As a man with a girlfriend who enjoys Burnout 3, Sanjuro has a unique perspective when it comes to racing games. Especially racing games that include "winning" women like they're (sexy) cattle. How does SRS stack up? Read on and find out!
In years to come, many of us will look back at the end of 2004 and remark upon the exponential growth of two gaming genres which had theretofore been largely untapped; the 'adult' game (which seems to position itself only for the entertainment of men) and the street racing game. Need For Speed Underground 2, Midnight Club 3 and Juiced all follow SRS in the holiday shopping melee, as do The Guy Game, Playboy: The Mansion, and Leisure Suit Larry. If you see the editors of Maxim or Vin Diesel, you can thank them (or punch them) for their role in the sudden corporate epiphany that the average gamer (still a twenty-something male) likes fast cars and girls. These two genres will play for big money this Christmas, and interestingly, one game straddles the line between the two, and it is the breath-takingly mediocre and unsavory SRS: Street Racing Syndicate.
Much has been made already in the gaming press of SRS' shortcomings: it lacks a sense of speed, the cars handle like toys, the upgrade interface lacks polish, and it is missing crucial licenses like HondaAcura and Ford. It's been widely remarked as well that the game borrows very heavily from Need For Speed: Underground, and accomplishes nothing that that game doesn't already. The days that I spent with the game don't really do much to prove much to the contrary, but I would contest some of the points that have been made. As a rebuttal, I would offer that once the cars have been modified greatly and achieve greater speeds, there is a more palatable sense of speed. The handling of each car is not quite what I would call realistic, either, but the rear-wheel drive cars behave more or less like rear wheel drive cars should, and ditto for the all-wheel drive machines. An RX-7 running at 400 horsepower is a difficult beast to control in this game, as it should be. As for the game being a clone of NFS: Underground, we should be willing to give SRS the benefit of the doubt here, as this title began development almost concurrently with it's twin, and the demise of 3DO kept it from getting out the door at the same time. There are however, some very unlikely similarities, as we shall see later.
All that being said, had SRS been on the shelf at the same time as Need For Speed: Underground, it's not likely it would have been competitive. The criticism leveled against the game need some tempering, but they're rooted in reality. A big differentiation between the games is the customization, which SRS touts as it's great feature. The official website proclaims it to be the "most realistic street racer ever on consoles." Other promotional blurbs, magazine and online previews had touted the millions of possible combinations, which sought to create a Gran Turismo-esque vibe for the game. It simply isn't so. The visual mods don't even come close to approaching the raw number of iterations found in Need For Speed. The opposite is true with the performance mods. Here there are an absurd number of parts, to be sure, but those who expected to adjust suspensions and airfuel ratios should look elsewhere. The depth of SRS' performance modification bottoms out at switching name-brand parts in and out. A graph illustrates the part's effect on your car's weight, horsepower and torque output and so on, but the process of tuning your car quickly devolves into unlocking a newer, better part and installing it on your 'ride.' Test driving your car to see the relative benefit of one part or setting over another is not needed here. It has been seven years since Gran Turismo, and we're still waiting for another franchise beat it at its game. I have a feeling we'll be waiting for quite some time.
Once you've left the garage and put your pining for an Integra and the desire to adjust your transmission behind you, SRS becomes a fairly competent arcade racer. It is here, really, that the oft-mentioned similarities to Need For Speed become uncanny. For performing feats of driving dering-do you get 'Respect' points instead of 'Style' points. The streets in both games are inexplicably wet at all times, even in rain-starved Los Angeles. SRS also attempts drag racing, as in NFS, but without the latter's exceptional controls. As I mentioned earlier, the game's driving mechanics don't have the je ne se quois of Need For Speed, but they are not an annoyance. The nitrous does indeed feel fast, although all game sounds shut off when you apply it, an interesting design choice that doesn't really work in my opinion.
The AI is not superb, but it'll give you some competition. The game's wide open city is utterly disposable, however, and the developers even seemed to realize this. To attend a race, visit you warehouse or the auto showroom, one can either drive there or go to the map and 'jump' there, bypassing all of the driving. The benefit of driving yourself appears to be that you'll very rarely run into another racer whom you can challenge to a sprint. For your trouble, you'll earn a pittance which will be undoubtedly spent on repairing the damage your car incurred during the course of the race. While traveling through the city, you can also run into the cops who will hound you down for speeding and issue you a ticket if you're caught. This offers none of the excitement of a flight from the police in Grand Theft Auto, and is generally not fun. You don't get a burger at an Italian place; you know it's going to suck. Likewise, you don't try to incorporate an action movie police chase into a racing game.
SRS's most peculiar method of distancing itself with its competitors, the reason that it blurs the line between the adult games and the racers is the girls. SRS features 18 models, the kind that graces the covers of Import Tuner, sprawled across the hood of a Supra in a thong. At first blush, this doesn't seem (to me at any rate) to be such a bad idea. My initial supposition was that the models would signal the starts of races and sit on your car's spoiler for the cover shot of a fictional in-game magazine. This is not the case.
The girls of SRS are commodities, like exhaust systems and vinyl decals, to be unlocked and won as you progress. Winning a race against a racer with a girlfriend will cause that girlfriend to defect to your amorous embrace. The amorous embrace however, is entirely inferred by you, because winning a girl causes her immediately to go to your warehouse, where she resides with your cars and other girlfriends until beckoned. This aspect of the game is so unpalatable as to make the whole production (and the person playing it) seem cheap and tawdry. The ideas of women as commodities may well be a natural extension of the path that urban culture has been on for some time, but that does not make it any less crude. SRS doesn't disappoint with its general lack of polish and depth, as much as it disappoints the way a heretofore well-behaved child playing with matches does. One feels embarrassed playing it.
Women gamers will feel insulted and betrayed by the game industry by this title. Male gamers, if you've ever sat down and thought, "you know, my game playing simply doesn't alienate my girlfriend enough already," then this is the game for you.