You know you’re in trouble with a game when the best feature is openly mocked by your wife. I’ve always considered racing games to be a dime a dozen because none of them ever seem to offer anything different. You buy and sell cars as your progress, you can sometimes customize the cars you drive, and there are lots of race tracks of varying difficulties. That about sums up every racing game ever made, with the only difference being the quality of the graphics.
So how is it that SRS: Street Racing Syndicate managed to screw even that up? I guess Driving Games For Dummies was sold out of the local bookstore, but the more I played SRS the more apparent it became that the Cliffs Notes must have been sold out too.
In SRS, you play a character who must compete in a long series of races, thereby accruing not only money, cars, and fame but also respect and women. The more races you complete, the more challenges are opened up for you. You’d think a formula as stone simple as this would be easy to follow, but nooooo…
The graphics during the races are simply gorgeous. The landscapes, backgrounds, and racing cars are all flush with details both large and small, like reflections in small puddles of water, well-lit billboards and street signs as far as the eye can see, and the way lights bounce off the panels of your car. So if the races look spectacular, why is the graphical score so low? Let me put it this way: Everything else reminds me of playing on an Amiga.
Whenever you are driving or racing it’s downright shocking to see blocks with wheels driving along side you on the road. It’s even tougher to take seriously when a block with wheels also has flashing lights and a siren and wants to pull me over for speeding. All it took was the mental image of the co-pilot from Airplane sitting behind the wheel of the cop car for me to bust a gut every time I heard sirens.
The cut scenes are just plain awful. How is it that a game that’s capable of such beauty during the actual races, can be so flat-out ugly during the “cinematics”? I can understand the cars being the focus of a racing game, after all, but when a pair of sticks in a dress tries to walk seductively between a pair of cars to signal the start of a race, it’s borderline preposterous.
SRS also prides itself on showing off scantily clad “racing girls” in between events, but even there a problem exists. If half the Playboy stable of women are going to come onto me, is it too much to ask that their in-game models look even remotely different? Yes, I know that Angelica Bridges is a red-head, but it sort of hurts the illusion when the difference between her in-game model and that of Flo Jalin’s is only hair color. Especially when you realize that Jalin is of Asian decent and Bridges is about as white as I am.
When one hates hip-hop and rap with the zeal that I do, it gives you pause when your editor sends you a game with a soundtrack comprised of only that. I thus believe two things: He doesn’t know, or he knew and thought it would be funny. Either way, April 1 is going to suck for you, sir, but I mean that with all due respect. If this style of music is just what you’re looking for then rest assured that there’s plenty of it. If you don’t care for what you hear, then it’s easy enough to turn off in the control panel.
The rest of the sound effects consist of engines roaring, tires screeching, crowds cheering, people offering you money to race, and women coming on to you. Basically, it’s like a normal day for me. The voice acting is decent, but my white-bread behind isn’t used to being called “homie” quite so often. I kept getting the feeling that Paul Walker was unavailable for the starring role, thus they kept the main character more anonymous (i.e. without a voice or face of his/her own).
Controls in SRS are pretty good for the most part, but woe be to the gamer who’s car gets even a window cracked. I can respect the amount of damage modeling that went into this game, but when my car has five percent damage, it should handle better than when my car is just shy of bursting into flames. If I roll my car three times after plowing into every one of my race opponents and I do this three races in a row, how in hell can I get the same level of complete non-responsiveness as I would if I dinged the fender?
The basic control scheme starts with the right trigger accelerating and the left trigger braking. The B button is your nitrous boost once you have it installed on your car, and the A button is your standard Accept Selection button. The Select button, oddly enough, is the key to enjoying what fun there is to be found in SRS. It pulls up a map of the entire city and lists all the challenges and races in the game. There are several types of races, including ones you can stumble on just driving around, and the map shows them all. You can also immediately jump to any challenge or location listed on the map by hitting the Y button, which saves an unbelievable amount of time and energy.
On the whole, SRS isn’t a lot of fun but it’s sporadically punctuated by neat things to see and do. I cracked up when I came across the billboard for FHM‘s Babes of Baywatch edition, and collecting a harem of the 18 girlfriends available is akin to Pokemon crossed with Porky’s, and what’s not to love there? Customizing your car is, fortunately, relatively painless. The upshot to this is the amount of information you get during the customization options. At any point on any screen, you can hit the X button and you will see either the characteristics of the part in question, or a bar graph showing the affect the part will have on your car. It’s a really slick and clean interface, and since the extent of my automotive knowledge is that I need a key to start one, I was able to trick out my ride with ease. There are several cars of varying makes and models available at the higher levels, and as you progress your cars get faster and faster. Combining that with all the customization options is a lot of fun, especially when you thrown in the different pain jobs and decals available.
What is undoubtably the highlight of the game, and the recipient of wifely scorn, is the girlfriend collection. With only three women available at the start, you need to win race after race to increase that number all the way up to 18. After you prove yourself to each woman, she becomes available to hook up with in your private garage, as well as giving you a personal profile, and a video of her dancing to music. When you select this option, a video plays of the actual girl dancing to either hip-hop or rap. My wife watched one of these for all of 10 seconds before saying, “This is stupid!” I felt that about summed up my feelings on the matter as well. If you choose to “hook up” with any of the girls, then she will ride with you to events. I never really found a benefit to this, but if you lose the race it’s highly possible she might see the winner as a better fit for herself and leave you in the dirt. Classy doesn’t do it justice.
The game overall isn’t that much fun when you consider the races are either really easy or flat-out insane. It’s all well and good to try and out run three other cars on a straight away, but when that same track throws in three or four right-angle turns and you’re driving a car with terrible handling, you’re screwed. While a lot of people might look at that statement and say, “Duh,” please understand that these are tracks at the beginning of the game when the only cars available to you suck in all possible ways. The punchline is that the races only get more difficult as you progress.
There is a lot here for you to see and do, but the misery of it is that everything is a royal pain to get to. You unlock so many different things on each mission in Burnout 3 that it’s downright criminal, and that game is actually fun, whereas when you try to unlock anything in SRS it feels like an endurance test running barefoot across the Sahara, or swimming across the Amazon with a bloody steak tied to your neck. I ask you, where’s the fun in any of that?