Racing has always been popular, both in the real life, and in the gaming industry. Every year we see a number of new racing games that are largely prettier versions of their previous iterations, but usually also with a few gameplay additions. Not too long ago the trend of underground racing really started to show itself, backed up by movies like Fast and the Furious, and its sequel. Not all gamers dig the riced out cars, but those that do are starting to get some interesting games to try out. Last year Activision Value released Street Legal, which was a success entirely because of its somewhat special game mechanics. It wasn’t a pretty game, it was far from stable, and the game engine’s performance left much to be wanted, but the fact remained that you could do pretty much everything a mechanic can do. Street Legal was fun because you could rip out every tiny little part of the car, buy something better, and replace it, be it a major engine part, or just some seemingly unimportant doo-dad. The sequel, Street Legal Racing: Redline tries to do what most sequels try, to fix what didn’t work, and add enough to make it interesting again. Did the developers succeed? Well, both yes and no.
From the start menu you have several choices, as you’d expect. First you have quick race, which basically just puts you in a random car, at a random location, racing against some random person. Free ride is different, because now you’re put into a random car, in the city somewhere. From here you can just drive around aimlessly and do whatever you want, without having the police on your tail. To me this mode was especially useful; because it lets you see how much havoc you can do to your car, and everyone close by. The main attraction in the game is undoubtedly the career mode, where you basically try to live out the American dream, car-wise. You start with a garage, and about twenty grand. The first thing you do is to buy either a new, or a used car. There is a total of eight stock import cars to choose from, which is a decent amount, but what I’m sure most potential buyers are interested in is the customization. Once you’ve bought a ride you’re taken back to your garage, where you can do a whole number of things.
You can go to the car lot, where you can store a number of cars, and choose to use one of them. You can buy new cars from a dealer, buy used cars, or sell your car. You can browse the catalog, where you buy new parts for your car. The number of parts available is just mind numbing, with parts for pretty much every budget. You can check your ranking against other racers, where you obviously want to climb as far up as possible. You can read details about the car in the garage, which goes into great detail about the car, the engine (with graphs and everything), wear and tear info about the individual components in your car, and all your records. In the garage you can also obviously install and remove parts, which is fun, because the physics engine responds accordingly if you remove a tire. You can fine tune specific parts, like for instance how much air you want in your tires. You can go to body paint, where you can paint individual surfaces of your car with a number of colors and such. You can test the engine and steering (the car is lifted above the ground, so you don’t actually drive anywhere). You can drive the test track, which is basically a circular track with no opponents. You can enter the race of champions, which requires a good car, but may win you an awesome car. And finally, you can go driving in the city. Actually getting anywhere in the game requires you to do just that, because in order to buy new parts (or a new car for that matter) you need money, and to get that you need to race against people.
This is all good and fine, but unfortunately there are quite a few things that make the game less enjoyable than it could’ve been. Let’s start with the garage – it should've been easier to operate. And then there’s the handling of the cars, which is just too unresponsive, and far from as fun as it could’ve been. It’s obvious that the developers wanted the game to simulate driving in great detail, but come on! Midnight Club 2 is a title that got the arcade driving done right, because even if it was far from realistic the handling of the cars worked really well. In Street Legal Racing: Redline it doesn’t, and just one example is when you’re driving forward and want to go in reverse – you actually have to press backward until the car has stopped, release the reverse button, and press it again to actually go backwards. The crash physics are actually a bit amusing. During one of my insane Carmageddon-esque drives through the city I decided to do a head-on collision with a sedan. Oh we did indeed crash, but my car actually flipped over and landed on top of the car I crashed with! This is just one mildly amusing example, but in short it doesn’t work great. The upside is that the developers really got the damage done to own car simulated well. You see, the car you drive really does consist of all the parts you bought and installed at the garage, so if you smash something then something will be affected. For instance, acceleration can be affected if you break a certain part, while turning to the right or left can become harder if you smash something else. When you collide with something the car deforms with impressive realism, and after a drive through town you just might find that several parts are left on the road behind you.
A lot of the racing takes place in residential areas, filled with houses, stores, trees, fences, and cars. The cars are probably the most graphically impressive thing in SLR: Redline, but even those don’t look too great. The cars do reflect light in a nice realistic way, and they do cast dynamic shadows, but those shadows happen to be very fuzzy, almost every texture is blurry to some extent, and the lightmap shadowing on the environment looks hideous. I suppose the modeling could’ve looked worse, but you can’t even go on crazy hill-jumping rides, because you’re blocked by an invisible barrier that denies you access to anywhere but the city. So, is the environment at least destructible? Nope, almost not at all. Mowing down picket fences while the cops are chasing you sounds like fun, but if you try doing that you’ll just make one big dent in your car, leaving the fence unharmed.
Also, the performance of the engine was one of the biggest problems in the first Street Legal. Even people with high-end PCs couldn’t get a good framerate, and the problem persists. A 500mhz CPU is the minimum requirement for this game, but when my CPU is over five times as fast (+512mb DDR ram and a Geforce 4) and it can’t run fluidly, then something is just plain wrong.
The artificial intelligence also leaves much wanted, because your opponents tend to mess up pretty badly, which isn’t so strange considering the poor handling even it has to endure.
So Andreas, you say that the graphics and gameplay isn’t fabulous, but what about the rest? Lost City, two pretty decent rappers, did three nice songs for the game, while three less known people did the in-game audio, which mostly fits in the electronica genre. My hearing is definitely not impaired after playing this game, much thanks to the effort by the Lost City guys. The sound effects are also fairly good, covering pretty much what you’d expect in a city driving game. It could of course have been a lot better, but it could also have been a lot worse.
There is no multiplayer feature available, so you won’t be able to race humans, but what most Street Legal fans have done, and continue to do, is to making your own parts. On a number of websites you’ll find tons of homemade rims, wheels, seats, and more – I’m convinced the same thing will be done this time, only on a grander scale.
This is one of those games that have so much potential it’s crazy. The car mechanic aspect of the game is great, because it lets you do more to the cars than any game before it, but the racing aspect is just so incredibly bad. Graphically the game is an improvement over the first, but it still suffers from many of the same problems, like performance. The audio isn’t bad at all, but far from for instance Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The customization aspect of the game should be great fun for amateur mechanics, you can make your own parts, and the game is even pretty cheap, but anyone who just wants a good racing game and aren’t so interested in the mechanic aspect should just forget about this one. If you’re patient then you can try waiting for patch #5 or so, because (probably) at that point the game will work more like it should. Nevertheless the product is more than decent for a value priced game that costs less than $20.