Leave it underground.
For those of you who have never been to an Import Showoff, know that there are precisely two reasons to go: (1) the cars and (2) the girls. Gearheads show up to spot the latest and greatest goodies for their rides: 22-inch chrome rizims, plasma TVs, performance parts - it's all part of the master plan to pimp the ride. Some, however, just go to indulge their late night Internet fantasies hopping from booth to booth, putting an arm around every single show model on the floor.
Oh my god, I think I just described E3.
In any case, the latter show entrant generally has little interest in the cars and is merely in love with the whole import scene. Street Racing Syndicate, the newest import racer to hit the street, is the perfect game for such a fan. So much of an emphasis is put on image that the whole "racing" part of the game is tossed in the back of the warehouse with the rest of the stock parts.
SRS is split up into three main modes " Arcade, Multiplayer and Street. Arcade allows players to run quick and dirty races, Multiplayer lets you go head to head against others on or offline and the core mode, Street, drops you into large city on a tire-burning quest to become the fastest guy on the asphalt. To do this you'll need to win as many races as you can, earning both cash and respect points along the way. There's also some kind of story going on here, but you'll forget all about it after the very first race.
One of the few things that SRS has going for it is the open-ended sense of progression. Different points in the city will allow you to compete in a variety of events. You can take part in an officially sanctioned race or maybe throw some cash down and challenge one of the city's racing teams. A handy city map allows you to jump straight to your destination without wasting time driving around. If you'd rather just cruise the city, you can also find street challenges or just pull up behind a fellow racer and flash ye olde high beams. It all feels pretty lively.
Cruising around town does have its drawbacks, though. As in most major cities, the cops have a strong presence and the ones found in SRS clearly put out an APB on all street racers. Give them a wayward look and the red and blues come out to play, hunting you down like the dog you are. As soon as the cops start after you, a chase gauge pops up. If the cops manage to tail you for a certain amount of time - even if you're pulling away - you're busted. Lame. There isn't even any type of reward for escaping, giving you a really good reason to just jump to your destination.
The racing itself is unimpressive and feels like a stale version of Need For Speed: Underground. RPM gauges can sometimes be erratic (especially in the first two gears), cars never really handle like the high-performance machines they're supposed to be, and the physics get a little goofy at times, occasionally tossing cars into wild airborne spins after the simplest of crashes. The sense of speed isn't captured, either, leading to a racing package that doesn't pack much punch.
Making things worse is the small choice in rides. The box claims over 40 officially licensed cars, but even this low number can be deceiving, as you'll often find multiple, virtually identical versions of the same car. Oh, and for all you Subaru heads out there, the new STi is NOT here. Adding insult to injury to the import racing community, SRS also failed to secure the licensing for what is arguably the largest manufacturer on the import scene, Honda. Of course, no Honda also means no Acura. Unforgivable.
The customization isn't done very well, either. If you're not familiar with aftermarket manufacturers, you'll be slogging through the slow-loading menus trying to find the parts you're looking for. External customization is usually limited to just a handful of kits (sometimes there's only one) and even then, you won't be able to mix and match the front ends, rear ends and side skirts. It's all or nothing.
Depending upon which side of the fence you stand, the cheesiest or best part of SRS is the "Respect" feature. Similar to Project Gotham's "kudos" system, SRS rewards drivers with Respect points for pulling off maneuvers like power slides, drafting and going up on two wheels. This in itself is fine, I suppose, but wait until you get to the Respect challenges.
These are issued by one of eighteen real world car show models who just happen to be standing at the side of the road admiring your car. To impress them, you'll need to grab a certain amount of Respect in a limited amount of time, run a checkpoint race, or just chase them down in their own car. Complete the challenge and you've got yourself a new girlfriend, one that will dance around for you in the SRS "Warehouse." You can even choose to take along one of your girlfriends as you race around town. Impress her by winning a Crew meet and she'll have a new dance video waiting for you back at the Warehouse. Lose, and she'll drop you like a '98 Integra.
Obviously, opinions on the quality of the whole girlfriend matter are bound to vary greatly, but the fact that the girlfriends are really just there for show smack again of Street Racing Syndicate's style over substance. At least Def Jam Vendetta let your girlfriends duke it out in the ring, making them part of the gameplay. Here the whole thing just kind of looks sad.
Speaking of which, most of the game's look resembles NFS Underground with a little more variety. The car models aren't nearly as polished, but perhaps this is due to the decent damage modeling. Though the Xbox is clearly cleaner, the PS2 version doesn't look bad.
The music is almost entirely hip-hop and there aren't many tracks, meaning you'll hear the same bad songs over and over again. How about a radio?
Street Racing Syndicate tries to make advances in the import racing game scene with a big city and interesting reward system, but its lack of white-knuckle racing and true customization slows it down. All show and no go makes this a dull ride.