The Crash Time videogame series doesn’t have the best reputation in the UK. Fitting somewhere between Midtown Madness and BurnOut – less gentle than the former but not quite as chaotic as the latter – the lack of marketing and reasonably low profile releases hasn’t persuaded public opinion to the point at which Crash Time could be considered a contender for the sales chart top spot, but in reality it’s not intended to. Crash Time is the B-Movie to Need for Speed’s Hollywood, the low budget indie flick picked-up by a big name publisher and given a mainstream audience the likes of which it could never possibly have expected. And this is exactly where the newest title in the series fits in: Crash Time 4: The Syndicate is a low rent driving videogame with an interesting premise that’s all of it’s own creation.
Telling the tale of two autobahn police investigating an organised crime syndicate, Crash Time 4: The Syndicate does a good job of presenting unique characters without faces. The delivery of the plot relies solely on dialogue, with no cutscenes of other apparatus to convey emotion or drama. Given these restrictions Crash Time 4: The Syndicate is actually quite remarkable in it’s portrait of life, presenting a believable image and a plot which is easy to follow despite a number of twists, and the pacing with which story elements are delivered has obviously been fine tuned to the gameplay structure set out for the player.
Unfortunately, the videogame doesn’t begin too well in the interactive regard. In setting up the premise of Semir and Ben’s citywide investigations, Crash Time 4: The Syndicate begins with some of the most annoying missions any driving simulation could possibly throw at you. In the first instance the player is given a leisurely drive to the police headquarters, followed by a desperate race across town in which a reason is given, but no explanation of the time limit or damage penalties are offered; on certain missions the player may own cause a limited amount of damage to the city in order to achieve a successful completion, though this is never explained and is only highlighted upon failure. This is followed by a pursuit mission which doesn’t involve taking out your opponent as, thankfully, the core mission structure will invite you to do more often than not, but rather maintaining a specific distance behind the vehicle in question and avoiding raising suspicion. Such irritations have become the staple of driving videogames perhaps, but why? Given the rest of Crash Time 4: The Syndicate’s mission design, this one omission would surely not have been missed.
Once this first mission has been completed things open up to a considerable degree. From circuit racing to exploration, city busts to story led objectives; Crash Time 4: The Syndicate isn’t short on content. It’s got a whole city to fill, and one which prides itself of a fantastic variety of locations with shrewdly placed landmarks to aid the player’s nonverbal vocabulary. The design of the city is so well balanced that it actually steals the show; the variety of vehicles is entertaining and the story of bringing law to the perpetrators of a criminal consortium provides a pleasant backdrop for the core gameplay mode, but in reality it’s the opportunity to explore, the adrenaline rush of taking down an unknown hijacker moments after their crime has been radioed through and the headfirst rushes into high speed traffic that are the raison d’etre for Crash Time 4: The Syndicate.
In addition to the core gameplay mode both single races and multiplayer matches are offered. The Single Race mode is, as you would expect, one-off competitions against artificial intelligence (AI) opponents. The races are hugely customisable, with everything from the number of laps and traffic density to opponent strength available for tinkering. The multiplayer gameplay is of course a different kettle of fish. The usual ranked and player match types are available, with circuit race, deathmatch and checkpoint race gameplay modes set for up to eight players. The deathmatch is obviously the standout option from that small selection, playing entirely as you would expect and potentially stealing some of DiRT Showdown’s thunder were it not for the fact that Codemasters’ effort is immeasurably more comprehensive. Split-screen gameplay is also available for up to four players simultaneously, though sadly only as individual races and without any AI to make-up the numbers when fewer players are present.
From a technical standpoint, Crash Time 4: The Syndicate isn’t about to rewrite the rulebook. It’s certainly a pleasantly drawn affair, and despite some occasional draw distance and collision detection issues it’s certainly a well designed cityscape throughout its numerous districts. As stated above, the delivery of the story is well paced, but as the core gameplay mode is so reliant on the back-and-forth between Ben, Semir and their associates the intermittently poor localisation can have a significant affect on the gameplay, often leaving you wondering just what your next objective is, and where it is. The voice acting itself is generally well delivered however, with some believable characters and moments of tension developed by their vocal reactions. The soundtrack is also perfectly fitting to the driving experience, avoiding the typical pitfalls of licence tracks but still providing some generous helpings of up-tempo guitar lead rock.
A city littered with criminals, hidden objectives and race challenges, an enjoyable multiplayer mode and hugely customisable sprint races; no one could argue that Crash Time 4: The Syndicate is short on content. It’s a videogame that packs plenty of hours entertainment into it’s humbly presented package, so much so that it puts many AAA titles to shame. Crash Time 4: The Syndicate is never going to win any awards and can’t hold a candle to the likes of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit simply due to the comparative lack of flamboyancy, but that’s not to say it doesn’t offer a unique, enjoyable gameplay experience all of its own. In reality, Crash Time 4: The Syndicate may not be the videogame you think it is, and judging by the unjustified reception for previous titles, that’s most likely a good thing.