Though the original Juiced for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox drove a long and winding path toward its release late year (switching publishers from the now-defunct Acclaim to THQ), the franchise debut on the PlayStation Portable, Juiced: Eliminator, seems to be coming off without a hitch. Our original look at Eliminator just before the Electronic Entertainment Expo gave us only a brief glimpse at what to expect from this handheld street racing game. We recently had a chance to spend some more time with a playable build of the game to see how it's coming along.
If you haven't played the original Juiced before, it's worth noting that this is an arcade street racing series that takes place in the urban confines of the fictional Angel City. In Eliminator's career mode, which is the central component of its single-player game, you build a crew of skilled drivers and look to dominate the Angel City street racing scene by taking on any and all comers. Along the way, you'll pick up new rides (sometimes with cold hard cash, and sometimes by winning pink slips from other racers), recruit new drivers for your crew, and earn the respect of the other teams vying for the crown.
The many modes found in the game include arcade for quick challenges; custom race, where you can design the kind of event you wish to compete in; career challenge; and wireless multiplayer for up to six players. If you aren't playing with other folks, however, you'll most likely be spending the majority of your time racing your way through the game's career mode. Career mode starts off fast, with a street race against a rival crew leader named Nina. Before the race begins, you can choose to place a bet with Nina; if you come out on top, not only will you earn cash for taking the race, but you'll also win the bet, which further adds to your coffers.
After the initial street race, it's time to get a ride of your own, so you hit the dealership. Only a few models are available at the beginning, including a Honda CRX, a Volkswagon Beetle, and a Peugeot--sure, there's nothing that will blow the doors off the competition, but with a bit of time spent in the workshop, you can whip that modest little ride into racing shape. As you might expect from a street racing game, there are plenty of options for customization. Of course, you can upgrade the internal workings of your car to your heart's content--new tires, engine upgrades, new brakes, and so on. All of these improvements will have an effect on your car's performance (and may even bump it into a new race class). Just as fun, and just as diverse, are the options for customizing the look of your ride. A new paint job is just the first stop on the ride-pimping express. There's also new body work to choose from, decals and logos to give your car some flair, and, of course, underbody neons. With a little time and a little care, you can have your ride looking like something worthy of even Paul Walker himself.
Once your ride is suitably pimped, it's time to hit the streets. All of the events in Eliminator's career mode are based on a calendar; once the day has moved on, older events are no longer available. On open days, you can host street events and invite challengers in the hopes of taking their money or, in some cases, their cars. Race events are varied and include straight-ahead circuit races; point-to-point challenges; eliminator events, where the last car in the race is eliminated on each successive lap; show-off events, where you try to gain the most points by pulling off fancy moves, such as drift turns and donuts; and sprints, which are essentially drag races on short sections of the track. After each race, you'll earn respect from the various crews in the city, depending on your performance. Some crews respect certain types of events more than others, and you can expect to lose respect if you drive like a jerk.
By gaining respect, you can open up new challenge events, where you can take the fight directly to each crew in the game. After a while, you'll be able to dial up any of the crews in the game and take part in a challenge or race for pink slips on your way to completely dominating Angel City. You'll also be building your own crew in the process; periodically drivers will call you up looking to join the team. As you enter events, you can choose to either drive the event yourself or enter a teammate in your stead and hope he or she does well. As team members gain experience, they'll improve their skills as well. It sounds cool in concept; in practice, we found it sort of boring to watch races we had such minimal control over.
From a driving standpoint, Eliminator is a straight-ahead arcade racer--the developers seem to have compensated a bit for the PSP's very sensitive analog controller by giving the cars a tendency to understeer, though drift turns are very easy to initiate in the game by simply turning sharply into the apex of a corner. If your car has a nitrous attachment, you can use it for an extra speed boost by holding down the right trigger. Watch out, though, because your nitrous will run out sooner than you think, so you don't want to abuse it too early in the race. There is a simple damage model in the game if you drive recklessly, though the only performance-detracting damage we saw was a nitrous leak that caused your nitrous to quickly drain.
Juiced: Eliminator has a slick look on the PSP and a decent sense of speed, and it seems to be shaping up as a nice follow-up to the original console game. Street racing fans looking to customize their cars and terrorize the streets of Angel City won't have to wait too much longer--the game is coming out at the end of June. We'll have a full review of the game once it's released.