Review by: Jonathan Hynes
Published: September 22, 2004
Just as football fanatics demand greater control over their athletes and role-players expect the ability to customize their heroes, gear heads, and street racers in particular, are always hungry for a title that will allow them to trick out their vehicles. Need for Speed: Underground no doubt resides on the shelves of these people already, and the prospect of an even deeper, more involving street racer surely has them salivating uncontrollably. Granted, it’s a tough decision for some: whether to spend that $50 on Street Racing Syndicate or a new oversized muffler, but hopefully that decision will be a little easier at the end of this review.
From head-to-head matches to time trials, the game’s arcade mode provides plenty of thrills for anyone looking to hop straight into the driver’s seat. The real meat, however, is in the street (or story) mode, which starts you at the bottom of the proverbial food chain and forces you to claw your way to the top. There are a total of 50 cars in SRS, from Mitsubishi, Toyota, Lincoln, Subaru, Volkswagen, Mazda and Nissan, though your fiscal constraints limit your choices early on.
No matter, as even the slowest set of wheels can be transformed into a legitimate contender with a little bit of customization. While the ability to fit those horsepower-increasing decals, vinyls and neon lights to the body of your car will give any racer the jollies, true street racers will be much more interested in the powerful modification tools. For starters, a whole slew of adjustments can be made under the hood; everything from lightweight pulleys to headers and even a turbo system are available for purchase. No less important is your rubber, which, if properly selected, can shave seconds off your 0-60 time. Other components that can be adjusted include the suspension, exhaust and spoiler, though this is only scratching the surface of the robust customization system. Even those who don’t care if their victories come fair and square can have their way, as nitrous tanks can turn even a heap of scrap metal into a sub-ten-second threat.
These mods don’t come cheap and the only way to finance your costly hobby is to put your custom built rig to the test. There are several ways to earn a little extra scratch; while driving around the city you’ll often spot showboaters hanging around, waiting for a little competition. You’ll also see those with a little more ambition cruising the streets with a conveniently placed “race me” sign above their vehicles, just dying for you to sneak up behind them and flash your highbeams. The other big way to earn some cash is through organized competitions, which will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen The Fast and The Furious. These events let you rack up large sums of money in relatively little time by placing wagers on the outcome, though each series consists of only a few races, and the key to moving up is respect.
Respect is essentially SRS‘s equivalent of the famous kudos system that was implemented to perfection in Project Gotham Racing 2. Winning races, leading after each lap and performing tricks such as two wheelies and drifting will earn you respect among your fellow racers. Besides requiring a certain amount of horsepower from your car, each new series demands that you amass a set number of respect points before you can enter and, potentially, earn the big bucks.
Lest we forget, this is the illegal world of street racing, and the popo are always a factor when you’re out looking for trouble. While the game is forgiving enough to discount the threat while you’re racing, cruising the streets in between events can be dicey. Speeding, dangerous driving and, of course, collisions will get the police on your tail, at which time a felony gauge appears at the top of the screen. An indicator will move between “busted” and “escaped” as either you or the officers gain the upper hand. You must, however, weigh the risks and rewards involved with evading capture; while getting away means not having to pay a $500 fine, the damage that you could do to your car can be much greater.