Whenever anybody asks me what I would consider my “dream car” to be, almost every one of my possible answers automatically default to any of the coolest rides of the 1990’s. I always get giddy, weird and finger pointy whenever I see a 3000 GT VR-4, Subaru SVX, or a first-gen DSM Talon hobbling down the roads in real life. Whenever it comes to any of the OG cars that made The Fast and the Furious so entrancing, I just can’t help pointing them out to anybody who will listen to me. Back in the 1990’s, manufacturers were deadlocked in a war to create the tuning car of choice, so there were no outrageous design choices that were ever completely off the table. The late 90’s and early 00’s brought us the abundance of giant bookshelf wings, asphalt-scraping body kits and underbody lighting, which became the economic currency of an entire generation.
While I enjoy driving around (tightly packed) inside muscular Japanese sports cars in the real world, I also love to play video games that put all of these iconic vehicles front and center without the burden of real-life consequences. Tinkering and tuning these cars in the virtual world was always a little more fun and was definitely a lot easier than doing it in real life, when most of our stupid ass modifications often did more harm to our cars than good. I really enjoy playing the older racing games, as they had such a huge focus on these amazing rides of yesteryear, since they were the hot shit back in those days. These vehicles have almost completely faded from existence from the streets of today, and so has the virtual versions on the current generation of gaming consoles. While most of us would love to virtually wrench on a 1994 300ZX’s in glorious HD on our PS4’s, there’s not a whole lot of desire for publishers to shell out the cash to license the rights to include these old ass cars that only old fart like myself care about.
So whenever I get the urge to peel around in a second gen RX-7 or a bug-eyed WRX, I gotta warm up my old wheezy PS2 and only then I can slam them into virtual walls to my heart’s content. I will never tire of Toyko Xtreme Racer or some of the older editions of Need For Speed, but I am always keeping a look out for any racing game that has 1) realistic vehicle graphics/sounds, 2) real-world physics, and most importantly, 3) a tantalizing car list with plenty of choices.
While padding out my Gamecube collection this winter with random titles that I was finding on eBay, I came across a used copy of Namco’s SRS: Street Racing Syndicate that had a price tag of a paltry 5 dollars. I figured that since this game was released in the early 2000’s, it would most likely have some good cars of that time period, and (judging by the kinda-a-little-bit-sexist cover) was mostly centered around night racing. I refused to read any information or reviews on this game before blindly clicking on the “Buy Now” button, and I thought it would be fun if I would put critique it by putting it directly up against the king of underground racing, TXR.
Here’s is my verdict:
Street Racing Syndicate: The street races that take place in this game happen in a slower-paced “downtown” metropolitan setting. The streets, sidewalks and buildings in this game are coated in a perpetually slimy veneer of wetness, even though you never actually race during an actual rainstorm (is this a secret rule hidden in the racer’s code of honor??). In order to make it look like a real downtown, they implement way too much flashy neon bullshit being reflected off of every square inch of real estate, making the racing course almost impossible to follow since everything on your screen is just a giant shiny mess. The in-game car models look decent, but some of the curves on the stock bodywork look kind of terrible. The cars in SRS can actually take on some physical damage during racing, but this damage only extends to a mildly busted hood hinge and a smashed windshield. Repairing this surface damage can negate almost all your winnings from a single race or series, which can make saving up the funds in order to buy the next car a total pain in the ass.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer: From a storied lineage that put down roots on the Dreamcast, spanning all the way to the XBOX 360, TXR has always looked graphically impressive on each updated generation of console. While these darkened roads are not the flashiest looking race courses, these roads actually feel like actual sleepy Japanese highways at 3 am. Car models are also rendered beautifully, and that gigantic wing you put on the back of your Accord always appears to be just as functional in-game as it is in real life (hint: it’s not). All the cars in the TXR universe are coated in a magical spell of protection, since they never take on any hint of visible damage, despite slamming into walls at 130 MPH and a stream of almost constant head-on collisions with construction vehicles.
Street Racing Syndicate: The music in this game is extraordinarily terrible, with a playlist that is compromised entirely of obnoxious rap-rock tunes that play loudly over races and every possible menu. There’s no licensed song in this game that you will possibly recognize, so most of the game’s soundtrack is best described as “royalty-free Limp Bizkit karaoke”.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer: The (lack of) music has always been the Achilles heel of this series, and every TXR game only has a single bleak repetitive sample of flavorless electronica that loops endlessly for hours. There might be a slight change of tempo during a boss battle, but never fear, it will soon go back to the classic four hour loop soon before you know it.
Street Racing Syndicate: There’s a tiny little map that is centered around your base of operations which include a dealership, a garage, and a warehouse that is used to store your legion of bored girlfriends (you only have one shotgun seat, dawg!). Instead of sticking to anything resembling reality, the street map has seven cities smashed together, and you can drive from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in less than six city blocks, which is actually a pretty awesome feature if you are an Eagles fan. There’s nothing really visually different about the “cities”, so I don’t understand why they bothered going with that whole idea. The onscreen mini-map is mostly useless, and has nothing labeled as you drive slooowly along it’s streets. Luckily, there is the option of quick travel, which (thankfully) limits the amount of driving you have to do while driving in this driving game.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer: When the original TXR came out on Dreamcast, they touted the game as having “hundreds of miles of highway- faithfully recreated!” and these freeways actually feel pretty realistic as far as merging lanes, widths and road distances are concerned. Whenever an unchallenged rival pops up on the mini-map several miles away, it can feel like a chore transversing that amount of road to get there, but you can challenge another racer to rack up credits while getting across the map. When you finally think you have a handle on the curves of Hanida, the game opens up the longer stretches of straight highways and you can start testing your skills against cars with higher top speeds.
Street Racing Syndicate: The back of the box says “Upgrade over 40 officially licensed cars with hundreds of actual aftermarket parts and vinyls!” which is a statement that is mostly true. They just leave out that there’s really only about 12 actual different cars, and out of this limited stable, there are 8 different “models” of the same vehicle. There’s the WRX type1, WRX Mk.III, WRX 2.5R, WRX Sti,WRX R-spec, WRX w-TF and about another 15 other versions of the exact same car, but with each have different brands of wiper blades. In this game, the joy of going to the dealership to pick out a new car is an activity on par with the excitement of watching paint dry. The lack of car models extends into the races as well, adding another level of boredom since you are racing the same four models of cars and racers every race.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer: While the car lists in TXR aren’t perfect, and get progressively crappier as the series goes on, at least some effort was put into utilizing a decent variety of different makes and models. Early TXR games ingeniously skirted around paying licensing fees to manufacturers by not referring to the vehicles by specific brand name. Instead of calling a car a “Toyota Supra”, they call it a “T-SO40” instead, so the car list ends up only being limited by the restraints of the programming. Honestly, I’d rather have a ton of generically named bootleg versions of vehicles instead having the choice of two officially licensed cars.
ALL THE OTHER CRAP:
Street Racing Syndicate: While driving aimlessly around town, you can challenge other racers to a battle by flashing your high beams. The ensuing race that follows is bland, slow, and uninspired. The A.I. of the other racers is permanently set on the “bowl of day-old yogurt” setting, and they only attempt to avoid damage and manage to always take the best racing lines at every curve. There is nothing pulse-pounding about any race in SRS, even when you place the highest side bets on top of larger wager pots.
Modifying your ride in SRS is a serious pain in the dick as well. The car parts are grouped by manufacturer and not part type, making modifications incredibly irritating when you buy an HKS turbo and ten slots down find a Greddy turbo that has an 80 more horsepower gain. All the text is presented in tiny, unreadable font and every single available part needs at least 20 seconds to load, meaning you are going to be spending a ton of time just sitting there watching a loading swirly while debating the type of steering wheel cover you want to buy.
The physics in SRS feel good, but when you upgrade to a beefy car with a F-R powertrain setup, the game becomes unplayable since all the roads are covered in traction-killing rain. The F-F and F-AWD cars handle realistically and respond well, except for the fact that while your speedometer says 120, it feels like a spirited 45 MPH jaunt to church on a Sunday. The Gamecube can handle displaying stupid fast speeds with games like F-Zero, so there’s really no excuse for SRS to play like Molasses Racer.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer: This racing game is basically a fighting game with cars. You can challenge hundreds of different racers and teams that stick to a particular stretch of highway by flashing your brights, and once it starts, you have to keep the vehicle health bar from reaching zero. Not only do you have to stay ahead of your opponent to keep it from draining, but you have to weigh the risks and rewards of pinballing through an S-turn at top speed instead of losing speed by taking the curve properly. Just so we’re clear, I’m a pinball wizard, myself. All of your opponents behave like real racers and all of them have unique behaviors. Some races will leave you breathless as you have a fraction of a moment to overtake an advanced racer inside a pocket of traffic and a steep left hand curve.
Car modification in TXR is detailed and deep, with upgrades that become available for purchase as your street racing notoriety grows through victories. There are hundreds of settings for car gearing, suspension, and tuning, giving you endless combinations of parts to set up your car for taking on a particular enemy or environment.
Car physics feel great and responsive in this game. When you finally tune your motor and transmission to hit 160 MPH, it genuinely feels like 160 MPH on a highways full of slow moving traffic and other obstacles. F-R cars can be tricky to handle in TXR, but this ramp up in loss of control can be negated through limited-slip differentials and other upgradable traction controls.
DATING SIMULATOR AND POLICE:
Street Racing Syndicate: One of the biggest selling points of this game is the inclusion of a dating simulator! Sure, it exists, but its about one of the shallowest and dumbest dating simulators you’ve ever seen. If you can fulfill a stupid driving requirement, you can gain a new “girlfriend” who gets the important job of holding the starting flags at the beginning of your races. I remember back when I was dating, and girls wouldn’t give me the time of day if I couldn’t hit 6 checkpoints and powerslide across the finish line in my Civic, so I can personally vouch that this dating simulator is deeply seeped in reality. Once you unlock a girl, you also unlock a creepy video of a live girl dancing to some of that great rap-rock, available in the menus. These short clips will make you cringe so hard that your disgust can be scientifically measured aboard the International Space Station.
Oh, and there are police added to SRS for no other reason than cops want to bust your balls for creeping by at 40 MPH (game speedometer reading: 349 MPH). After they slowly chase you a few blocks, you are stopped and money is deducted from your bank account. It’s just another fun way that the game separates you from the in-game dollars you were saving up for a windshield you can see out of.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer: This game contains none of this bullshit.
In conclusion, Street Racing Syndicate literally fails on every level when pitted against Tokyo Xtreme Racer, but most spectacularly, it fails at being fun. The shoddy menus, empty car selection and monkey-butthole inspired race courses end up making the every step of the SRS experience feel like nothing more than an irritating chore. I really wish they would reboot TXR for the current generation of consoles, but underground street racing may not have nearly the same cool factor these days, since nobody has ever wanted to drag race a Prius against an Corolla.
**TEHBEN CHEATS: In Street Racing Syndicate, the only way to refill your NOS bottle is to do wicked tricks while driving around, like drifting or picking up the dry cleaning. **