Crash Time 4: The Syndicate Review (360)
Riggs and Murtaugh. Holmes and Watson. Tango and Cash. Ben and Semir. All of these are famous cop duos from throughout the ages. What, you haven’t heard of one of those duos? Tango and Cash were awesome!
Ok, so most people outside or Germany don’t know Ben and Semir, but they feature in a long running German television series about police and the Autobahn. Perfect fodder for a racing game then? How could a game about running crims off the road and bringing justice to the worlds fastest motorway be anything but brilliant?
Well the Crash Time series has had multiple attempts at brining the great premise to life in game form, and not even the worlds greatest optimist would say they have been entirely successful. From Crash Time 2 these games have been open world police pursuit games, and although each entry in the series has been a little better, they have been met with critical scepticism and outright derision. With Crash Time 4, the developer Synetic has tried once more to popularize the series by making the best game in the series so far. Although Crash Time 4 is their best attempt, there remain some serious problems throughout. It is to their credit though that the game somehow manages to be fun despite these issues.
Initial impressions are promising enough. The game wastes little time in dropping you into a fairly attractive open world setting. The games visuals aim for a realistic look with very little stylisation. As a result the whole thing looks a bit like a simulator with some very convincing but depressingly grey and concrete environments. Despite this the vehicle models look good and the particle effects are great and your first crash will make you think the game is a bit of a looker. As you play on through the game though, theres one glaring ommission that detracts greatly from the game: the world of Crash Time 4 is completely devoid of pedestrians. In fact, the world of Crash Time 4 is a terrifying ghost world where every streetside cafe is closed, every shopping mall is empty and every street pavement exists only as a shortcut for another frantic police pursuit. Once you notice this it immediately becomes an issue and its hard to become as immersed in the world as in similar games (like GTA or Driver) when there are no people in the world you are trying to protect.
Similarly there are huge variations in the quality of the environmental detail. Lighting is good and speeding down roads and driving around famous monuments and landmarks the game can look great. Monuments and landmarks in particular look good. At any moment though you can turn round a corner and drive down a street with ridiculously low detail and some seriously ugly textures. Billboards and roadside details are limited in number and you see the same ones over and over again, and while the particle effects are great, the occasional explosion you encounter looks like something from the two hardware generations back.
The storyline meanwhile may have been involving in its original language, but its poorly delivered, badly translated and terribly voice acted. The story itself is delivered in a bizarre fashion, consisting largely of voice overs from the main characters (sometimes with other NPC’s) where they describe what’s happening and why you are going to a specified location. These range from “lets get back to the station”, to “We should go and check out the gas station… and get some coffee!”. When you reach an area where some story event takes place, often the camera will simply float around a building that you are supposed to be inside while voice overs will play out telling you what action is going on inside. Its both distancing and hilarious. Listening to the actual events of the game take place while you look at a car park (like some fat security guard watching a cctv feed) is brilliantly rubbish.
While the method of storytelling is poor to say the least, worse is the dialogue. It would be easy to blame the terrible script that the voice actors have to work with, but in truth their delivery is also terrible. It really harks back to the bad old days of the PSone and this kind of thing. Of course I absolutely loved it, but that doesn’t mean that you will too. My personal favourite was the moment where you blow up an enemy. The accompanying dialogue was “That was an explosive situation.” I need say no more.
The structure of the game is a little strange too. There are a number of different patrol districts that you can choose from a menu. When you appear at these districts though, you are often told that there are no missions available there, meaning that effectively you have nothing to do. As far as I could tell there’s no way to know from the menu which district has missions, so I ended up loading them one after another to try to find where I was supposed to go. I suspect the game dialogue was dropping hints about where to go but I wasn’t able to keep my interest levels high enough to follow where they suggested.
The missions themselves are a mixed bag. Going from point to point is effectively a checkpoint race and that’s fine. Pursuits meanwhile are actually lots of fun. In between those there are some truly random activities to join. At one point, Ben and Semi arrive at a race track to find a fugitive only to be told that there is a spare spot that they can fill. Without batting an eyelid they agree to join in, and before you know it a marked police car is flying around a racetrack, presumably to the utter bemusement of the other racers.
All of this made sound incredibly negative, but the one thing that Crash Time 4 gets right is the most important aspect of the game: the actual driving is great. The handling model is perfect, striking a great balance between a sense of speed and responsive control. During the pursuits you always feel like you are in charge of your vehicle and when you fail you feel like its your own fault. The sense of speed is incredible; when you use your turbo you constantly feel like you are milliseconds from crashing while the environments blur past you.
The most effective way to take out enemies (at least for me) was to tailgate them then eventually spin them out before stopping in front of them. When you do this a counter begins and if you can make sure they remain motionless for a few seconds you automatically arrest them. From the start of the game to the end this never stopped being entertaining, with the AI never appearing too stupid but never too sneaky either.
Just like the visuals and the gameplay, the audio is a mixed bag. The soundtrack has some surprisingly good choices, but the mix is poor. The changing of the gears as you drive produce a horrible clanking sound you hear every few seconds, and the engine whine is painful. Turning these sound effects down and turning the music up in the options results in a far better experience and there were moments when the soundtrack kicked in hard during an exciting pursuit that I completely forgot about all the games shortcomings and simply enjoyed it.
The truth is though that there are simply too many problems with Crash Time to recomened it to anyone but hardcore driving fans, or those with a passion for esoteric European television series. The multiplayer options are anaemic and unlikely to ever have that many players. The central gameplay meanwhile is engaging enough, but never up to the sheer polish and scope of something like Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. It’s not a car crash of a game then, but its not a smash hit either.
5 explosive situations out of 10