Street Racing Syndicate Preview

We take to the streets with an early Xbox version of Namco's upcoming racer.

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We've recently had the opportunity to test-drive an early Xbox build of Eutechnyx and Namco's Street Racing Syndicate, which is also in development for the PlayStation 2 and the GameCube. We've been unable to get the street mode, which will be the real substance of the finished game, working for any period of time, unfortunately. However, the arcade mode has afforded us the opportunity to climb into the bucket seats of a number of different cars and put them through their paces on the streets of Philadelphia, Miami, and Los Angeles.

You'll tear up the asphalt in Miami, LA, and Philly, among other places.
You'll tear up the asphalt in Miami, LA, and Philly, among other places.

Unlike the street mode, in which you'll start out with a standard car purchased from a showroom, the arcade mode in Street Racing Syndicate will allow you to jump straight into fully customized motors complete with anime-inspired vinyl designs and neon lighting. Licensed cars in the game include popular models from Subaru, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Lexus. When it comes to customizing these vehicles, you'll be able to purchase licensed parts from a large number of different manufacturers.

The cars in the game all handle quite differently, and you'll find that while some of them corner as if they're on rails when driven correctly, others are prone to drifting and sliding all over the road. Finding the right car for you, of course, is all part of the fun. From what little we've seen of the street mode, it appears that you'll have plenty of scope to set up the vehicles in your warehouse to suit your own driving style. In addition to cosmetic enhancements--including neons, vinyls, stickers, and alloy wheels--the upgrades available in the street mode garage that we took our straight-out-of-the-showroom Toyota Celica into, included turbos, nitrous oxide kits, brakes, exhausts, body kits, and numerous engine-tuning options.

The arcade mode comprises quick race, iron man, checkpoint, and speed trial gameplay options. At least in our version of the game, none of its 32-plus street circuits (most of which are in Los Angeles) needed to be unlocked before we were able to race them against three opponents in the quick race mode or to try to beat our best times using the speed trial option. The checkpoint mode, as its name suggests, places a number of checkpoints all over your chosen city and challenges you to drive through all of them in the correct order within a time limit. The iron man mode requires you to win a number of races in succession. After beating each of the cities, we were awarded an additional car for use in both the arcade and street modes.

The girlfriends in SRS are as valuable as the cars.
The girlfriends in SRS are as valuable as the cars.

As you take to the streets for the first time in Street Racing Syndicate, you might find yourself checking whether you popped the right game into your console--Street Racing Syndicate looks a lot like Need for Speed Underground. The Miami street races in the game invariably take place during the day, but when you take to the impressive-looking wet nighttime streets of either Philadelphia or Los Angeles, you'll find that they are very similar to those in EA's game, and the similarities don't end there. Likenesses such as the large glowing arrows that show you where to go, the streets that are reused on multiple circuits, the blurring effect that creates a better sensation of speed when you hit your nitro button, oncoming vehicles that flash their lights and honk their horns, and the fact that your reputation within the street racing scene is all-important--all things that will sound pretty familiar if you've played Need for Speed Underground--but then that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Street Racing Syndicate attempts to do many of the same things that Need for Speed Underground did last year, however, it doesn't currently appear to be doing any of them quite as well. The oncoming traffic, for example, is pretty sparse and none of the vehicles make an attempt to avoid you--even if you travel toward them with your own lights flashing. The sensation of speed in the game is also a little disappointing right now. While activating a nitro at 50mph blurs the screen pretty effectively, releasing the button and having your vision return to normal at 160mph seems a little strange, as you feel like you're traveling at a much more sedate pace when, in fact, you're moving at over three times the speed you were moments earlier. Hopefully Eutechnyx will continue to refine these elements before the game's release.

There are plenty of things that Street Racing Syndicate does very well, by the way, it's just that it's difficult not to draw comparisons with Need for Speed Underground when the two games are so similar. The handling of the vehicles in SRS is easy to pick up, but it takes time to master. Drafting can be pretty effective, and the way that the rearview camera positions itself to give you the best possible view of the opponent closest to you is great. Although we've seen very little of it, the game's street mode sounds very promising indeed. Online play in the game should also be a blast, particularly since you'll actually have the option to wager your cars in head-to-head pink-slip races, or to participate in a number of interesting-sounding gameplay modes such as collection, team collection, team time, and team position.

You can't win without tweaking out your ride, and there will be plenty of aftermarket parts to tweak with.
You can't win without tweaking out your ride, and there will be plenty of aftermarket parts to tweak with.

It's really quite unfortunate that our build of Street Racing Syndicate doesn't allow us to sample some of the game's more innovative and intriguing features, but there's certainly nothing wrong with the gameplay in the arcade mode, and we're now more eager than ever to get our hands on a more complete copy of the game. Expect more on Street Racing Syndicate as its release date at the end of August closes in.

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