reviews\ Sep 6, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Street Racing Syndicate - PS2 - Review

The developers of Street Racing Syndicate continually emphasized the importance of physics, especially in how a car handles.  Though nothing revolutionary, they nailed the aspect of oversteer and understeer.  You will notice a significant difference in how a small car maneuvers compared to a big car.  Upgrading the vehicle can lower its weight by removing unnecessary parts, increasing its speed and maneuverability.  Cars can be aesthetically upgraded to match the style of those enhanced street racers you see on TV.

This is all very cool, and is very much worth checking out for anyone who dreams of having their car appear on Pimp My Ride.


This ride is totally pimpin’.

Unfortunately, once you get bored there is no reason to return.

Street Racing Syndicate relies on two game goals: winning races and earning respect points, the second of which holds more clout in advancing to the next tier.  This isn't all that uncommon.  Project Gotham and its gorgeous sequel are all about performing difficult stunts in small spaces.  Street Racing Syndicate follows that game's lead but not in the same way.  Losing a race gets you nothing.  You can make bets with specific racers, adding risk to your decisions, both before and during the racing.

Worst case winning scenario: you get first place on all three tracks and nab 3250 respect points (750 points are given for each win).  You get the cash prize that's determined before the race begins, as well as any money that you wagered.  Before you know it you've got cash to fix up your ride or buy an all-new one.  You'll get praise by your street racing friends.  And, in a feature Japanese gamers are used to seeing, you'll even get a virtual girlfriend.

Here's why that scenario is a worst case: winning isn't enough.  A total of 3000 points can be earned on each series.  If you fail to gain all 3000 points the first time through, the game will bite you on the butt later when the point requirement is too high to meet.  You could win first place on six races, win loads of cash and have the best ride in town.  But if you don't meet the respect point requirement you're out of luck.

Stuck in that predicament I went back and tried to gain each and every point.  I couldn't simply beat my best lap time or make a more serious bet to gain the points.  Additional respect points can only be earned by performing one or more of the game's drift moves (think Crazy Taxi – lots of swerving and spinning).

At first this was a challenge.  Then I bought a new car and it lost all its difficulty.  What was once an exercise in stress and frustration now became an easy thing to accomplish.  Break into sharp turns, turn the wheels and just keep spinning.  Drive toward oncoming traffic and avoid a collision at the last minute for a near-miss.  Jump over uneven parts of the track for further respect point benefits.  If you link more than one trick together (by quickly performing one after the other), you'll multiply your point earnings.

With so much ease and so little stress, surely it wouldn't be that difficult to acquire 3000 respect points in each series.  Surely my problems are solved...right?

It's not so much the act of performing tricks as it is the course design that messes things up.  It just isn't what it should be.  The whole game takes place on the streets (I think we all expected that given the title), and with a world map-style city to cruise in between races, the environments can't continue to hold the player's interest.  You will race the same area several times, or race several different areas that look the same.  Some of the tracks can be beaten in under a minute.  This was done on purpose to make the game more exciting, but can you imagine trying to gain 250 respect points in that amount of time when only 10-30 points are awarded per trick?  Multiplying is the only way you're ever going to pull it off.

I love a good challenge, so don't think I'm merely picking on the game because it's hard.  Aside from the respect point requirement (which keeps you from moving forward in the game), Street Racing Syndicate is one of the easiest street racers on the market.  If your current car isn't doing the job, chances are all you need to win is a new ride and some powerful upgrades (nitrous boost, improved RPM, etc.).  There's no real challenge involved in the racing aspect.  Since the difficulty of performing tricks relies on the vehicle you're using, I can't say there's any challenge in that either.

When you throw traffic, opponents and winding roads into the mix Street Racing Syndicate is still an easy game.  The only hard part is winning the race with all 3000 points.  If the game was more balanced and if it made this point more clear, perhaps this would have been the right way to go.

Putting those things aside, players still have to contend with inferior speed (SRS moves slower than most other racers in its class), inferior car crashes, inferior graphics, and an inferior soundtrack.  They might as well have scrapped vehicle damage because it does nothing to hinder your performance.  Crash into a wall or another vehicle at eighty miles per hour and you'll drive away in a couple of seconds.  The colliding vehicles will bounce back from a crash, look slightly damaged, and cause players to form a giant question mark over their heads.

Review Scoring Details for Street Racing Syndicate

Gameplay: 7.1
SRS could have stood for Street Racing Simplicity.  If it weren't for the respect point requirements I'd recommend it as a "my first street racer."  Casual gamers will have an easier time winning races in this game than they will in Juiced (if it's ever released) or Need For Speed Underground.

The driving physics are great but are counteracted by the disappointed collision physics.  In one scenario I crashed into a median made of concrete.  My computer-controlled opponent had plenty of room to pass me by, take the lead and win the race.  Instead he chose to ram me in the back.  I pulled out and began driving toward the finish line but he stayed put.  I kept checking my map but he never reappeared.  Apparently the crash was severe enough to make him forget that motor vehicles can go in reverse.  He just sat there like a defeated fighter, waiting for the boxer to knock him out.

Graphics: 6.9
Shiny cars, blinding sun and badly colored trees.  Street Racing Syndicate might have been a spectacular-looking game five years ago.  Today it's barely average.

Sound: 3
Sound?  What sound?  I turned off the music after hearing five crappy rap songs.  I turned of the sound effects after being annoyed by the repetitive engine effects.  Then I couldn't hear anything at all.  I wonder why?

Difficulty: Easy/Medium

Concept: 7
As of 2004 Street Racing Syndicate does not deserve a 7.  The idea of racing to win street cred, new cars and upgrades has been done before.  However, SRS was to be released last year but got pushed back when its former publisher went under.  Back then it would have scored a 7, possibly a 7.5 if it had been released before Need For Speed Underground hit the streets.

Multiplayer: 7
Online multiplayer for four speed-craving gamers (broadband-only).  No need to worry about "respect" when playing online, a definite plus.  For those without broadband there's a two-player split-screen mode.

Overall: 6.9
Street Racing Syndicate doesn't put enough emphasis on the things that matter most.  The so-called mature sexual themes are so bad they're amusing.  You win virtual girlfriends (pictures and videos of street racing models) for beating the respect challenges.  While some of the women are attractive, they couldn't dance any cheesier.  Their moves are clunky, and most of their outfits lack the sex appeal men are looking for.  Prettier faces wouldn't have made the gameplay any more fun.  You might be more compelled to stick it out, but that's hardly a reason to spend $50 on a racing game.

Above Average

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