Race, Win, Spend, Repeat...

You must be familiar with the concept by now, buy an ordinary street car and use it to win races for money, then spend said money back on said car in order to boost the cars performance and win more challenging races for more money. I could be describing any one of about ten different games with that sentence and it is indeed true that the custom car street racing genre has spawned a whole heap of games in recent years with the popular Need for Speed and Gran Turismo franchises generally accepted to reside near the top of the pile.

An interesting contender for the street racer throne is Street Racing Syndicate from developer Eutechnyx, published by Namco who themselves are not new to the idea of sending shiny cars screaming around city streets as their infamous Ridge Racer series attests.

So what do you do in SRS?

Well in a nutshell you buy a car, win some money with it by racing in it, spend the money on some upgrades, win more money etc but lets see how this is all presented to the player.

Back on the streets

In SRS the main 'story' mode is the Street Mode, in Street Mode you begin by tearing around in a nice car on behalf of a driver who is unable to make it to the race which then gets taken off you after you win with it leaving you with the prize money to sort yourself a new ride, and here begins your journey into the world of car engine fiddling. Once you have chosen a car that you like and can afford from the assortment of real-life car dealers and their machines provided in game you may begin to spend money at the garage on an assortment of performance enhancing upgrades from new engine parts to weight reduction and some interesting things inbetween such as nitro canisters for that short lived but incredible burst of speed that only nitro seems to be able to provide.

There is a problem with the upgrade purchasing system that struck me as just stupid though, it is never made clear exactly what each upgrade is going to do for you and the performance of your car as you browse through them and I found myself just giving up trying to find out in the end and just started buying the most expensive bits I could afford at the time.

You can also get your rides a new lick of paint and some graphics at the garage as well as performance upgrades, you can get whole body vinyl kits giving you cars artwork all over, neon lights to sit under the car providing an eerie light coming out from under your bumpers, stickers to plaster the car with on all sides and more.

Lets Burn...

So now you have your ride all pumped up and painted up you are going to want to enter some more races, you can access these races by driving through Street Modes cities to the various marked out locations on the map a la GTA or Need for Speed Underground 2, unfortunately the whole 'driving-between-races' thing starts off being tedious and spirals rapidly downwards into repetitive boredom from there, fortunately you can jump to any of the major races and events via a menu accessed by the Select button which eliminates the need to traverse the cities between races, if you do decide to persevere with the city cruising you can find similar nitro-for-blood racers as you willing to take you on in point to point races around town. You can also run into the police on your meanderings around who will give chase on you if they deem necessary, should they choose to pursue you its up to you to lose them - the progress of this mini Cops 'n' Robbers on wheels affair is displayed in the form of a meter at the top of the players screen indicating whether they are doing a slick job of giving the boys in blue the slip or are headed for the slammer, this police chase action all becomes irrelevant when you remember you can press select at any time and teleport across town via the menu mentioned earlier, out of reach of the arm of the law.

After jumping or driving to an event you must be able to meet the entry requirements to participate, these requirements usually involve the brake horse power of your engine, level of respect earned and of course the amount of cold hard cash you have about you although some races do not carry a monetary entry fee in the event that you have gone completely broke and cannot afford to do anything else.

Once you have found an event you may enter, you can really begin to get a feel for the meat and potatoes of SRS, the races.

Participating in the races are you and three A.I. opponents, the A.I. cars seemed surprisingly well done to me and they don't just all follow each other around the perfect racing line like the computer controlled opposition in some racing games, they each have their own way of doing things some with more success than others, it is possible for the A.I. drivers to really screw up too and go crashing and spinning wildly off course. The pace of the A.I. cars did seem to vary according to how well I was doing though, if I was leading they would be close behind (or not, after more money was pumped under the bonnet of my car) and if I smashed up bad and lost everything but last place in the running it never really seemed too hard to catch up with them again.

Though the handling does vary nicely from car to car one thing remains a constant, your cars can be made to powerslide about like a bar of soap across ice and you are encouraged to take advantage of this fact as often as possible - indeed at almost every turn. Should you decide to use the right analogue stick for your accelerating and braking needs and the left one for steering as opposed to the symbol buttons and d-pad respectively you will soon learn how to send your car screaming into hardly controllable but perfectly predictable slides with fast and precise movements of the thumbs on the left and right sticks at the same time, a certain degree of satisfaction comes with pulling this off until you have done it so many times that it becomes a case of 'muscle memory' for your thumbs and you can powerslide around the majority of corners without thinking about it.

There exists a problem with SRS's racing system that may not be a problem for you if you prefer to race in the first-person, in the third-person views the action does seem a bit slow no matter how fast you are but in the full screen first-person perspective the camera is placed very low to the road and this seems to help the illusion of speed no end, despite having the camera so low you can still clearly see approaching corners and visual cues to aid powerslide timing as the majority of the corners seem to be lit up with 50-foot tall neon arrows to guide the way.

After all the races in a series have been run the prize money and respect gets totalled up and a winner is declared, if you won you may now go and continue the street racing game cycle of buying more powerful car parts or even more powerful cars altogether if the money is right, just remember to keep some cash back to pay your way into the next series.

Well hello there...

As I mentioned you gain respect as well as money during the races, respect is acrued mid race by performing slick slides, coming off the ground for a while, leading around a whole lap and so on and with enough respect you get to try the respect challenges which give the most attractive prizes in the game, women.

Yes you get to race for (and keep in a warehouse) women. Each woman when unlocked via her challenge which usually means a checkpoint race or similar endeavour will appear in your warehouse and you may visit there whenever you like, selecting a girl there will allow you to view a video clip of her 'dancing' and you may choose to take a prize female out with you in order to try and unlock more video footage of her.

Cheesy and cheap though this feature is it's still fun in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way, and necessary for 100% completion of everything.

Sights of the Cities

Graphically SRS measures up well, the city tracks come complete with all the urban scenery you would expect to find in a metropolis and it all looks as smooth as polished marble, which is unfortunately what the ground sometimes looks like - polished marble - due to way exaggerated reflections displayed in wet ground which give the impression that the whole of the driving surface is covered with a thin film of water rather than just being wet from rainfall.

Not all of the racing series take place in built up areas though and the out of town circuits do tone down the over the top reflections a bit and the overall quality of the graphics becomes more apparent then, SRS is a good looking game, the tracks and their surrounding decor are of high detail and texture quality and the vehicles you race in and against are modelled smoothly and accurately too.

Aside from Street Mode players can get into the basic Arcade mode, which works as you may expect in that it offers a quick way into the racing action without any of the simulation parts to deal with.

Street Racing Syndicate also features online play where you can test your mad driving skills against other players and potentially lose your car too if you screw up, or win your opponents car if you leave them for dust.

There is nothing revolutionary about Street Racing Syndicate but it is a good game nevertheless, some more varied scenery would have helped a lot as it can get visually repetitive. If you are a fan of the street racing style of gameplay and crave the mad powerslide action from the Ridge games then you will enjoy SRS a great deal.