Speed Kings Review
Developer: Climax London
Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on Xbox
Join the ranks of street motorcycle racers hurtling at high speeds down crowded city streets. Brave cross traffic in cities such as London or Detroit, perform suicidal stunts and slide under low obstacles to become the supreme monarch of the Speed Kings.
Speed Kings wants to be the motorcycle racing game for everyone. Any feature you can think of that has made its way into the racing genre is in here except for ultra-realistic handling that simulation fans adore. Sure, there are competitive races against computer opponents. There are stunts that can earn you a speed boost, just as close calls and dangerous driving will win you more speed. There are police of every nationality that want to take you down for recklessly endangering the motoring public. Even if you can't swing a lead pipe or a chain at other cyclists, you can thwack them as you pass to improve your chances of finishing first.
If you've played other racing games and thought how keen it would be if you could only get one game that wraps all these features into one, Speed Kings may be that game. If, on the other hand, any one of the many features irritates you (say, you love trick racing but hate dealing with slow or oncoming traffic), you should look elsewhere. Aside from the fact that FI has an unnatural predilection for racing games that allow you to attack your competition (in the spirit of Road Rash (perhaps because we spent many hours on Road Rash when we could have been doing something more productive), Speed Kings is a solid racing title that shares a lot in common with its sister title, Burnout 2. In fact, if Speed Kings had a crash mode (perhaps ramming motorcycles into oncoming traffic isn't a good idea), and Burnout 2 allowed you to do a handstand on the hood of your car while cruising, the two would be nearly identical.
The tricks are one of the most entertaining, but least often used facets of Speed Kings. There are plenty of cool stunts to pull, including surfing on your bike, or doing a handstand off the handlebars at three times the speed limit. You won't execute many of these during a competitive race, because curves and traffic will often send you tumbling behind the competition. When you will want to perform such stunts is during respect challenges, which earn you respect points and special features such as character skins and new cycles. In fact, all the basic rider models are male, so if you want to ride as a woman, you'll have to earn a few respect points. (Does that make women better bikers?) The one move you will consistently need for racing is the powerslide, in which you slide along the asphalt at high speed on the side of your motorbike, kicking up sparks. The powerslide is a slick move you'll need to duck below pre set obstacles barring your way, or to slip under turning flatbed trucks.
Overall, the graphics are decent, although they have something of a least common denominator feel. Buildings and hedges are big and blocky, but the motorcycles and riders are reasonably detailed, right down to the licensed motorcycling attire. The stunts are particularly fun to watch, and there are even occasional flocks of pigeons that scatter at your bike's approach. When you fill your powerband by performing tricks and activate the speed boost, the speed triggers a blurring effect on all vehicles and scenery. It looks cool, but can make the speed boost dangerous to use, because in that mode, it is difficult to locate exactly where other cars are.
Racing meets are the core of gameplay. Each meet is comprised of three races, and you have to place highly in the races to win the overall meet, unlocking new meets and the bikes you'll need to win them in turn. One of the nice features of Speed Kings is that racers can restart individual races in a meet up to three times during that meet. That means a slip-up in the final race of a meet doesn't necessitate restarting the whole circuit. Gamers can also attempt each of the race courses (that have been unlocked) individually. This single race mode is the way most racers will attempt the respect challenges. These challenges are tasks such as performing a wheelie for a set distance, reaching a certain speed under the police's noses or completing a race without a single collision. The other main modes available at the outset are the time mode and trick mode, which let you race alone for the best lap time, or perform tricks as the game calls them. Other modes can be unlocked, but are essentially combinations or extensions of the above modes.
Avoiding ordinary street traffic is the main challenge in Speed Kings. When you lose a race, it often seems like it was misfortune that caused that car to pull out in front of you on the final turn. Also, when other racers get into accidents, it can easily turn a navigable street into a minefield of wrecks, making it even harder to gain ground. Fortunately, a convenient accident near the finish can also take you from last place to the winning position. In any race, the key to winning is avoiding crashing. In Speed Kings, not crashing is sometimes the only skill you need – the ability to take curves smoothly, or do tricks for power boosts, is far less important once you get to the third meet (and onward) than simply not wrecking your cycle. As with many arcade racing titles, wrecks and poor performance rarely put you too far out of the running, so using your powerband (speed boost) and not crashing near the end of a race are far more important than your performance at the beginning.
Speed Kings is a motorcycle racing game that has some of everything except hard-nosed realism. Ultimately, unless you just can't stand racing through busy traffic, this game offers plenty of motorcycle racing entertainment in a variety of modes.