Back in the early 2000s The Fast and the Furious arrived in cinemas and ignited a fascination for the street racing scene, and EA wasted no time in developing Need For Speed Underground, which was released to wide critical acclaim. Shortly after the release of the first Underground game, Eutechnyx brought Street Racing Syndicate (SRS) to the market, capitalising on the street racing boom. It wasn’t received well back then, and time hasn’t improved that view.
Though it can be found for a wallet-friendly £6.99 on Steam and has some genuinely decent racing involved, there isn’t a lot to recommend SRS over the many other racing games available. The title screen itself is like a bad 90s rap album cover, with scantily clad girls plastered all over the screen and a stereotypical, shiny street racer with neon and everything.
The portrayal of women is the absolute worst thing about SRS. It’s horrifying, as they are treated as rewards for completing challenges and, should you beat the challenge for a certain woman, she’ll automatically be added to your list of girlfriends and you’ll unlock a video of her dancing for you. Yes, that really happens. In addition to this, if you earn respect points (ironic, right?) with one of your girlfriends coming along for the ride, you’ll unlock more dancing videos. These videos have no class or production value either, feeling like nothing more than exploitation and they genuinely made me feel uncomfortable. This is a huge problem that holds back an already average racer.
With an open city to explore (only at night) and plenty of race events, there’s a lot of scope for fun to be had in SRS. The handling is arcadey and the cars are simple to control, with a large selection of real-life vehicles from the likes of Subaru, Volkswagen, Nissan and more. After a brief introduction sequence, wherein a badly-acted stereotype has to earn money to bail his friend out of jail for street racing, you’re given a race to figure out the controls and the handling model. It’s a tried-and-tested tutorial method for racing games and it works just as well here, before giving you a bundle of cash to buy your own ride – much less exotic and powerful than the GTR you test drove in the opening race.
Once your car is chosen, you can jump straight into the racing, drive around the city or fit your new vehicle with all manner of upgrades, such as nitrous oxide (NOS), turbos, brakes and tyres. The list of parts is extensive, coming from a number of real manufacturers and each will improve the handling or speed in some way, though only the speed difference is really noticeable when playing.
The racing can be exciting, despite the small grids of only four cars. The AI does have some terrible rubber-banding issues, but generally reacts to the presence of others instead of ploughing into them. It is intelligent enough to slow down or move aside, but can be aggressive when it wants to be and won’t shy away from trading paint when necessary – considering there are racers on the newest consoles that don’t have this simple level of AI, it makes it all the more impressive that it was available to a game over a decade ago.
Before any race, you can place wagers with specific drivers on the grid to earn extra money. The amount wagered depends on the difficulty of the challenge faced, leading to a nice risk/reward situation. This isn’t the only strategy seen in the game, as NOS doesn’t automatically replenish like in most racers. If you’re in a series of three races and use all your NOS in race one, you’ll be stuck that way until you refill your NOS at the garage. This can make for some thoughtful use of boosting during races, keeping enough in reserve for the next race but using enough to stay ahead in the current race
Races take place on city roads or sanctioned tracks, the main difference being the total lack of traffic on sanctioned tracks. However, the technical limits of the game seem to have resulted in a ghost town setting anyway, so street races rarely include traffic.
Technical limits feel like a running theme throughout SRS, as the PC version tops out at a resolution of 1152×864, leading to some ropey visuals even for 2004. Car models are reasonable enough, but the interiors aren’t modelled at all and even the driver is a dark, blocky silhouette which is painfully noticeable. On the storm drain track, the sun’s glare (the only daylight I saw in my time with the game) is hilariously bad, literally blocking out almost all the screen with white light and making it nearly impossible to see the road ahead.
If you tire of racing and just want to have a relaxing drive around the city, you’ll have to watch for the police presence. A warning signal will present itself when a cop car is nearby, but if they find you going too fast they’ll chase you down and, more often than not, arrest you. This is because the “busted” meter goes up even if you’re currently outrunning your pursuer, leading to an unavoidable $200 fine. Luckily you’ll probably just skip to each event using the menu, as there’s really no incentive to drive around the empty city.
With the games released back in the early 2000s already surpassing the quality of Street Racing Syndicate, not to mention the quality of games since – even the worst games in the Need For Speed series are preferable – there really is nothing to recommend this, even if it didn’t portray women as air-headed rewards in an astoundingly offensive “feature” of the game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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