The popularity of nitrous-fueled street racing has exploded in recent years. For awhile, the only way import racing fans could get their fix was at unofficial "tracks" dotting the urban landscape. These midnight races presented a world of opportunity for fledgling racers: respect, riches and the flighty affections of high-maintenance women. Alas, the high-stakes lifestyle of the Fast and the Furious
crowd isn't for everyone, and so Namco decided to release Street Racing Syndicate
. With SRS
, Namco set out to incorporate the nuances of real street racing. Instead of choosing the arcade route taken by the Need for Speed Underground
series, Namco decided to pursue a racing experience grounded in reality.
Did it work? Did Namco deliver a title brimming with the nuts-and-bolts of real street racing while retaining the flashy sense of escapism that made the phenomenon what it is today? Unfortunately, SRS succeeds in all the wrong places. It's fun spending hours fine-tuning your car (and most race-freaks probably will,) but most of the enjoyment never takes to the streets; it stays in the garage. The fact is made even more frustrating because SRS boasts some truly nifty features like an open-ended city and the chance to challenge random drivers. You can even collect hot women and trade them like baseball cards for Pete's sake. Now that's a feature missing from most games anyway, but to have it included in a mediocre game
for shame! SRS boasts increased realism through enhanced car mechanics and customization, but the cost of such practicality is too high.
For starters, the game feels slow. Even at its fastest, when you're tearing through Miami at 200+ mph, SRS fails to conjure the sense of speed required in a street-racing title. While the game feels quite speedy during initial races, the effect can only be chalked up to a players lack of experience negotiating slick roads and sharp turns. Once accustomed, throttling through bends and narrow streets just doesn't feel exhilarating. Driving 150mph feels like driving 80mph. It may be more accurate, but when you're sacrificing the kind of excitement present in less-realistic titles like Burn Out 3, you'll swear realism sucks. Plus, the cars feel stiff, cutting down on the all-important fun-factor even more. Of course, purchasing new cars and modifying them helps alleviate a part of the problem. It's an iffy situation penalizing a game for being authentic, but the bottom line is that realism doesn't always translate well in videogames.
Take the Fast and the Furious flicks for example--they're not grounded in reality, which is why they're fun to watch (at least I think so, anyway.) If they had really showed what goes on in street races, things would moved that much slower. And injecting nitrous oxide in your system would not, I repeat not, send your car into warp speed as it does in 2 Fast, 2 Furious. But hey, it looked snazzy and made the movie suck less. SRS could have used a dash of artistic license like in Hollywood's portrayal of street-racing culture. It may not be realistic, and you'd be sacrificing one of the game's major selling points, but you'd also be adding another, greater one. When all is said and done, it's what happens on the street (digital or otherwise) that matters.
To its credit, Namco has done a great job of incorporating cars, parts and visual customizations from real-world manufacturers. SRS offers around 50 authentically modeled, officially licensed cars from manufacturers such as Nissan, Mitsubishi and Mazda. Each car looks and handles just as it should, making the acquisition of hot rides imperative if you want to survive on the streets. Provided you have the funds, you'll be ripping through traffic in the Mazda RX-7 and RX-8; the Toyota Supra MR2 Spyder, Celica, Corolla (AE86); the Subaru WRX, WRX STi; the Nissan Skyline GT-R (R34), 350Z; the Lexus IS 300 and the Mitsubishi Evo VIII. Purchasing a car takes an easy drive down to the showroom, where you can cycle through available models and make your selection depending on a vehicle's top speed, horsepower, torque, brake power and price. You can even pop the hood of each car to inspect an authentically modeled engine.
SRS opens the game with a choice of three different game modes: Street Mode (or career mode,) Arcade Mode and Multiplayer. The multiplayer modes give you the chance to challenge real opponents through online races or through split-screen mode. Most of the basic modes make an appearance. You can race in the basic Quick Race with a random opponent or race in a co-op mode called Team Position Race. You can also race in Collection Races where the first driver to collect tokens around the city wins. And then there's Street Mode. After selecting a car, you'll need to trick it out at the garage in preparation for dozens of career-making races across three cities. The garage is where SRS owns the competition in terms of authenticity, customization and attention to detail.
Namco has included hundreds of real after-market parts. The garage splits between four main options: Performance upgrades, cosmetic upgrades, Dyno, and Repair. Each main area then breaks down to a set of sub-categories. For example, you can purchase nitrous-oxide systems, turbos, wheels, spoilers and tweak suspension under performance upgrades. Parts come from big name manufacturers such as Holley, Venom, HKS, Yokohama, and Brembo. Likewise, you'll find vinyl, stickers and paint options under cosmetic upgrades. It's easy to spend hours in the garage just swapping parts and then putting your ride through the Dyno test to see how each upgrade affected your ride. Each individual part, whether it is a turbo or set of tires, can make the difference between victory and defeat.
It's been mentioned earlier this review, but I'll say it again: the soul of SRS resides in the garage and not on the street. But that's not to say there's little going on outside the confines of the garage. Unlike Need for Speed Underground, SRS boasts an open-ended city brimming with illegal opportunities. Opening the map of the city presents eight different categories of "events" you can try. The game paints each event as a colored dot on the map. It's possible to drive to each one, but you can also "jump" at the touch of a button. The categories include: Crew Meets, Respect Challenges, Street Challenges, City Locations and Cruise Zones.
Each event offers different rewards; some will earn you respect points (good for unlocking extras) while some offer cash. Cruise Zones just let you watch your tricked-out ride riding around the city through a replay camera. Another cool feature is the ability to challenge random drivers to races. Not entirely random--they have floating signs above their cars that read "race me!" But whatever, it's still pretty neat. Unfortunately, they all boil down to the same thing in terms of actual gameplay. None of the races features fundamental changes in track design. SRS divides 72 races between LA, Philadelphia and Miami, with day and night tracks to spice things up. While driving around the cities, you'll need to watch out for cops, as speeding around the city will land you a chunky fine if you can't outrun a squad car.
And then there's the kind of race that will earn you women.
Keeping with the whole "grounded in reality" thing, SRS gives you the chance to "win" attractive human females as prizes. Here's how it works: once you've accumulated enough "status" as a bonified street racer, a girl will offer herself to the player if he/she wins a race under her specific conditions. Usually, this means you'll need to speed along a city block through a series of checkpoints. If you win, she's yours. Romance? Please-- that's for guys with slow cars. What exactly do you do with these fabulous flesh prizes? Well, you can easily store them in your private warehouse and force them to dance for you for one thing.
Look at it this way, racing is hard; not to mention costly if you lose. So it makes perfect sense for street racers to have a harem of shallow women to do their bidding. You can collect 18 different ladies, all of which feature a set of sultry videos. Each comes with only one video to start, but you can unlock 52 in all. Are the videos cool? Well, that largely depends if you enjoy excessive use of makeup and silicone. If you do, you'll be busting your ass trying to unlock all of them. And they're not just any chicks, SRS made sure to use real models from the important racing scene.
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