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.
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. During team races, you have the ability to control the aggression level of your teammates, but only to a minimal degree, and most times you'll be better off just leaving the setting on high, since otherwise your team tends to underperform.
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. It might have been a more impressive roster, say, a year ago, when the game was originally supposed to come out. But with games like Need for Speed Underground 2 and Midnight Club 3 around, the customization list pales by comparison.
Apart from the career mode, the game features a simple arcade mode, a custom race builder, and multiplayer. The arcade mode and the custom race mode are pretty self-explanatory, and neither is good for more than an hour or two of distraction, at best. The multiplayer on consoles comes in split-screen, system link, and online varieties, and it fares a bit better. The online lets you play both custom and career races, and in the career races you can use your career mode cars and teammates. The online performance is just fine, and the mode itself is decent enough for an online racer, but it doesn't have many features beyond simple competitive racing. Incidentally, the PC version lacks the split-screen functionality, though that's hardly surprising.
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 a 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 on all three versions, and apart from some jerkiness when your car shifts, the race camera works fine. The PC version is decidedly less impressive looking than the console versions, simply because it looks just like the Xbox version with only a marginally cleaner look.
The audio is pretty much 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 isn't very good. However, on the plus side, the soundtrack is enjoyable. Featuring name artists like Xzibit, Paul Oakenfold, Dub Pistols, and Kasabian, as well as a lot of stuff you've probably never heard of, the soundtrack fits the scope of the game nicely and rarely sounds incorrect for the style the game is going for. And, of course, Xbox owners can always use their own custom soundtracks.
In the end, it's hard to understand what, if anything, the developers of Juiced did with that extra year between publishers. The whole thing feels antiquated to the point of obsolescence, and the few interesting things the game does to try to set itself apart are counteracted by stupid problems that seem like they could easily have been fixed with just a slightly different design philosophy. As it is, there's no shortage of street racing games on consoles, and even on the PC, where the competition is less of a factor, Juiced does very little to impress. Regardless of your platform of choice, Juiced isn't worth your time.