If you'll recall, Street Racing Syndicate (SRS) was supposed to come out well over a year ago, but 3DO went out of business and it took Namco a while to acquire the rights. That's actually worth bearing in mind, because while SRS is an enjoyable street racer in the same vein as EA's Need for Speed: Underground, it doesn't quite pack the same oomph.
The overall selection of cars and mods in SRS is on par with Need for Speed: Underground. You start the game with enough cash to purchase and upgrade one vehicle, but over the course of the game you can stock your warehouse with any of 50 different cars, coming from seven different major manufacturers (Lexus, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, and Volkswagen). Upgrades come in five major areas–tires, suspension, turbo, electronics, and body. There are roughly a dozen different options for each of those initial four categories, and about twice that number for the "body" category. The number of different body kits, weight reduction kits, wings, light kits, vinyls, and paint jobs is sick. That's great, since it lets players come up with their own unique "rice rocket." Hafta give the game further praise for including girlfriends as a play incentive. By achieving certain challenges, you can actually hook up with different girls and watch them strut around for you. On the downside, the total lack of cars from auto makers such as BMW, Mercedez-Bens, Pontiac, and Chevrolet is somewhat disappointing. Also, while tire, suspension, turbo, and CPU upgrades do make cars handle better and go faster, there aren't any tuning options available to tweak things like gear ratios.
Unlike NFS: Underground however, Street Racing Syndicate doesn't portray street racing as a series of individual missions and courses. Instead, there's just one big city to drive around in (similar to Tokyo Extreme Racer) and you can solicit challenges by showing up at certain corners or by tailing a car and flipping the high beams. The city itself looks great. You can lose yourself just driving around just gawking at all of the different buildings, restaurants, billboards, and landmarks. Supposedly, Los Angeles was used as the basis, although they've taken so many liberties with the various landmarks and street layouts that longtime residents won't even recognize it. Most importantly, the cars look beautiful–the crispness of the body textures makes it easy to see all of the mods and vinyls you've applies–and the game engine moves quick enough to offer up a fast sense of speed. Once you make a challenge or enter a meet, the game blocks off certain side streets and plots out a pre-set course for you to follow. You can't create your own shortcuts or turn down just any old corner, like you can in Rockstar's Midnight Club series, but being able to still see the entire city while you drive through it is nicer than simply tackling one disembodied course after another.
Events boil down to crew meets, respect challenges, and street challenges. The routes you'll drive also boil down to three different types: drag, circuit, and sprint. The city is full of pedestrian cars and cop cars, and they're really your main competition. CPU opponents put up a good fight, but it's easy to smoke them once you've upgrade enough. Avoiding running into other cars and getting chased by the pigs is much tougher. Winning the race gives you cash that you can spend to buy more cars and upgrades. Earning respect isn't as straightforward. The game puts so much emphasis on clean races and drifting, even more so than Metropolis Street Racer or Project Gotham Racing, that satisfying some of the respect challenges is a real pain in the butt. Nevertheless, Eutechnyx had to do something to differentiate the game from EA and Rockstar's street race games, and the respect angle really doesn't change the fact that Street Racing Syndicate is pretty much a video game version of The Fast and The Furious .
Primarily, the main problem with Street Racing Syndicate is that it just needs "more." Most players will breeze through all of the crew meets (six, with nine races each), respect challenges (18), and street challenges (10) in a day or two. How many missions did Need for Speed: Underground have? More than a hundred, at least. The online mode helps a little bit. You can log on and race against up to four other racers in a bunch of different race modes, the most interesting of which is a "pink slip" wager race. Participants can bet the cars they've put together in the story mode. Basically, if you win, you win everyone else's car. "If you lose, you lose your car."
Oh, and the audio… it's barely worth mentioning. The various techno and rock style music tracks are merely OK, but they repeat frequently. The sound effects for the cars are fine, and you can actually hear the effect that the different exhaust and exhaust upgrades have on each car. Whine about Electronic Arts all you want–at least they have the resources to put good soundtracks in their games.
So, yeah, Street Racing Syndicate is an enjoyable street racer and has the requisite Pimp My Ride chops, but it needs more cars and it's over too darn soon.