There's a big problem with Really Good Games, and it boils down to this. They inevitably sell loads of copies, earn their publishers bundles of money, and inspire other publishers to follow their lead in a bid to cash-in on their success.
Which is fair enough, except for the fact that the more a Really Good Game is copied, the more the essence of the game - the stuff that made it Really Good in the first place - gets distilled and eventually lost as developers attempt to think of new ways to rework the genre without being accused of too much unoriginality.
Pimp my pimp
Hence the endless line of third-person free-roaming gangland adventures heading our way right now, and the vast array of street racers inspired by the likes of Midnight Club and Project Gotham lining the shelves.
And now it's time for SRS: Street Racing Syndicate, another super-shiny driving game complete with options to win cash, earn "respect points", mod your car with all manner of turbos, nitros and neon lights and nick pink slips off your rivals.
So far, so Need For Juiced. But wait! There's a twist! SRS also gives you the option to - get this - race for women! That's right, these ladies aren't interested in bunches of flowers, nice meals in restaurants or talking about boring old feelings - they're only interested in the size of your undercarriage and the thrust of your engine.
Kenneth Williams is groaning in his grave
If that type of sub-Carry On innuendo that makes you groan with irritation rather than arousal you're better off avoiding SRS, since there's a lot of it about. The game's main selling point, you see, is that you can collect 18 different "honeys" - all based on real-life models from the US import scene.
And what's more, once you've secured their affections (which is done by completing missions with names like Kaila's Checkpoint Challenge or by "winning" them off other drivers), you get to "hook up" and "roll with" the lady in question - or just keep them locked up in your warehouse and force them to dance for you like silicone-enhanced monkeys. Well, watch videos of them dancing anyway, usually whilst they're trying not to look like they're slightly embarrassed by having to dance alone to sub-standard rap tracks wearing a skirt that barely covers their coco hernandez in the middle of a brightly lit television studio.
But, you know, lots of people like this sort of thing, and they certainly are good looking women, complete with bouncing boobies and shiny hair and shaved pits and everything. So well done, Eutechnyx, for coming up with a concept that will probably sell more copies of your game than deserve to be sold.
A very happy slap
And now, here's a big fat SLAP for spending so much time on the ladies and their boobies that you forgot to make a decent racing game for them to appear in. See, the problem is that SRS isn't just a clone of all the other street racers on the shelves - it's a poorly done one that's generally unexciting to play. The likes of Kaila, Christi and Booberella, or whatever their names are, deserve better.
As do the cars featured in the game - such as the Mitsubishi Evolution VIII, Subaru Impreza S202, Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7 Spirit R, to name but a few. They all handle differently, drive realistically (for the most part - but more of that later) and they're all well-rendered.
Naturally, you get to muck about with them no end - and you'll need to if you're going to get anywhere in the game's Career Mode. It's based around a free-roaming map littered with different races, lady challenges and handy locations, such as the all-important garage.
Here you can soup-up and fine tune your car to your heart's content, fiddling with the engine, suspension and brakes, adding spoilers, turbos and nitrous systems, changing the tyres and applying all manner of paint types and decals. The problem is it's too hard to tell exactly what effect each adjustment will have on your car - often until you're halfway through the middle of a race and losing to a man who presumably has better suspension than you. Highly irritating.
Choosing cars isn't much fun, either. The game takes at least two seconds to load each one in the Showroom - might not sound like a long time, but it quickly builds up when you've got a dozen cars to look at.
This also goes for new paint designs - you have to press the square button repeatedly to get the game to generate options at random, and wait while it does so. The same designs are often repeated, and if you decide you want the one you saw three or four cars ago you just have to keep pressing square until it turns up again.
Picking up the pace
Once you're on the road, however, things start to pick up - to an extent. The courses are rendered sharply with plenty of detail and nice environmental effects (we particularly like the way the sun appears in the desert circuits) and your opponents, while clever drivers, are not infallible and will make the odd mistake.
But there's a huge problem: it's just not fast enough. No matter what track you're racing on, what you've done to your car or how many miles per hour you're going, there's never any real sense of speed. Even activating the nitro booster doesn't seem to do much apart from making everything a bit blurry. And since, of course, the whole point of any racing game is that you get to travel at speeds that make your heart beat faster, this is a fundamental flaw.
Another difficulty is that crashes are nowhere near as realistic as they should be, either visually or in terms of the car physics. For the most part the game seems to let you get away with an awful lot, sliding into walls and bashing into other drivers without any trouble at all. But occasionally, for some reason, you'll spin wildly (and yet, strangely, slowly) out of control and end up facing the wrong way, with very little chance of regaining your lead. And there's little to show in the way of battle scars either - the cars in SRS rarely show much damage beyond a broken windscreen and a bent-up bonnet, boringly.
These problems affect the game's other modes, too - namely Arcade and Multiplayer. The former allows you to forget all the faffing around and go straight for a Quick Race, or test out your skills in Checkpoint and Speed Trials. The latter offers split screen, LAN and online play - and while all these work fine, a lot of other racing games give you the same options with decent crash physics and a proper sense of speed.
And that's the basic problem - SRS: Street Racing Syndicate not only fails to add anything new to an already overworked genre, but fails to copy other games that have come before it to an adequate degree. Yes, there's a decent selection of cars, they look good, and petrolheads might have hours of fun fine tuning them. And yes, the ladies are very nice.
But this game is just too slow, bottom line, and lacks the finesse and style required to elevate a street racer above the ranks of just plain average. If fast cars and lovely ladies are your thing, you're better off with a copy of PGR and some good old fashioned porn - a cheaper solution and undoubtedly more satisfying, in so many different ways.