Supercars are where technology and art meet to create some of the fastest, most futuristic-looking cars in the world. These embodiments of speed and grace form the cream of the automotive crop and objects of desire and fascination for car enthusiasts. Exakt Entertainment's Supercar Street Challenge taps into that mystique and puts you behind the wheel of these exotic beauties, even letting you design your own. Yet for all its promise, Supercar Street Challenge will only leave you racing to find a better game.
On the surface, the most promising feature of Supercar Street Challenge is the ability to craft your own concept cars in the "Steve Saleen Styling Studio." Steve Saleen is a longtime racecar driver and founder of Saleen Inc., which creates limited-edition, high-performance cars like the noted S7. As exciting as this studio might sound on paper, prepare for a huge letdown. Pretty much all you do is install a few different bodywork segments and then morph them in real time into different styles, none of which has any performance impact. You can install simple parts like mirrors or wings that you earn in the game's championship mode, name your car, choose its color, and perform other very rudimentary operations on it, but you can't really get under the hood. Real supercars aren't just about looks, but about performance. Here all you do is distribute points among four grossly oversimplified characteristics: speed, braking, acceleration, and handling.
In addition to your own inventions, you can race with a number of real-world vehicles that are certainly enough to get an auto enthusiast excited. There's the Saleen S7 with its 7.0-liter V8, the Pontiac Concept GTO that fuses futuristic styling with the look of a classic muscle car, and the improbably bulbous Rinspeed E-GO Rocket, which looks like a 1940s vision of a car from the future. You'll also get to drive the Bertone Pickster, Lotus M220, Callaway C12, Vision CTEK K/2, Fioravanti F100, and Pagani Zonda C12-S. It's not the biggest selection of cars compared to some racing games, but it's perhaps better to have a handful of really interesting, unique vehicles than a hundred boring ones.
With Supercar Street Challenge, that logic doesn't actually apply since the game is a pure arcade-style racer. You don't actually get to enjoy these world-class cars, since the cars in the game bear little apparent connection to reality, other than their looks. You certainly won't get to enjoy any subtle differences between them, and the game's physics are utterly improbable: You can take 90-degree corners at 100mph--in a downpour, no less--without any cares. You don't have to worry about spins or flips since it's nearly impossible to lose control. You can slam into walls or other cars at high speed with no visible or performance detriment. Featuring licensed cars in the game ultimately amounts to little more than a marketing tease.
Lax arcade physics aside, Supercar Street Challenge does give you a good sense of speed as you hurtle through city intersections at outrageous speeds. The problem is that you get a sense of speed but no sense of danger. It's one thing to stand on the accelerator as buildings blur past, knowing that the slightest mistake could wrap your car around a tree. You won't get that sort of tension here: You could drop the cars in this game from an orbiting space shuttle and they'd keep on driving. Without any adrenaline-inducing sense of fear, the sense of speed is a novelty that wears off after a couple of laps.
At least you get a decent selection of tracks. Races play out in seven different locales: Los Angeles, London, Monaco, Munich, Paris, Rome, and Turin. Each area includes around three to five different courses. You can't access all the courses or cars right away in the game's quick race or time attack modes, though. For that, you'll need to play the championship mode. Here you can enter a design series using a car you create in the styling studio, or you can enter various series using the licensed cars. Since the racing offers so little of interest, there's almost no incentive to keep slogging through these series.
The game's overall presentation is as poor as the racing, though the soundtrack is a little interesting. These days, it seems like nearly every racing game resorts to some style of techno music, and most of it ends up a forgettable waste of notes. That's only partially true of Supercar Street Challenge, which features yet more techno, but techno with a difference: Real bands like Cirrus composed the tracks. Overall, this isn't exceptional game music by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the cuts are pretty catchy, and they fit the onscreen action well. It's a step in the right direction.
The actual sound effects come off very poorly. Engines just have a simplistic whine that doesn't really scream "high-performance engine," but rather "generic sound effect." The same is true of screeching tires or the little bangs you hear when cars bump a wall or each other. The sound effects can actually hinder gameplay, too. When you play a racing game with cars set to manual transmission, you should usually know when to up-shift by sound alone. That's not always possible here because of the sloppy engine sound effects; you'll need to keep glancing at the tachometer. This weakness is doubly problematic because an apparent bug can prevent the cars from shifting out of first gear when set to automatic transmission. Needless to say, you won't win any races like that.
Supercar Street Challenge is a visual disappointment, too. All the exotic cars and locales just beg for the deluxe graphics treatment, but the game looks about two years out of date. It's utterly outclassed visually by games like NASCAR Racing 4, 4x4 EVO 2, and Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed. Particle effects like the smoke from spinning tires look unconvincing, and cars all feature an improbably glossy sheen. Overall, the drab textures and poorly detailed scenery offer precious little to catch your eye. You don't get a rearview mirror in the optional first-person view modes, either; instead you have to temporarily glance backward. On a happier note, city skyscrapers, particularly those lining the Los Angeles tracks, look realistically tall and imposing. If you weren't roaring down the road at 150mph, you'd want to crane your virtual neck to get a glimpse at their towering tops.
Supercar Street Challenge is an excellent opportunity wasted. Despite a roster of licensed cars that rank among the best in the world, you never really get to enjoy them. Instead you get an oversimplified arcade racer without a drop of the wildness or excitement that the best arcade racers offer. If you want more than half an hour's light entertainment from your racing games, detour well around this one.