The peasants in the village will probably revolt against these Kings after playing through this game.
Acclaim enjoyed great success with Criterion’s Burnout, so the publisher looked for other games to cash in on its success. Perhaps it was the movie Biker Boyz that inspired Speed Kings, as The Fast and the Furious did with Burnout. Unfortunately, it seems that the game that’s a mix of Burnout and Road Rash is just as good as the movie that’s in the same vein, and that really isn’t a good thing.
The basic premise of Speed Kings is that you’re on a tricked-out motorcycle, racing against other riders around a track set in a real-world location, such as a quaint Midwestern town, a European mountain range, the suburbs of London, or the streets of Detroit. As in Burnout, there’s traffic to deal with, which you must avoid at speeds of over 160 miles per hour. You can also gain portions of a boost meter, known as a powerband, by driving dangerously and performing tricks on your bike during the course of a race. There’s a touch of Road Rash mixed in there, as you can kick and punch other riders off their bikes.
The game progresses in a series of meets to start off with, but you can also try your luck in a single race or time trials from all the tracks currently available. The meets mode has you race on three tracks in one of the game’s six locations, filled with traffic and five other riders. Each race in a meet has three “Respect Challenges” wherein you must perform a task, ranging from performing a trick to not crashing for a lap. These are optional, but if you can do enough of them over the course of the meets mode, you’ll unlock some new bikes.
This is where the flaws in Speed Kings start to show. The trick system is fairly straightforward; wheelies can be performed by pulling back on the stick, and a trick button can be used in combination with other commands to perform handstands, pavement rides, and other bike tricks. The problem with this is trying to do some of the Respect Challenges during the course of a race. The early tasks are pretty tame, such as doing a wheelie for 500 feet. However, later in the game, the tracks start to become a bit more challenging, and holding a trick for more than 1000 feet (one of many requirements) is nearly impossible. In fact, there are a few challenges that force you to stop in place, and while you’re in the middle of a race, slowing down isn’t a good thing.
The track design is actually quite nice on the surface, with a wide track variety, but when you get into the race, some problems do come out. As you go faster and faster, the smallest little bumps will cause your motorcycle to lose contact with the road, making your beast of a machine a bit unwieldy and more likely to crash. Yes, you can crash and burn in this game, just like you can in Burnout. Your bike will disintegrate, and your rider will go flying off in some of the higher-speed crashes. However, these are motorcycles we’re talking about, and since they can’t turn on a dime, you’ll find that you’re going to crash a lot, so much that the occasional spectacular crash won’t seem as good because you’ll have seen crashes up the yin-yang. It slows the racing down, and is more of an annoyance than a visual treat.
After you have completed all the meet races, the game takes a nice turn. Once you have gotten fast times on all the game’s tracks in the time trials (a requirement to unlock this next mode), you’ll get the opportunity to try your hand at the Grand Prix. In this mode, you’ll race against seven other riders on the same tracks as before, this time devoid of any traffic -- in other words, a straight-up race. This is a nice change from the crash-fest that you’d find in the meets, but the way this mode is set up is a bit odd. The game forces you to play six, nine, twenty or even all 40 tracks (counting backwards/mirror variations) all at once, without save points between races. This means that if you want to complete the game, you’re going to need to play through 40 straight races, which might take well over two hours. With Speed Kings’ gameplay, this isn’t something that you can really enjoy doing. It’s ridiculous to think that anyone could tolerate sitting down and playing this game for that long.
Perhaps the best thing about Speed Kings is the way it looks, and that’s really not saying all that much. The motorcycles and riders look good, except for the fact that everyone else in a race just happens to pick the exact same bike that you do. Tracks look a bit generic, but are large enough to make up for it. When you activate your powerband boost, the effect is pretty insane: the screen blurs ridiculously, almost to the point that you can’t see where you’re going. When there’s a lot happening on the screen, there are times when the game chops up, which can be annoying.
The game’s worst feature is the sound package. The music in the game doesn’t really fit in with the locations, and you’ll hear the same boring music track in each of the three circuits in the same location. They can get on your nerves, so if you have a favorite CD handy, you’re much better off listening to that. The sound effects aren’t too good either, especially the crash effects. Instead of a nice booming sound like in the Burnout games, anytime you hit a big rig head on at 180 mph, you’re going to hear a weak tink sound, like someone dropped a piece of sheet metal on the ground. It’s unimpressive, and a lot more effort could have been put into the game’s audio.
In the end, Speed Kings is a decent attempt at trying to recreate Burnout that ultimately fails to be as good. While there are some nice concepts and track designs, the game is held back by too many crashes, difficult control at high speeds, and an abysmal soundtrack. The good in this game just can’t break out of the bad goop that covers it. Fans of Burnout, Midnight Club, and other street racers would do well to play Speed Kings, but there isn’t enough here to justify spending $40 to own the game. Perhaps they could make a Grade-A sequel, but what’s here is really closer to a D.