There is nothing exceptionally bad about Juiced's design, nor is there anything laudable about it.
- Lots of licensed cars
- Team racing mechanic is interesting
- Technically proficient graphics
- Good soundtrack.
- Driving model lacks any measure of excitement
- Car customization options are pretty lackluster
- Career mode is deep but suffers from some frustrating design flaws
- Drab tracks and slightly strange-looking car models
- The style races aren't fun at all.
THQ's offering to the street racing genre, Juiced, was originally due out last year. The Juice Games-developed racer had initially been picked up under the Acclaim banner, but once Acclaim's bankruptcy became a sudden and immediate situation, Juiced was sold off and subsequently delayed. Thus far Juiced is the only former Acclaim property to get picked up, though after playing it, it's hard to understand what the attraction would have been for any publisher, let alone two different ones over time. Juice Games has certainly made a competent arcade-style street racer, one with a lengthy career mode and online play to boot; but that's all it is: competent. There is nothing exceptionally bad about Juiced's design, nor is there anything laudable about it. It simply exists in an inoffensive and unexciting realm of commonplaceness that makes it incapable of standing out among the pack of infinitely better racers available for any of its chosen platforms.
Juiced's style of driving is more akin to the trafficless, cordoned-off track driving of something like a Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo game than the frenetic driving found in any of the Midnight Club or Need for Speed Underground games, where you'd find yourself dodging traffic all while trying to outwit the city's top street racers. However, the game's roster of cars is made up almost exclusively of the kind of tuner rides you'd find in those games, and the driving is very much an arcade brand of racing, rather than anything realistic. And therein lies the problem. The game tries to throw you into a fast and loose style of driving in an overly controlled and generally bland track style. The few instances of realism in the driving mechanics also rob it of some of its thrill, as you'll have to carefully plot your turns so as to not wipe out (although you'll want to take the game's braking advice with a grain of salt, as it is often inaccurate), and bumping up against other cars has a negative impact in multiple sections of the game, removing that kind of visceral thrill from the picture. The races don't have a great sense of speed, so even when you're busting out with your nitrous tank to blast past the competition, it comes off as pretty underwhelming. What you're ultimately left with is a driving model that's off-kilter and generally not very exciting.
Most of the driving you'll be doing, at least in the early goings of Juiced, is in the career mode. Here's where you'll be doing all the things you're generally supposed to do in a street racer: buying cars, throwing down cash bets on races, occasionally racing for pink slips, and mostly just trying to earn the respect of rival racing crews. Once you start a career, you begin by picking out some crucial details, like your name and what licensed brand and model of cell phone you want to use, and you are immediately challenged to a race by TK, the head of a crew called the Urban Maulerz. Beat him, and you're on your way to purchasing your first ride. The initial selection is scant, to say the least, but as you play, new cars will open up and become available in the game's dealership. Half the point of the game is to build up your collection of cars and trick them out in as many ways as you see fit. Unfortunately, the developers decided to make this a somewhat frustrating process.
Cash is not an easy commodity to come by in Juiced. In the early sections of the game, your calendar of upcoming race events is populated mostly with races that don't require an entry fee. That changes rather quickly as you begin to upgrade your cars and get into events that require cars with higher classifications. And even when you do participate in a free event, it's rarely free, as any damage taken during a race translates into an upkeep fee that you'll have to pay to keep your ride in perfect working order. The races become quite challenging as time goes on, so it becomes increasingly impossible to have any expectation of coming away from a race with prize money. To try to counterbalance this, you can attend events and place bets on who you think will win, or you can bet against other racers in events you're participating in. You can even challenge crew leaders individually to pink slip races, as well as some special challenges, which happen to be the only risk-free events in the entire career mode.
The problem is that apart from the individual challenges, none of these events or bets are any easier, making it even more difficult to get ahead in the game's economic system. You can go from having a nice cache of cars and a good wad of cash to practical bankruptcy over the course of just a handful of races, all because you needed the money to upgrade your cars to win races but couldn't upgrade because you couldn't win the races required to get the money, and you lost cash in the process. It's a vicious circle. Of course, it isn't impossible to succeed in Juiced's career mode, but it's a more frustrating process than it ought to be.
It might be a frustration worth dealing with if the career mode had anything more to it than it does. Apart from a couple of unique things, for the most part you'll be running circuit, point-to-point, and sprint races over and over again. The couple of unique events are an interesting touch, but neither is really that great in the long run. The first thing is the game's team element, which plays into team race events. Racing crews are more than just a logo and a name in Juiced, as you'll be able to pick up somewhat generic racers to join up with you and race alongside you. During single-entrant events, you can opt to have one of your drivers race for you to gain some experience in the process, and during team events, the winner is determined by the team that has all its cars across the finish line first.