Y’know, there aren’t many videogames based on German TV shows……in fact, I’d go as far as to say that the surprisingly long running Crash Time series is probably the only one (please, do correct me if I’m wrong). Based on the extremely popular Alarm für Cobra 11 – Die Autobahnpolizei (translation: Alarm for Cobra – The Motorway Police), the Crash Time series has proved an extremely average but strangely likeable racer over the years. With an obviously limited budget and some of the worst voice acting found in a modern day videogame, Crash Time 4: The Syndicate, like its predecessors, is the kind of game easy to dismiss out of hand, but if given a bit of time, is capable of winning one over with its kooky charm and surprisingly slick handling model.
Just to be clear though – Crash Time 4 isn’t a great game. Anybody expecting an overhaul of the series is going to be bitterly disappointed. Sure, there have been a few tweaks to the engine, it looks a bit better than its immediate predecessor and technically is certainly the most accomplished of the series to date, but make no mistake, nobody should approach this game expecting EA levels of polish here; the frame-rate is jittery, the streets completely devoid of pedestrian life and the collisions, well, let’s just say that Crash Time 4 won’t be keeping the boys over at Codemasters up at night.
Get over the budget development, forgettable visuals and occasional technical hiccups though, and you’re left with a surprisingly enjoyable, albeit ultimately repetitive racer. Playing like something akin to a modern day Chase HQ, this is a game all about the driving. You never see the two leads, Ben and Semir out of the car, and the action never cuts away from your vehicle. The story is relayed via chat between whoever happens to be within the car at the time or via basic radio transmissions. I guess this keeps the action flowing, but personally, the commitment to the standard driving view robs the story of any potential impact…..well, that and the voice acting of course. Tiptoeing the line of so bad that it’s good, the delivery throughout is laughably dire. Be it a random criminal, the boss on the other end of the radio or the two leads themselves, the voice acting throughout is utterly shocking. I’d love to call it charming in that classic Capcom sort of way, but given the amount of conversing that actually goes on, things quickly turn from quirky to just plain bad.
Like all games in the series though, the incessant chat is little more than a framing device for the predominantly slick racing action. With a decent sense of speed and a very responsive arcade-style handling model, tearing around the streets of the lovingly re-created Cologne and the surrounding Autobahn is an experience extremely easy to enjoy. Sure, the streets are empty and yes, the collision detection is poor, but the actual city itself looks pretty decent and the cars certainly move at a nice clip. None of them are licensed of course but they all look the part and handle uniquely enough to make trying out a few different rides a worthwhile experience.
With a few stunts littered around the city to accompany the wide range of mission types available, there is certainly enough content here to keep fans busy for quite some time. Yes, the inevitable limitations of an action based racer does lead to some repetitious mission structure, but with calls for other missions coming in on a regular basis (even while you are on a current job), these occasional calls for personal decision making combined with the consistent story related banter (despite how inane it might be), does a solid enough job of keeping the action feeling fresh for the majority of the campaign.
Outside of the campaign, there is a collection of multiplayer options for up to 8 players to take part in, but honestly, I struggled to find a single game. Don’t get me wrong, even if you do, it’s not like the options or game modes are exactly life changing, but if you were to find a few like minded gamers out there, there’s certainly enough about it to provide a brief but enjoyable distraction. Regardless of the online options available though, this is a game that should be purchased all but exclusively for its single player campaign. It’s far from perfect, but at a budget price, might be worth a punt for those who are willing to overlook the games obvious foibles and technical deficiencies.
Crash Time 4: The Syndicate is a hard game to love but an equally difficult game to hate. Sure, the voice work is universally pants, its budget development a little too easy to spot and its design short of any kind of inspiration or new ideas, but hey, the fact of the matter is, Crash Time 4 is still a fun game to play. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, is home to a few decent visual flourishes and does the all important driving aspect of the experience extremely well. With The Run proving a misstep for the Need for Speed series this year and with no sign of a sequel to The Driver or Burnout Paradise on the horizon, Crash Time 4 might well fill the gap for those bored with the more traditional racers currently occupying the marketplace.
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