Just a smidge over a year ago, THQ put out Juiced, a long-in-development street racer from first-time developers Juice Games. Juiced managed to survive the Acclaim bankruptcy, but its rather frustrating career design and generally bland driving mechanics left the question as to why it managed to survive. Among the throngs of street racers on the market, Juiced came across as simply irrelevant. Given that fact, you might be wondering why, over a year later, Juiced is now on the PSP in the form of Juiced: Eliminator. Make no mistake, this is Juiced all over again, despite what the clever trickery of the new subtitle might lead you to believe. Unlike most other PSP ports of old games, Juiced is extremely thin on new and/or interesting content, leaving you with a just slightly tightened-up version of the game you might have but probably didn't play last year. Even outside of the context of being a practically untouched port of an year-old game, Juiced also happens to be debuting on a system rich with quality racing titles, making it all the more irrelevant for this particular platform.
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 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; 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.
The basic feel of the driving in the game is the same as it was on consoles, although the handling isn't as good. The sensitivity of the analog-stick steering isn't tuned very well, so you'll find yourself struggling for a happy medium between understeering and oversteering at the most inopportune times. You can use the D pad to steer as well, though the D pad movements are laggy as all get-out. As it was in the console game, some cars are easier to steer than others, but as you move through the game and acquire progressively faster cars, you're going to be running into progressively worse steering issues.
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. When you start a career, you begin by picking out some extremely crucial details like your name and what licensed brand and model of cell phone you want to use for no particularly good reason except for the sake of rather blatant product placement. You are then challenged to a race by a comely-looking woman who wants to "see what you've got." If you played Juiced on consoles, you'll notice that the roster of characters from opposing crews has changed a bit in this version, but beyond that, it is very much the same career progression as before.
The one major improvement to the career mode in the PSP version is the lack of racing fees. Trying to keep up a decent cash flow in the previous versions of the game was a deeply frustrating process, as you'd constantly find yourself blowing cash on fees for races, as well as any damage your car might take during the course of a race. Those fees are gone, making it easier to keep your paper stack high and giving you more opportunities to buy new rides. Bear in mind, the mode still has its frustrating elements. For instance, if you decide you want to go and enter into a pink slip race at some point with a rival driver, you can't see what kind of car they're going to use until you've already agreed to race. Without backing out and losing some of your respect rating with that driver, there's no way to cancel out if you realize that they're racing a significantly higher-grade car than what you've got to work with, meaning that unless you're absolutely deft in your driving skills, you're probably going to lose. Most of the mode's frustrations are a collection of minor details like this.
These might be frustrations 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.
While that all sounds well and good, the mechanic itself is woefully underdeveloped. Having guys race for you in certain events is neat, but there's no way to bypass the race itself or even speed it up, so you have to sit through one boring CPU-controlled race after another if you want to up your team's skills. And unlike in the previous versions of Juiced, you can't control a team member's aggression levels during a race. You can only choose low, medium, or high options at the very beginning of a race, and you're stuck with that level for the whole time.
The other unique event Juiced has to offer is a sort of style-based mode where the whole point is to drive around performing various moves and ultimately impressing the crowd, thus earning you a higher score. While, again, that sounds neat in theory, there isn't a lot you can do here. The tricks range from donuts and 360 spins to just achieving high levels of speed and drifting. In fact, you mostly earn your points by how tricked-out your car is. Cars with more mods and customizations earn higher score multipliers, thus making it a lot easier to get points. What's doubly distressing is that this is the only serious motivation in the game to focus on customizing your cars, as the game just doesn't have a spectacular variety of customizable items.
Outside of the career mode, there are arcade, custom race, career challenge, and multiplayer modes. The arcade and custom race modes are pretty self-explanatory, and neither is good for more than an hour or two of distraction at best. The career challenge is a new mode exclusive to the PSP version, though its entertainment value is low. Team leaders will challenge you to specific tasks, such as winning 15 eliminator races in a month's time, or collecting a certain roster of cars within a similar time frame. These operate outside of the actual career mode and are more like individual stages with specific goals. Even on paper these challenges don't sound especially exciting, and they're not in practice, either.
Whereas Juiced was online for consoles and the PC, Juiced: Eliminator has only ad hoc wireless play for up to five players. There is an entirely decent roster of multiplayer modes, however, including arcade races, custom races, and even career races, where you can you use your cars from the career mode and race for pink slips. There is also game sharing available, but it's only for a one-versus-one race, and that's all. If the driving mechanics were a little tighter and the tracks less bland, this would be an excellent roster of multiplayer features; sadly, this isn't the case.
Juiced isn't a bad-looking game for the most part, though it has some quirks that drag down its visual presentation. The biggest offender is the tracks, which are beyond repetitive. Every street environment looks exactly the same, as do the few other varieties of environments, so no matter what track you're on, they all might as well be the same one. Also, the tracks are pretty archaic looking, like something you might have seen a couple of years ago in what was even then a relatively dull racing game. The cars are definitely better, but even they have a slightly weird look that doesn't quite look right when compared against the real-life car models. There aren't any technical issues to speak of in the game, as the frame rate holds steady throughout, but with so little in the way of aesthetic value, and considering that the game just doesn't compare favorably to stuff like Burnout or Midnight Club 3 on the PSP, there's just not much that really stands out.
The audio is more of the same. The car sounds come off as generic, and the few scattered bits of voice acting that come from the crew leaders aren't very good. Also, for some reason, THQ went out and got an entirely new licensed soundtrack that replaces the legitimately good soundtrack from the last game with a bunch of weird, mostly forgettable tunes. The occasional good track by a band like Queens of the Stone Age and Metric is immediately counteracted by generic radio fodder like Hoobastank and that same All-American Rejects song that's been in just about every driving game from the last three years. Not to mention that, of all things, Limp Bizkit's "Rollin'" is in this game. Yeah, great idea. Let's get that 6-year-old song from that has-been rap-metal band that everyone with a half-bit of common sense already licensed a half-decade ago, back when the song still had an iota of relevance. That'll make up for the gutting of the good soundtrack from last year's version of the game. Genius.
Much the way it was perplexing what anyone saw in the original Juiced to make it worth the money and marketing efforts of not only one, but two different publishers over time, one has to wonder why anyone saw it necessary to bring that game out a year later, on a handheld system that's already so chock-full of quality racing games (as well as a whole smorgasbord of lousy ones) that it has next to no chance of standing out among the pack, especially with only the most minimal of design tweaks and such a thin layer of new content. Juiced: Eliminator is entirely perfunctory, and there's not much reason for you to bother with it.