As most of you probably know, Namco recently released a street racer for PS2/Xbox called Street Racing Syndicate (SRS)
. I've had a chance to play it pretty extensively and wanted to share my thoughts. Those who liked the Tokyo Extreme Racer (TXR) series or the more recent Need For Speed Underground (NFSU) will most likely take to the game. My overall opinion of the game is mixed for a number of reasons. Read on as I break everything down into graphics, features, gameplay and sound.
Given the processing power of consoles and PCs today, everyone expects the graphics of newer games to one-up those that have already been released. I'd viewed a number SRS screenshots prior to receiving the game, and based on those I was pretty anxious to see how it looked in person. Upon playing the game I felt the graphics were clean yet they lacked fine detail when viewing textures up close on my big screen TV. The color palette used is neon in nature, particularly in some of the beginning races. The backdrop and scenery of the tracks is palatable, but nothing groundbreaking. The car models themselves had a fair amount of detail, but lighting effects were noticeably missing. For instance, during a race you'll find yourself cruising under a string of neon colored lights, none of which are reflected against your vehicle as you pass through. Character models are typical console quality without much detail. I had pretty high hopes for the graphics, but after playing for an extended period I found them to be average. This will be ever more apparent as the new crop of racers arrives on consoles for the Christmas season.
Elements of many other games have been brought together in SRS. While one can say that there's no game exactly like SRS, many of it's features can be found elsewhere and sometimes implemented in a better fashion. SRS does have some unique points and provides an overall enjoyable arcade racing experience.
SRS offers three different play modes: Street Mode, Arcade Mode and Multiplayer. I spent almost all my time in Street Mode. I will very quickly touch on Arcade mode, which consists of a selection of four different types of races:
- Quick Race - One-off races at various locations throughout the three cities. Winning the hardest LA Checkpoint unlocks the Mitsubishi EVO VII GSR.
- Checkpoint - A race against time where you must navigate through a series of checkpoints in the allotted time. Each checkpoint gives you a bit of a time bonus in order to get to the next.
- Iron Man - A series of races against 3 opponents. You must finish each race in first in order to progress to the next round. Winning each Iron Man will unlock a new car.
- Speed Trial - You against the clock again, only this time you're going for lowest lap time and highest speed
I found that I kept breaking lap and speed records as I played through Arcade mode. What I didn't find was a place to view these records. Maybe I was searching in the wrong area, so someone please tell me if I've overlooked the 'place where you can view your records' area. I don't have a network adapter for my PS2, so I unfortunately couldn't take advantage of online multiplayer play. A feature of online play, which at the outset seems interesting, is racing for pink slips with your live opponents.
Street Mode starts you off in a race you must win to take a $30k stake with which you will purchase your first car. The essence of Street Mode is to get money and respect, which in turn gets you a stable of cars and women. There are three non-race locations in Street Mode: the Showroom, the Garage and the Warehouse. The Showroom is where cars are purchased and sold. Namco claims 50 unique models, but really there are only 14 in various trim packages with little to no difference in performance. For instance, there are 11 different Nissan models to choose from. Five of them are 350Z Coupes and the remaining six are Skyline GTRs. I purchased three different Skylines as I played the game, all of which drove exactly the same as far as I'm concerned.
Three different transmission options are available when purchasing a car. The typical Auto and Manual are available along with a new option I've only seen in SRS called Semi-Auto. Semi-Auto lets the racer handle upshifts while the game handles downshifts. One 'feature' I noticed is that the transmission selected upon car purchase cannot be changed in Street Mode. This is a marked and unwelcome departure from almost every other racer I've played. Why lend this level of realism to transmission selection while other areas of the game (girlfriends) are outrageously unrealistic? I found the automatic and semi-auto transmissions to be very poor at downshifting. More often than not I found these transmissions sticking in 3rd or 4th gear at very low RPMs when exiting a sharp corner. Additionally, the upshift point for the automatic transmission is set around 1,000 RPM below the redline. I highly recommend using a manual transmission throughout the game.
The Garage sells various performance (suspension, turbo, NOS, etc.) and aesthetic (paint, vinyls) upgrades. Those who have played Need For Speed Underground will find the garage in SRS very familiar. Real world aftermarket parts companies such as Greddy, HKS and Veilside are pimped in the parts section. Most items there are listed in a Stage 1,2,3 fashion. Different brands of the same type of part are sometimes offered, but each stage across brands is virtually identical in performance. One brand is almost always cheaper than the other, so I always went with what cost the least.
While scrolling through the various parts, a readout of the car's performance is displayed to indicate the impact a part will have. It's a nice thought but it was poorly executed. Not only is there anywhere between a 1 and 5 second lag when scrolling amongst part types, but I had to view a part and then back out of it to see the effect of having it installed. Had it not been for the lag, this wouldn't have gotten old as quickly as it did. The good news is you'll know exactly what to purchase after a couple of shopping sprees, so you won't have to worry so much about the lag. A feature that I believe is unique to SRS is that you have the option of going to the dyno to view a car's before and after performance with parts that have been selected but not yet purchased. I'd have preferred a before/after dialog when browsing individual parts.
The import racer scene has an almost perverted love of metallic paints, vinyls, zero-downforce whale wings, body kits and neon. As such, an entire area in the Garage is devoted to customizing the look of your car. As with the performance section, NSFU players will be familiar with this area. When compared with NFSU, however, the options in SRS pale in comparison. For example, NFSU features the ability to layer up to four out of a selection of hundreds of vinyls to go for that unique look. SRS offers only 20 or so vinyls and no option for layering. There are lots of decals and you can choose from a fair amount of spoilers, but there's only one body kit which happens to reduce a car's top speed by ~10mph.
The Warehouse serves as storage for your collection of cars and girlfriends. Car selection is pretty straightforward, and as long as you're not participating in a series of races you can switch amongst your cars at any time. I will wait until later to explore the single worst feature ever implemented in a racing game... girlfriends.
Street Mode allows you to roam around the city streets much like in the TXR series. This is a great feature as it provides an opportunity to get acclimated to new cars and such without sullying your win/loss record. While on the streets an occasional car will roll by with a 'Race Me' flag above it. These races can also be found by looking for green arrows on your in game map. Roll up, flash your brights, lay down some cash and take him on in a point to point race. I liked the frequency with which the roll-up races occurred, especially in comparison to the TXR series. I remember driving around for 10+ minutes looking for a rival in TXR2. I spent maybe a couple minutes at most looking for races in SRS. The difficulty of the roll-up races varies by car and wager. Starting out, I'd avoid the guys in Skyline GT-R's wagering $3k. A frustration I had with roll-up races was that sometimes the green arrow on my map would disappear too quickly for me to get turned around and going in the direction of a prospective racer.
Navigation throughout Street Mode is fairly simple. The Select button pulls up a full screen map of the city, where virtually any race and map location can be selected. Once a location is selected, you have the option of manually driving there or jumping through what I suppose is a space-time wormhole. I couldn't care less about the physical improbability, because the jump feature is a godsend and other game developers should take note of it's time saving convenience.
Cops are peppered throughout the city in Street Mode. I found that you really have to get out of hand in order for them to give chase. I rolled around looking for cops one day just to see what I could get away with. I tried everything from burnouts to driving on the wrong side of the road without so much as a blip. I even passed a couple cops on the highway while doing 90 mph and they just flashed their lights at me a couple times. I began thinking that I wished cops were like this in real life... until I drew their ire. Quite simply, the cops are suicidal when they're hunting you down. While in a chase, one frustrating item was the game's tendency to place a new cop a couple hundred yards in front of me where none existed before.
The good news is that it's easy to get out of their line of site and escape, especially if you have one of the faster cars and a fair amount of nitrous. I found that once I escaped their vision, all I had to do was basically sit still for a few seconds while my chase meter went to zero. I did get caught one time for a hefty fine of $3,315, so I decided to play it somewhat safe with cops in the vicinity. In the end, the cops aren't much more than a nuisance. An 'out of the box' feature that would be nice is the option to toggle them on and off. While roll-up races and evading cops can take a lot of time, the meat and potatoes of Street Mode lies in Crew Meets, Street Challenges and Respect Challenges.
Crew Meets are series type races scattered throughout the map. A Crew Meet features three race series, each consisting of three races. Three race types can be found: 3 lap circuits, point to point and drag, with the majority being circuits. The races start off very easy in difficulty and ramp up very slowly from there until the last meet, which is very challenging. All Crew Meets except for two Sanctioned Meets have a minimum you must ante up in order to race, as well as a minimum quota of Respect points. Side bets can be placed before each race to further pad your winnings. Up to 1,000 respect points can be earned in each race by performing stunts like drafting other racers, drifting around corners and catching air. I found these points to be very hard to acquire in any FWD car. RWD or high power 4WD is the way to go. Combinations of moves can be pulled off for respect multipliers. The majority of respect point accumulation lies in your ability to win races. 1st = 750, 2nd = 500 and 3rd = 250 base respect points. A maximum of 250 discretionary points per race can be attained on top of the base. It is extraordinarily easy to attain the 250 points in some races, while it is almost impossible to do so in others (read: drags).
I discovered a couple easy respect gaining tricks along the way. The first is to continually draft other racers for 30 points a clip. I found that actually getting the points for drafting was very inconsistent though. Another quick way to gain points is to allow the other racers to start just a 10th of a second ahead of you, quickly forcing you to 4th place. Each subsequent place gained adds 10 respect points. Crew Meets can be replayed in the event you attain a poor respect score. I did come across a few instances where the positive difference in my respect score from a replayed Crew Meet did not reflect correctly in my aggregate score. I have no idea why this happened, however I was very surprised to see this type of thing occur in a released product. Maybe it was just my poor eyesight, who knows.
I found that a Stage 3 Nitrous upgrade is a necessity in the later Crew Meets. You only get one bottle for all three races, so I suggest using it sparingly unless someone comes screaming up behind you. You can replenish your Nitrous by pulling off Respect tricks while cruising around between races. If you're feeling lazy, the Garage always has a new bottle in stock. I read about a $0 Nitrous bug in a forum, but it is not true. Here is how it (doesn't) work: Go to the Garage, fit any bottle Nitrous that isn't currently installed, then go back and fit the bottle you had previously installed. When exiting, you are prompted with a $0 total. In actuality, the money is still deducted from your earnings upon exiting the Garage. I've seen this bug mentioned a number of times, but I guess not too many people keep track of their money before and after a Garage session. Let's hope these same people don't go into finance, because if they do they won't be caught until it's too late and another company has filed bankruptcy due to fraudulent earnings reports.
Crew Meets were the sweet spot in SRS for me. I enjoyed the circuit races as well as the ability to choose an opponent with whom I could place side bets. I found the next race type, the Street Challenges, to be very frustrating. Street Challenges are basically statically located one-on-one point to point races with anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars on the line. As with the Crew Meets, you can play the Street Challenges as many times as you please. The only variable that changes is your opponent. The races themselves were fine, but I ran up against a completion bug in the game. I completed each and every one of the 20 Street Challenges three times while SRS shows that I completed only six of them. I quickly grew tired of this, and after a few failed web searches just gave up on the whole thing.
Last, and certainly least, are the Respect Challenges. These challenges are your gateway to the ultra-hyper-realistic girlfriends aspect of SRS. I knew this would be a feature to remember when I saw the SRS banner ad featuring the flashing 'Hot Girls' byline. After playing the game and going through the girlfriend piece, I have to say that it truly is a feature that brings the game down as a whole. For those of you who aren't down with the street racing scene, this is apparently how it works: You're rolling through the hood one fine evening, layin' down the beats with some JL subs (required due to the retardedly loud exhaust note), when all of a sudden you happen upon this fine looking lady. Just like any self respecting woman would do in real life, she says something like, “Hey baby, that's a fine ride. But, do you have mad skillz? Show me what you got and I just might roll wit ya.” It is now up to you to show her just what you're made of. The challenge may consist of a checkpoint race, a follow the leader drill or possibly a balls-out respect points showdown. If you pass the test, this fine young thing will become yours. The beauty of it is that it appears some of these women would normally charge an up front fee, but apparently your ride and skillz are enough to keep them satisfied. I double checked my funds before and after picking each woman up, and the amount was in fact the same pre and post pickup. Is this a bug?
I swear, I really need to get into the street racing scene. If not for the cars and the street cred, then for how the whole relationship thing works. Immediately after I picked up my first girl, I took her cruising in one of the 'Cruise Zone' locations. I thought maybe she'd lean out the window, possibly flash some passersby. Nada, so I took my new acquisition over to a Crew Meet. Upon my winning the meet, she comes up and tells me she's got a surprise waiting for me when we get back home! Of course I couldn't wait, so I jumped on over to the Warehouse to see what she had in store. I navigated my way back to the girlfriend stalls and found a couple nice little low-res mpeg videos of my girl in front of a blue screen with a digitized background overlay dancing out of synch to second rate hip hop songs. The first featured her in a pair of tight pants and a halter top, while the second had her stripped down to some very short shorts and a bikini top.
I noticed that I had only opened 2/3 videos for my woman, so I ventured out to another Crew Meet to show her that I really deserved what was behind door number three. I got the royal treatment this time with a private bikini dance to yet another timeless hip hop smash! The best was yet to come. Not long after I picked up my first chick did I notice that I could pick up another, and another! Hell, I could have as many women as I wanted. Well, 18 to be exact. I even had a storage place for each of them back at the warehouse! If I got tired of one chick, all I had to do was go back to the warehouse to exchange her for another. I became downright decadent in my polygamy. I started trading chicks out after every race just to see if any of them got angry or if I could trigger a catfight easter egg video. Just as I began seriously contemplating a move to Utah, I accidentally let one out of the stable by losing a Crew Meet. After my demise, my girl rode off with the winner telling me that it was a 'good run', but that things just 'weren't working out anymore'.
I was heartbroken. What was I to do with only 17 women in my harem? I had to get her back. Luckily, she was kickin' it roadside at one of the Street Challenges that the game claimed I never beat. I didn't beat it again and got her back.... whew! I know I was harsh in my assessment of the girlfriends feature, but I feel that is the merit this idea deserves. It's one thing to have shots of women here and there and to have them starting the races, etc. But why go to these lengths and spend all that time and money on motion cap and bad voice overs? The only community you're serving with a feature like this is prepubescent boys and maybe dirty old men. It's a waste of time for the rest of us, and moreover, will most likely prevent the more hardcore gamers from ever taking the game seriously. I submit that the time and dollars spent on the girlfriends feature would have been spent more wisely in the Control department.
4/10 (6/10 without Girlfriends)
Gameplay in SRS is a mixed bag. I've already touched on the deficiencies in the auto and semi-auto transmission modes. After adjusting like one must do with any racer, I found the steering response when using the analog controller to be steady and consistent. The response was less sensitive when compared with other arcade racers, which I found to be a great benefit. The same can be said for throttle response. The handling characteristics of FWD vs. RWD vs. 4WD were markedly different and gave you the impression that the developers spent some time on this item. Outside of the difference in power, I felt that the handling characteristics of different cars in the same drivetrain class were pretty much the same. Maybe this is my penchant for sims coming out, but I would like to have seen a bit more diversification on this front.
One thing I look for in a racer is that sense of speed when hurtling down the highway at 150+mph. SRS comes in a little shy on this front. I had a hard time discerning whether I was going 100 or 150, so I ended up using the speedo as a crutch more often than not.
SRS incorporates a real time damage model. In short, the effects of damage are purely cosmetic and have no bearing on the game itself. Based on my experience, the relative weight given to different objects was arbitrary. For instance, I could plow into a small passenger car or a box truck from behind to much the same effect. Contrary to what the instruction booklet claims, the damage I inflicted upon my car seemed to have no detrimental effect on performance. The book and some characters in the game encourage you to fix your ride for many thousands of dollars, but I saw no point in it. I played the entire game with 'wrecked' cars and felt no ill effect other than the fact that my ride looked like trash. I had a thought that car damage may factor into the aforementioned inability to officially complete 14 / 20 Street Challenges. I spent the cash to repair my car and raced all of them yet another time but still
wasn't given any credit for doing so. I like the idea of a damage model as long as it does what it's intended to do, which is to discourage intentionally ramming other racers into walls, etc. I'm afraid this sort of accountability isn't truly enforced in SRS.
Nitrous and it's ability to push you ahead when you need it most is an important part of any street racer. Level 3 nitrous in SRS provides a very generous dose. I'd estimate you could hold the NoS button down for ~30 seconds before running out. The downside to using it is the blur motion and it's effect on your ability to handle the car. I had a tough time getting through even the slightest curves with any accuracy while I had the NoS button pressed. Additionally, I felt the 'boost' from using NoS could have been beefed up a little. The fact that you have a ton of it to go around largely mitigates the weak boost factor.
The driver views and controller customization options are pretty standard fare. There are a couple above and behind views as well as the in-car or bumper view. I played most of the game using the closest behind car view. Some racers are notorious for having a reaction delay while using the behind the car views. I did not experience this problem with SRS. Furthermore, I would have found it pretty hard to play the game using the in-car view with the limited field of view offered. This is due to the fact that you must drift through every turn possible for Respect points. I would like to see a fully customizable controller setup as none of the preset options were button for button what I was looking for.
The opponent AI in SRS is not entirely predictable but sometimes too aggressive. I found the AI to be overly aggressive in trying to take me out in later races. This became very frustrating as I raced along in 1st place and came upon, say, a hairpin curve. Of course, I had to brake pretty heavily to make the turn. More often than not I was rammed by an opponent, which sometimes sent me flying hundreds of feet forward in an uncontrollable spin. I thought I was playing Destruction Derby on the PS1! Additionally, the rubber band effect is sometimes infuriating. Just for kicks, I took a 849HP Skyline out against a bunch of sub 350HP opponents. Amazingly, these little guys kept up, with 2nd place sometimes finishing less than 10 seconds behind me. Maybe I just suck at racing games, eh?
Framerate, or lack thereof, can be the bane of an otherwise enjoyable game. Given the not overly detailed look of SRS, I expected the framerate to be pretty rock solid. Unfortunately, many of the busier areas became very choppy. Being an avid PC gamer, I've grown accustomed to wild fluctuations in framerate. The variance I experienced with SRS wasn't so marked as to make the game unplayable, though I can see how it would be a major frustration for some players.
In game sound is average for this day and age. The cars sounded good as they went through their paces, and you could easily discern differences in the engine sounds after installing aftermarket performance parts. Dolby Pro Logic II is available as an option, and while the single surround channel provided a decent rear sound field, I would have preferred 5.1 so I could tell whether an opponent was behind me to the left or right without having to flip to the rear view. When compared to other games, the overall engine and tire sounds seemed a bit less detailed in higher frequencies.
Voice acting in the game is average, with a limited number of actors providing their talents. It seemed like I kept running into the same 4 or 5 guys when participating in roll-up or Street Challenges.
The music featured in SRS is below average. I'm not the biggest hip-hop/rap fan, but I know the general landscape of the music industry. I haven't heard of a single artist whose work is featured in this game. The song selection is somewhat limited, and there is no option to choose which songs to play and which to skip. I ended up turning the music off altogether.
My overall impression of SRS is that it is a game with some good ideas combined with fair execution. It is also a game with some poor ideas compounded by poor execution. The Street Challenge completion bug was very frustrating as I am the type who likes to finish games through to the end. I ended up with around 70% completion as I didn't want to keep collecting all the private dances and 7 different versions of the same car just to call it a 100% day. The replay value of this game is middle of the road as aside from the roaming factor the mission based races are very straightforward and the tracks except for the very last set are only marginally challenging. Again, I did not have the ability to experience online play as I don't have an Ethernet adapter for my PS2. I hope to get one soon so I can experience the highly touted pink slip racing. I wonder, do you also win your opponent's girlfriend after you've beaten him?