The street racing genre is becoming increasingly crowded, with Street Racing Syndicate the latest to offer gamers the chance of living a fast and furious lifestyle. Street Racing Syndicate brings tonnes of customisation options, a new Respect system and cringe worthy sexism as its main points of differentiation, but is it enough to win it an audience away from the Need for Speeds and Midnight Clubs of the world?
After winning an opening race which nets you $30,000 in-game cash, players are asked to buy a real world ride from manufacturers like Mitsubishi, Toyota, Volkswagen, Subaru, Lexus, Mazda and Nissan (Honda is a notable exception). There are 50 cars that can be bought or won throughout the game, though not all will be initially available for you to buy.
Before hitting the asphalt, players can also add performance upgrades to their cars, including engine tuning, suspension, exhausts, tyres, weight and more. Just like the vehicles themselves, the range of upgrades includes real world brands such as BF Goodrich, Yokohama, HKS and more. The effect of each upgrade on your vehicle is shown via changes in stats like acceleration, top speed, power and more. There's even a Dyno function which shows you engine and vehicle performance via a graph, but you'll have to be a real revhead to notice the changes as the information is not really represented in newbie-friendly figures.
Since no self-respecting street racer would even think of hitting the streets without first pimping out their ride, Street Racing Syndicate gives players plenty of options to customise the look of their vehicles. This includes everything from new paint jobs, vinyls, stickers, and even cool but completely superfluous neon lights under the skirt of the car. The range of customisation is by no means extensive (compared to something like Forza Motorsport) but there's plenty of options there to ensure that, with enough tweaking, you can have a car that's completely unique looking.
With a healthy list of performance and cosmetic options, its clear Street Racing Syndicate wants players to spend time in the garage tweaking their rides to their heart's content. Unfortunately, navigating through the garage menu screens can be a bit of a chore due to its slowness. This is particularly evident with performance upgrades -- each new sub-screen telling you the effect of a particular upgrade on your car takes about two seconds to load. So players will definitely be spending plenty of time in the garage, but not necessarily because they want to be there.
Once on the streets, Street Racing Syndicate is structured much like the Midnight Club series, where you have large, open cities to roam and find races in. Players can compete in one-on-one races by finding another vehicle (usually marked by a big arrow) and flashing their lights, or they can enter sanctioned or crew meets which pits them against three other competitors in a series of races. Each race won earns money that can be spent on upgrades or new vehicles, but since each race you participate in requires you to pony up some cash in the form of a bet or an entrance fee, players need to manage their funds carefully. Lose a one-on-one race and prang up your car in the process and you could be looking at a huge dent in what was a sizeable purse.
Winning not only earns you cash, but also respect points which are needed to open up new races. The system of respect points is one of the highlights of Street Racing Syndicate -- as well as earning respect for wins, the way you drive also racks up the points. Do impressive moves like gaining air, powersliding around a corner on two wheels or drafting behind an opponent and you'll earn respect points. Link them together and you get bonus multipliers. Drive badly by crashing, however, and the points get stripped. The respect system, coupled with the high cost of repairs, really forces players to drive a clean race and not crash into opponents or barriers.
Controls in Street Racing Syndicate are generally tight and responsive, with the in-game physics falling more towards arcade than simulation. This is certainly not Gran Turismo, but the cars do feel 'heavier' than the powerslide masters of Midnight Club. Graphics are also generally top-notch. The car models are all rendered with plenty of detail, and the environments feature outstanding realism, particularly the shiny, wet looking roads that are becoming the hallmark of street racing games.
We've already mentioned the game's slow menus, but unfortunately Street Racing Syndicate also takes this sluggishness to the streets, offering up racing that 'feels' much slower than other recent titles such as Burnout 3 and Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition. Driving through city at more than 300km/h in Street Racing Syndicate just doesn't seem like you're going at an insane speed. Adding to the lack of adrenalin are the game's fairly wide streets and the lack of traffic you can dodge and weave through.
This lack of visceral thump extends to the game's crash physics, which often result in boring prangs even at high speeds. We were involved in several high speed head ons in our test playthrough that merely resulted in a bumper car-like knock. The damage model for cars is also unconvincing -- cracked windshields and bent bonnets seem to be the most you can do to your car.
But special mention has to go to Street Racing Syndicate for having hands down the most embarrassingly sexist content since jiggle factor was added as an option on the Dead or Alive series. Not only can you collect cars, but you can also collect girlfriends, 18 of which can be 'won' throughout the game. Winning a girlfriend usually involves completing a special task such as keeping up with a pace car or making a series of checkpoints within a time limit. Once you've 'won' them, the girlfriends are stored at a warehouse, where you can visit and choose which girl you want to ride with. Winning the girlfriends also unlocks short videos of the real women behind the characters doing dances, which could be considered erotic if the models weren't so laughably bad movers. Honestly, these girls make J Lo look like Baryshnikov.
In a market crowded with other street racing titles, Street Racing Syndicate is a decent racer that doesn't do quite enough to lift it above the pack. The addition of the 'girlfriend' mode may give it some extra points amongst the sweaty palm brigade, but most will just find it trite and probably insulting.
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