A lot has been written over the past couple generations about the death of the “B” tier game. Though the prevalence of indie games have certainly helped close the gap, I still miss the odd duck that would often emerge from unknown teams, or even better, occasionally escape from one of the big publishers, warts and all, but still with a misguided earnestness that you can’t help but be drawn to.
Street Racing Syndicate is one of those games for me.
Let’s get one thing straight. SRS is not a “good” video game by most any of the metrics that one would use to define quality. Visually, it’s fine for the standards of 2004, but anyone looking for a satisfying gameplay loop or gripping narrative will have to look elsewhere. It’s a poor man’s Midnight Club, which is a poor man’s Need for Speed, which itself has somehow also now become a poor man’s Need for Speed.
My general ignorance of the racing genre as a whole probably helps, looking at it as someone that can play for short bursts whilst listening to a podcast. I’d generally recommend that to anyone looking to give the game a look as well, since the soundscapes offered within are limited to the caustic taunts of car models and a four song soundtrack that will loop endlessly inside the recesses of your brain until you start to ponder the sweet taste of gunmetal resting on your tongue.
The hook of SRS, if there is one, is the inclusion of said car models. Based on what I presume are real carbon-based life forms that approved of their likeness being included, their role in the game is mostly limited to that of quest givers and eye candy. Oddly, you can actually progress through the entire single player mode without ever actually seeking out any of the ladies, but the game seems determined to constantly push you in their direction, whether it be their inclusion on menu screens or their faces plastered on endless billboards throughout the city as if you were Roddy Piper finding the subliminal messaging in They Live.
Sadly, at no point during any of SRS are you tasked with getting in a protracted fistfight with Keith David. Thankfully, Saint’s Row 4 would eventually correct this.
The women are scattered in different locations throughout the map and finding them results in a challenge of some sort, which always amounts to “be good at car things”. After impressing the lady with your mad drift skills, she then joins a disembodied harem that apparently sits in your warehouse to dance upon on command. Seriously. After impressing a model, their entire existence amounts to a “choose your girlfriend” menu selection, wherein you can then unlock videos of them in various forms of undress, dancing to the sonic purgatory known as the Street Racing Syndicate soundtrack. That’s it. That’s all they do. Eventually, if you lose a race, a rival can steal your girlfriend. You can then win her back by beating said opponent in a race.
Suffice to say, SRS isn’t going to win any awards for its advancements in feminism.
Even if you want to ignore the horrible implications of this (which you really shouldn’t), I have to wonder if any of these girls were actually told how they’d be portrayed in the game.
“Hi, Courtney? We wanted to put you into this video game. Yeah. You’re going to be a vapid dancing trophy, basically. Also, if the player is bad at racing, you’re going to be terribly bitchy to them. Yeah. Nope. Just dancing in a warehouse. That will be your only interest. Well, that and cars. Should be great publicity.”
Call me old fashioned, but when I choose to be in a relationship, it’s generally with the intention of doing something other than staring at still photos of my girlfriend while flooring it in a Nissan Skyline emblazoned with anime characters. Maybe that’s just me. Part of me just wishes there had been some sort of option along the lines of “press X to have a night in watching bad kung fu movies” to prompt some FMV of the car model having a lazy day in her pajamas, sans-makeup.
I think the moral of this story is that I really really want a racing game crossed with a proper dating sim. Until then, I’ll have to play SRS.
Maybe you should too? No, no you shouldn’t.