Monday, May 25, 2009

Streets of Moscow Review

Streets of Moscow, developed by Gaijin Entertainment and published by 1C Company on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Tons of traffic to run into, persistent setting, multiple race types, multiplayer, experience unlocks new parts and abilities
The Not So Good: Twitchy inconsistent driving model, no clear indication of damage level
What say you? A crash-filled arcade racing game that needs a physics upgrade: 5/8

Have you ever wanted to drive the majestic streets of Moscow but lacked the means to actually get there? Me too! Good thing for us that Streets of Moscow exists, an arcade racing game where you take to the streets of Russia’s capital city and run into as many cars as possible. Traffic jams are a thing of the past as you navigate your way to the finish line around, over, and through the crowded city streets. Taking cues from a number of recent racing games, such as the Need for Speed and Midnight Club series, Streets of Moscow lets you race against others in a persistent world and upgrade your sweet ride with vinyl. Tasty, tasty vinyl.

The graphics of Streets of Moscow are decent enough for a racing game. The quality of the graphics will depend a lot on your system, as Streets of Moscow seems to quite power hungry and doesn’t scale as well as other racing games. The game suffers from significant slowdown during most large crashes, especially if your vehicle is totaled (the game locks up for several seconds in that particular case). Performance is also heavily dependent on how much traffic is on the screen as Streets of Moscow features the most traffic I’ve seen in a racing game. The textures for your vehicle and the others you are racing against are nice, but the generic vehicles are, well, generic. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the city landscape, but I assume it’s fairly lifelike and it is detailed enough to be plausible. Special effects range from nice (sparks) to less nice (fire). As for the sound design, the racing effects seem to be realistic with throaty engines and disturbing crashes. Streets of Moscow also features a rockin’ Russian soundtrack that I actually found to be not that annoying. Overall, the graphics and sound of Streets of Moscow are average but not terrible.

In Streets of Moscow, you race against four rival factions for control of the Russian capital. Or something like that: I didn’t bother reading most of the e-mail messages sent by the in-game characters. The single player game takes place in a persistent world, where you can access a handful of game areas, drive around, and accept racing missions. Thankfully, you can also access all of the available races from a menu, instead of having to waste time driving around: take that, Grand Theft Auto. In addition to racing, you can upgrade your car with better parts that can be purchased with prize money, in addition to purely visual upgrades like fancy paint jobs and decorative vinyl. The meaningful part upgrades are limited to only a couple of options (mufflers, mostly), far below the par for the course. You can also purchase new vehicles, some of which are based on real-life vehicles. Money accumulates rather quickly, and you can afford top cars with only a couple of hours or work (or less). Despite the persistent nature of the game, the scope of the city is disappointingly limited: the game should really be called A Couple of the Streets of Moscow. Each of the game’s four or so areas is maybe a mile across at most, far below most racing games or those that simulate an entire island. Multiplayer uses a Russian matchmaking service for Internet play, although I was never able to find anyone to play against. It’s just as well: Streets of Moscow only lets you do simple races on a single track, rather than having the persistent world seen in the single player mode. Potential wasted.

Streets of Moscow does offer a good number of race types. You have your typical options: circuit, knock-out (last place is eliminated each lap), drag (manual transmission only on a straight track), sprint (two checkpoints), and street (multiple checkpoints). Streets of Moscow’s emphasis on crashing into other vehicles is highlighted in a number of game types: anarchy (points are awarded for violently crashing into civilians) and deathmatch (destroy opponent cars). You can also be involved in pursuit or hunt modes, where you are chasing (or being chased by) a single car. The different modes don’t alter your strategy too much, but having the options available to you is quite nice. Streets of Moscow is more arcade than the Need for Speed series (if that’s possible), as other cars are merely obstacles that can be pushed aside with ease. In fact, a light pole packs more punch than a sedan (although buses are a significant hazard). The high level of traffic simulated in the game comes in to play almost every race, and you will have to venture onto the sidewalk or take a scenic detour in order to balance wrecking and speed. Your car does slowly accumulate damage, but since there is no damage indicator (other than gradually increasing smoke), it’s a complete guess as to when one more wreck is one too many. Experience earned during races, by running into other cars or drifting, is used to unlock new parts and subsequently get a sweeter ride. You can also get adrenaline powers: spells (I suppose you can call them) you can use during the race, like fast speeds or damaging nearby vehicles. It is obvious from the inclusion of adrenaline items that Streets of Moscow is meant to be an arcade racing game.

Unfortunately, the actual driving of Streets of Moscow leaves a lot to be desired. The inconsistency of the collision dynamics and vehicle turning behavior makes Streets of Moscow a lot more frustrating than it should be. I spent a lot of time tweaking the input settings (dead zone, sensitivity), which honestly should be correct by default, and I was never really happy with the results. Cars can break loose when taking a turn at high speed, or they might not: it seems to be completely random. You can also hit a curb and be thrown in a tailspin, or not. It wouldn’t be as confusing if the results were more consistent, but you never know what to expect when you take the next corner. Automatic transmission is horrible at low speeds, constantly up- and down-shifting while accelerating. For a game that rewards precise driving and weaving between traffic, the controls are way off. The AI runs the gamut from competitive to brainless. The computer drivers do a competent job in the more traditional racing modes, like circuit, but put them in a checkpoint race and watch them drive around in circles for the first thirty seconds.

While Streets of Moscow has the features to be a competent game, the driving and the AI both fail miserably. The persistent world is a nice idea, but the areas are too small to be a plausible, realistic setting. There are a lot of race modes to enjoy, and experience and cash earned during races can be used to upgrade and totally “pimp your ride” (and by that I mean “sell it for sexual favors”). Multiplayer is an added bonus, although you are limited to single races and I’m not sure if it really works due to unpopulated servers. All of this doesn’t really matter, though, as the driving model of Streets of Moscow is broken. Cars behave unexpectedly, resulting in some very frustrating results. I like the use of copious amounts of traffic, but constantly running into them due to an inferior control scheme is not enjoyable. You have no idea what the result of turning right will be, and this irregularity is the downfall of Streets of Moscow. Simply put, this is a poorly designed version of Test Drive Unlimted. It might provide some entertainment value if you have better luck at tweaking the control options, but I doubt you will be able to compensate for mediocre driving physics.