In August 2004 Street Racing Syndicate was released in North America. Some eight months later the game has hit UK shores, and with games like Need for Speed Underground and the brilliant Midnight Club 3 already on the market, you have to wonder what SRS has over its rivals. Codemasters must have thought the game had something, but I just can't see what that something is.
The game offers the standard game modes, with arcade, multiplayer and a career mode being all the game has to offer. Arcade mode lets you get straight into the action for some quick, instant fun, but the street race mode is where you'll want to spend most of your time. Here you can build up respect, earn cash and even win girlfriends by taking part in street races. Money is very important, as you need it to buy upgrades, repair damage, enter races and accept wagers. You often have to repair your car mid way through a series of races, so driving carefully is a skill you have to learn quickly.
Girlfriends and how they are portrayed in the game is pretty ridiculous. You unlock new girls by completing respect challenges, but you must continue to drive well in order to keep them interested. Just like you can with cars, girls can be changed at any time by heading to your garage and choosing a new model. While this is probably an idyllic situation for a number of men, it's one of the stranger rewards I have seen in a videogame.
Being a street racing game there is the usual car tuning and upgrading, but the menu system is, unfortunately, rather poorly designed. Trying to see what the selected upgrade is going to do to your car's performance isn't obvious and the colour scheme makes reading the text a real strain on your eyes.
Unlike games like Burnout and Midnight Club 3, there is barely any traffic on the roads. This makes the city seem lifeless and the races rather low-key. If you're expecting a similar experience to the seat-of-your-pants thrill ride that was Midnight Club 3, you'll be disappointed. Online play for up to four players is supported, but the problems that plague the single player game are carried over to the online experience. The game is still slow and it just can't generate the buzz that other games in the same genre do.
Visually the game looked dated last year and things haven't got any better. Car models and environments are adequate, but lack the detail we now expect from a racing game this late into a console's lifecycle. Cars can take damage, but it isn't on the same level as Burnout 3 or the more recently released Forza Motorsport. The main problem with the game is its complete lack of speed. Even when you get into a high performance vehicle you barely feel like you are reaching 50 mph. As in all street racers, you can use turbos to give you a much needed speed boost, but despite the blur that indicates speed, you still look like you are moving at 50 mph. The lack of speed makes the entire experience rather dull and completely devoid of the thrill that you'd associate with games of the same genre. The audio is just what you'd expect, with a mixture of hip-hop genres, but it doesn't pack the same punch as the soundtrack featured on Midnight Club 3.
SRS just can't compete with the top games in the street racing genre. Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition has everything of note from SRS and a lot more. Street racing games are all about excitement and the thrill of the race. SRS rarely generates more than a murmur of excitement, and more often than not makes you like other games all the more.