You'd think that people living in a postapocalyptic world would have something better to do than participate in some bush-league extreme sports. Come on, the apocalypse just happened. In Street Trace: NYC for Xbox Live Arcade, the world after the end of the world apparently isn't all that cool. Instead of forming roving gangs of mutants and brigands like you're supposed to, the remaining citizens of New York City have banded together to create a sort of racing/fighting hybrid league where everyone darts around on Back to the Future 2-style hoverboards and launches missiles and lasers at one another to try to "knock opponents off their boards." It's a goofy concept, made even goofier by the Mountain Dew-commercial-reject cast of characters and the wonky control scheme, which packs more commands to memorize than the average retail 360 game. Still, there's a mild amount of fun to be had with Street Trace, specifically in the multiplayer arena. Just don't expect it to hold your attention for very long.
If Twisted Metal and SSX had an illegitimate, ugly love child, it would probably look and play a little like Street Trace: NYC. You're always moving forward on your board, and you have to dart and weave around tight corners and obstacles, all while launching one of four different weapons at your opponents. There are actually a bunch of different ways to play the game. There are straight-up arena deathmatches; a chaos mode where you have to shoot opponents, shoot targets, and collect flags all at the same time to score points; a basic capture-the-flag mode; a VIP mode; and a couple of different variations of standard races.
That all sounds well and good, at least until you actually pick up a controller and try to play this thing. Pushing your way through the slow-pouring tutorial is a must if you want to grasp the nuances of the controls, and there are quite a few of them. Apart from the four weapons you're armed with (all mapped to the bumpers and triggers), your board has some different abilities as well. Pressing X powers your board down and lets you veer around especially tight turns; pressing A lets you jump your board; B gives you a quick speed boost; and pressing Y allows you to grind over specific types of rails. On top of all of that, you can upgrade practically all of these weapons and abilities in between matches using cash you collect on the battlefield, which makes you far more formidable a foe over time.
Learning the controls is one thing, but getting a solid feel for them is another. Your board always moves pretty fast, even when you're not boosting, so it's easy to bump into the scenery and difficult to get a bead on your target for more than a second (even with the helpful autotargeting system) before they dart off and you have to reacquire them. Sure, you can stop altogether using the X button, but that just makes you a stationary target and tends to lead to quick death. Handling is especially bad in races, where jumps, gaps, and blockades constantly have to be navigated. As it happens, the steering controls just aren't precise enough for what the racecourses demand. You'll be bumping into everything that comes into your path, and while pressing X does slow you down and let you take turns more precisely, it's often too effective, causing you to overshoot your turn, or slow down too quickly before you even get to the turn. Suffice it to say, the races aren't much fun at all.
The deathmatch modes are more amusing, though only in multiplayer. You can play through any of the available event types in tournaments and time trials offline, but the time trials involve too much trial and error to be fun, and the artificial intelligence opponents have a bad habit of catching up and stealing the gold medal victory from you in the last couple of matches, even if you have a fairly healthy lead up to that point. Such is not the case in multiplayer. You can play any of the available match types in local multiplayer, or on Xbox Live in ranked and player matches. You can actually set up standard one-off matches, or play tournaments of multiple match types just like in the offline game, including ones that let you upgrade your board and weapons between fights. For the most part, the online play offers the most enjoyable way to play Street Trace, provided you don't run into any match lag. About half of the matches we played had significant lag that caused opponents to jump around the screen as if they had personal teleporters. This, as you might imagine, made combat overly difficult and frustrating, since you could never tell if you were actually hitting anyone.
As genuinely amusing as the multiplayer can be in spurts, it doesn't stay that way for long. Despite the complicated control scheme, there's not an awful lot of depth to the action, and it's easy to get bored after playing a couple of matches in a row. It doesn't help that the map variety is lacking. There are only three arenas and three racecourses in the game, and with all the racecourses being universally awful, that means you've got only three fun places to play.
Presentation doesn't keep the game interesting in the slightest. On top of there being very few maps, they're all kind of bland and dingy looking--not even in the way you'd expect a postapocalyptic NYC to look. Yes, there are plenty of abandoned cars and crashed airplanes scattered around, but everything looks as though it's just been dipped in black and brown paint, black cel-shading lines drawn over everything, and left out to dry. There's nothing even remotely interesting to look at, especially when it comes to the characters, who all look like they stepped out of a sequel to Extreme Ops and never learned to speak beyond a few god-awful catchphrases that are delivered poorly and often. Throw in a couple of short, irritating loops of lousy tribal techno music and some uninspired sound effects, and that's the audio in a nutshell.
There are things that Street Trace: NYC does well, but there aren't enough of them to make the game worth 800 points ($10). Maybe a few people out there will be able to overlook the convoluted and imprecise controls, the lack of map variety, the sometimes laggy multiplayer, and the game's insufferable attitude, but beyond those few forgiving folk, everyone else is probably best served spending their points on something else.