the first PS2 game I had came with a trailer for that movie. That game was Genki's "Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero", a street racing game.

Genki were big fans of the F&F movies, and a few years later, when the sequel "2 Fast, 2 Furious" came out, they were tapped to do a game based on the movie. This game was fairly different than their other games, and was going to be set in L.A. Unfortunately, after a few years of development, the game was cancelled.

Now for the 3rd Fast & the Furious movie, "Tokyo Drift", there is finally a game that has been released. This time around it's by Eutechnyx and Namco, developer and publisher of Street Racing Syndicate. Though somewhat ironically, it feels more like a combination of Genki's Tokyo Xtreme Racer and drifting games than Street Racing Syndicate 2.


Like a lot of these games, you start off doing a race in a borrowed car. If you win the race, you get extra cash to buy a car with. If you lose, well, you're be hard pressed to lose.

There's a pretty decent selection of cars to begin with at start. Almost 20 cars, I think, ranging from the '86 Truneos and Focuses to one end, to Eclipses and Silvias on the high end, with RX-7s, Integras, 180SXs and more in the middle.

Basically once you have a car, you can free roam around Tokyo's highways. You can either engage in rollup races, where you come across another car, then flash your lights and then race until one car is ahead by 200m, or find a hot spot.

Hot spots are basically where teams of racer hang out, and you can race them in fixed races. These races are generally either destination battles (where the winner must cross the finish line first), top speed battles (where the car with the highest speed wins) or drift battles, which are only in mountain hotspots, where the winner is the car with the highest drifting point total. If you win, you get cash.

For the first half of the game, these are really really easy. And in many cases, you can do them again and again. So cash really isn't a problem.

As you win, you unlock more opponents, including bosses, and more cars to buy, and new types of stickers and drift charms in the tuneup shops. And more and more hot spots will open up. There is are 80 different hotspot races to win in all. Each opponent has a bio and car, and many of these are based on real world people from the world of drifting, while some are from the Fast and the Furious movies.

Overall, gameplay is fairly fun, but is hurt by two things. For the hot spot races, you have to put up with some serious loading time. You have to wait for the hot spot to load (20-30 seconds), then a reasonably short loading time for the race itself, then once the race is over, you have to wait for it to load again. It's extremely bad if you the autosave on, thanks to the glacially slow memory card of the PS2.

There is basically no loading in free roam mode (except for a pause of about half a second when an opponent is loaded, which actually just looks like a slowdown in the framerate), but it's hampered by the small size of the city, and the small number (and ease) of the opponents. Only about 40 opposing racers, and if the real Tokyo was this small, Godzilla could destroy it just by sitting down. (Okay, not that small, but pretty close).

Race variety is also a bit lacking. It's always just you and one other car, and there's only 3 types of races. I would liked to have seen drag races, and perhaps some circuit races on a racetrack or something.

The driving model is not overly realistic, but is more realistic than arcade-like. You do need to slow down for turns (unless you have mastered drifting), but cars do seem somewhat more agile in the game than real life. There is no damage in the game, but in an interesting twist, the walls are somewhat sticky, which eliminate the problem of "wall-riding".

Cars and Car Modding:

Since it's set in Japan, the car list is very Japan-centric. And since it's largely a drifting game, it's also drifting-centric, with most of the cars being rear wheel driven. But some some AWD and a few front wheel drives (like the Integra).

That said, you do some some good American cars are well. An old Mustang and a new one, plus some Mustang variants from Shelby and Saleen. Also some newer Corvettes, a Viper, and an old Chevelle. You don't find Hondas in most street racing games because they are very protective of their image, but this has a good range of them, including the NSX.

Car modding is pretty good. Basically in terms of performance, there are 5 different stages for various parts like engine, super/turbocharger, intercooler, brakes, etc. Usually a higher number is better, but not always the case, in terms of transmissions, where some are good for acceleration, others are good for top speed. And somewhat disappointingly, there is no tweaking of gear ratios. Also no replacement tranmissions with more gears for old muscle cars (most of which only have 4 gears, and so have a low top speed). You also can't do anything like lower a car, or tweak the downforce, or set brake bias.

Visual modding is both good and bad. The good part is that all the parts are pretty much real parts, licensed from real world manufacturers. The bad part is, there aren't all that many of them.

Pretty much all the usual stuff is there. Neons, venting colored gas, etc (no spinners, as far as I can tell, thankfully). Two new additions to the genre are drift charms and valve stem lights. Drift charms are basically little dangly figurines that are attached to the rear bumper. These seem to be pretty much all of Namco properties, like Pacman and from their various fighting games and Katamari. Stem lights are basically just little leds that go in the valve stem of the tire. These are illegal in the US for street use, I dunno about Japan, but they look quite cool in action. Makes it look like the wheel is lighted.

In terms of paint jobs, it's not great. You only get to choose from a selection of premade colors, about 30. You can pick between metallic, pearlescent, matte, and glossy, but none of them really look very good. And what's worse, on a lot of cars, the paint jobs are dithered, that is, you can see little dots on the car.

On the other hand, the game comes with a very nice vinyl system. Pretty much like from Forza, but with some improvements. The premade made ones aren't much, but you can do a bunch of layers (I think 32 per area), and there are options for letters and numbers and shapes and you can really re-size them. So if you have patience, you can do some really nice stuff.


The graphics are pretty good for a Playstation 2 game. It's somewhat tricky to judge though, because the game is set entirely at night, which means things can be a bit hard to see. Still, it's a very colorful game, with lots of lighting. Most other racers set in Tokyo (pretty much just the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series) were all just yellow, black and brown.

There's very good use of lighting. In fact, racing down some of the highways and tunnels felt more like I was playing 2001: The Game, as it is very trippy. I would have to think that epileptics might be bothered by this game.

The frame rate seems pretty solid. There is some slowdown occasionally, but only when an opponent is loaded, or a race is over, not actually during the race.

You only race against one other opponent, so it's not surprising that the car models are fairly well detailed. The only trouble is that (as mentioned), some paint jobs on some cars (the '05 Mustang in particular), the textures are dithered. That is, instead of being a solid color, you can see little alternating dots of color. At least in the replay and in the showroom/garage.


There are two important things in a racing game when it comes to sound: Engine noise and music.

The engine noise in this is pretty good, I think. Most importantly, V8s sound like V8s, or at least, big engines. The other engines sound wimpier, but they are supposed to.

The music is quite a mixed bag. There's apparently a large number of tracks in the game, but a lot of them get repeated over and over.

But basically it's a mix of Japanese music (pop and some hip-hop, I think), hip-hop/rap, MTV rock, and generic guitar rock. The Japanese stuff works pretty well. I have no idea what they are singing, but it's catchy, even the hip hop, which I don't usually like. The rest is kinda annoying. But unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to select which songs you like or not. Also doesn't tell you what you are listening to.

Final Thoughts:

It's a fairly enjoyable game. I think it was rushed a little bit in order to make a release date that coincided with the release of the movie on DVD, and so is rough around the edges in places.

Still, it doesn't really add anything new to the genre. While it tries to be the most accessable drifting game around, I don't think it teaches it well. Basically just some videos and you get to try it youself (with no real explanation of what you are doing). And honestly, I found drifting to be easier (to do well, not just spinning and crashing into the rail) in Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift.

I also think it's kinda short. While I dislike games where it takes forever to get good stuff (like say, Midnight Club 3), in this, you can get really great stuff only after an hour or two. I was 50% done after about 10 hours, and while I haven't finished yet, that's largely because my bedroom (where my PS2 is) has been invaded by my pets, making it hard to play action games (they get upset).

Also, the game assumes a lot of knowledge from the player. Do you know what a limited slip differential is? If you don't, you could end up being confused, because it's never explained in the game. But ironically, while it assumes the player knows a lot about cars, it doesn't offer the most advanced tweaks over a cars performance (gear ratios, ride height, etc).

That said, my real disappointment is with the free roam aspect. I knew it was just supposed to be the highways, but it still feels so tiny. Tokyo Xtremer Racer 3's version of Tokyo is much bigger. And there's only like 40 different free roam rollup races, all of them quite easy (the difficulty is finding them). But at the same time, it is a pretty good try, and even though most poeple (including me) might not notice, they really did try to make this a very authentic game. So I give a C+, or 7/10 here.