Street Racing Syndicate Review (PS2)
Look around the shelves of your favorite gaming store and you'll see racing games are just as prevalent as all the other sports genres combined. Everyone is making racers, as it doesn’t seem take a lot of thought to make one - all you have to do is combine everyone else’s ideas and use something different for the vehicles. The newest popular sub-genre in racing is modification. These offer customization options, tricked out rides, and usually some curvaceous women as a backdrop or highlight of some variety. Namco’s entry into this field is "Street Racing Syndicate". Namco is no stranger to the racing genre, as "Ridge Racer" has been one of their most famous titles, and at one time a game nearly synonymous with the PlayStation gaming system. Does "Street Racing Syndicate" live up the glory days of Namco’s early racing titles or is it another run-of-the-mill racing title on the store shelves?
"Street Racing Syndicate" excels in the amount of options available. First, you have Arcade mode. In Arcade mode, you can choose from a few different options, including the Quick Race mode. Press the option and you're instantly in a race in one of the cities of your choosing. The different cities consist of three different real-life cities made up of smaller races and city tracks in each locale. Checkpoint mode has you trying to reach all the checkpoints before the timer runs out. As you pass over each checkpoint, additional time is granted to reach the next one. Iron Man mode is all about longevity and consistency. You'll start out with an easy race, and once you win that you will move onto a harder race. If you don’t win that one, you're done, and you ultimately keep going until you win all the possible events in the Iron Man for the particular location. The last option is Speed Trial. Here your goal is to simply complete laps in the quickest time possible, but along the way you will also be given a speed rating. Your speed rating is a combination of your average speed as well as your fastest clocked speed at any given time during your run.
The Multiplayer mode allows you to bring in a few buddies for the racing action. The Split Screen mode allows you to play on a single console with another person. The split screen is actually well done compared to other games, as the view is very clear, and you're easily able to see where you're going. Unfortunately, Split Screen is limited to racing in the three different cities with only a few different configurations. LAN Play mode allows you to hook multiple PS2’s together and play the different party type races. These races are just variations of the single player modes, but add a nice party atmosphere. If you don't have multiple PS2’s at your disposal, then you can play the same modes in the last Multiplayer mode - Online play using the PlayStation 2’s Network Adapter. Quick Race and Collection Race from the Arcade mode are here, but you also have team-oriented races that consist of a Collection race, a Time race, and lastly a Position race. Time and Position take the combined time of your teammates, whereas the Position race takes you and your teammate's positions and ranks you as to where you finished against your opponents. The most unique of the Online modes is the Pink Slip Race mode. You think you have the best car? This is your chance to prove it. If you win, you'll get your opponent’s car, but if you lose, they'll get yours. Don’t expect your car to be waiting for you when you get back into the single player game though -you'll have to start all over, because that car that you worked so hard for is deleted from your memory card for good.
The heart of the game is Street Mode. You'll start off by being offered a chance to run a single race. Where you finish will determine how much money you will get to spend on your first car. You only have so many cars to choose from, but all of these cars are readily customizable and will allow you to be extremely competitive directly from the get-go. Street mode encompasses five different segments. The most unique ones are the Cruise Zones. All you do here is cruise around the various cities looking for new things to do. I will go into Street Mode later in the review in more detail.
Where to start with the graphics? The cars are rendered excellently, especially when your car is all decked out with upgrades, neons, and the like. All cars are modeled after their real life counterparts from actual manufacturers, most of which real street racers use. The most noticeable exception is that there are no Hondas in the game. The tracks and backgrounds are a mix of good looking visuals and others that look like they were just slapped together and put into the game to get it finished. Considering this game took over 18 months from start to shelf, this wasn’t completely surprising. A lot of the graphics you're seeing here would’ve been much more suited for the PS2 if it had come out 18 months ago. The road surface has a wet look to it that seems to never go away. I wish I had these streets on my block; they're smooth as silk. The effects when you use your nitro are a nice, but again, this might have been new and exciting had this been released months ago - now it's just like most of the other games in this genre.
One of the more questionable and debatable parts about the graphics is the sense of speed that the game delivers. Games like "Burnout" and "Need for Speed" have an extreme sense of speed in them. "Street Racing Syndicate", however, has a very unusual sense of speed - it's normal. There really is no inflated sense of speed, or any major off-the-wall movements or exaggerated turns. The car acts like it should for the most part. When you use the nitro, you'll get some the exaggerated speed, but that's how it should be. Unfortunately, the majority of the people this title is going to be aimed at could care less about the realism aspect and are going to feel let down, because they're not going to get the arcade style of racing that they believe this game should be delivering.
Have I ever said how much I dislike rating audio? The music is so debatable - what I think is awful, someone else may love. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem here. The music really is awful. Why am I being subjected to a lame knock-off of Limp Bizkit? Considering that the developer is Eutechnyx and their main claim to recent fame has been the poorly done "Big Mutha Truckers", the choice is not very surprising. Of all the musical credits listed in the back of the manual, I still cannot figure out why I'm subjected to this Limp Bizkit knock-off every time I hit the menu.
Enough of that rant, because otherwise, the audio is one of the highlights of the title. When I changed one of my performance parts, I was given a joyous new engine sound to listen to. The differences were not subtle, either. Put on a high performance exhaust system and you were treated to a robust racing engine sound. Putting on a more high powered nitrous system and when you use your nitro, you'll know you are kicking out some power.
With the extremely bad menu music, you're given excellent vehicle sounds. I suppose that's a good trade-off, since I can turn off the music. I just hope I am not scarred for life by it, or find myself waking up in the middle of the night because it's stuck in my head.
As I stated earlier, I wanted to save Street Mode until later in the review. There was a reason for that - Street Mode encompasses so much of the gameplay that the two pretty much go hand in hand. Once you have your car, you take to the streets of your first city. You can approach this part of the game in a couple of different ways. First, you can simply cruise around, like "Grand Theft Auto"; looking for your next objective or competition, or you may just go to the menu and jump to your next destination. Those are the two main ways of getting around. While cruising, you can practice some of your special moves. Wild moves on the road earn what is called "Respect points". When cruising, these will replenish the nitro that can be used in the races. This is a whole lot easier then having to shell out your hard earned cash every time you use it. Watch out though, because as you drive recklessly and quickly through the streets, you may encounter the local law enforcement. If they decide to pursue you, you'd better run. If caught, you'll lose the ability to earn respect points. If you escape, however, you'll get that ability back.
Objectives and competition you will be looking for include one-on-one street races for cash or Crew Meets, where you'll go head-to-head against up to three other racers. While racing, you'll also have the chance to bet some money and earn some more cash. Guard the cash with your life though, as parting with it is easy. Getting it back can be very difficult. Roll-Up Races happen when you pull up behind a labeled opponent and flash your lights to challenge them to a quick race. Respect Challenges are make for some of the silliest aspects of the game, the "girlfriends". Beat the Respect Challenge, and you get a girl to add to your "collection". In addition, you'll get a rather dull dance from the real-life model that was used as the inspiration for the video game character. Why this is here, I don’t know, but I guess some marketing genius figured it needed to be there. It's just plain dumb - and not to mention of very questionable taste. It's a shame, too - it looks like more time was spent on the girlfriend videos than any other aspect of the game. While there's not a huge list of features, there's enough to keep you occupied for quite some time.
The actual driving model is a mixed bag depending on what you're after. I thought it was very life-like, but the vast majority of users are here for the sheer sense of speed, and will more than likely be disappointed by it. The AI racers are also good - there are no pre-planned routes that they'll run. They make mistakes, and bump into you and into each other, which is very refreshing to see in an arcade type racer. Tracks are very well laid out and the traffic in the mix on some of the races adds some challenge, especially to the one-on-one battles in the latter stages of Street Mode.
"Street Racing Syndicate" is a title that was started before its time and released after its time - it could have been a refreshing mix in the racing genre, whereas now it's simply another title on the shelf in the crowded racing market. While this isn’t a bad title, it is lacking an overall fun factor that would keep you playing for more than just a little while. There really aren't many incentives to just keep playing other then the online mode. Sadly, the Playstation 2’s online portion is not overly populated, so even that after a while will become disappointing as well. Save yourself the fifty bucks that it will cost now, and check this one out when it hits the bargain bin. By then it should be well worth the price, and you may even stand a better chance of finding a few online opponents.