Developer: Juice Games
Release Date: June 15, 2005
Juiced is another racing game in a long line of racing games, or is it? Most of the games that we've seen recently have been "simulators" trying to feel as realistic as possible for the driving experience. If you look closely at recent simulators, what they have tried is to recreate the reality of the car in the racing experience. Unfortunately, not much has been done to immerse you in the rest of the experience. It is true that prior racing games released this season have allowed a great deal of modification of the vehicle to improve handling, acceleration, or top speed, but most were fairly inadequate when it comes to recreating the environment of which these vehicles were a part. They had pretty tracks, crowds on the sidelines, playback of your races from every imaginable camera angle, and more cars than nearly every player would have the patience to race, but it just seemed difficult for developers to make a player feel like they were more than just a driver. Simulators still need a way to make you part of the racing experience as a whole, enveloping you in the world is more than just driving and tuning, we need a world that has at least a little culture.
To that end, Juiced is a game focused around the culture of tuners, street racers, and amateur track racers. Career racing begins in the rather rigid class system against other players who also have cars in the sub-200 horsepower range. As you progress through the game, races will begin to become available in the more competitive classes, allowing you to race different cars from your collection. Maintaining ownership of a car in each class becomes quite handy in sustaining a full calendar of racing.
Achieving ownership of multiple cars really isn't that difficult, but as the game goes on, keeping them can be quite a challenge. However, as the cars available become better with time, losing or selling a car here and there really isn't much of a problem. Obviously, you start out with weaker vehicles within your grasp, economy cars that any tuner can get their hands on. But within a few months of the racing calendar, opportunities arise for stronger cars, like a Corvette, Viper, or even an RX-8 to satisfy your need for speed.
Modes of game play are career, arcade, custom race, and multi-player. Career mode is the main style of gameplay for Juiced, where you need to build a rep and make big bets to rise to the top. The gameplay consists primarily of three modes, drag, freestyle show-off sessions, and standard races over a course, either in a circuit or point-to-point. Your relative success in the game is determined by two primary factors: your cash balance and the respect you have with other leaders of the racing community.
There are two primary ways to earn cash in Juiced, by winning races, and by winning side bets with the other racers. Cash is the immediate necessity in Juiced, as your hard-earned dollars allow you to repair your car, upgrade your machine, and buy other cars to race in various classes of competition. A car collection not only provides you with the equipment to compete in many different races with varying difficulty levels, but also increases the level of respect you get from competitors and draws AI drivers to your team.
In the end, high cash balances, big bets, winning races, and having pretty cars will bring you success with the many different leaders in the game. This success is displayed by the level of respect you have with each leader, and as your respect improves, their interaction with you evolves from contempt to competition to commiseration. Initially, it's hard to get into races sponsored by more than just one of the leaders, but as you earn respect, your stature opens doors throughout the game to compete in tougher and more lucrative competitions. Gaining respect in Juiced essentially translates to unlocking different levels of the game, but the intriguing characteristic of respect is that it moves both up and down. This allows not only for gamers to open up more for levels and opportunity, but also to lose opportunities with poor racing, making the sale of profiles or high-powered cars less desirable to novices in this game as compared to other titles in the genre.
One of the most lucrative and risky options for quickly advancing in Juiced is the race for pink slips, where the two drivers bet it all against each other – their cars. Once you've gained a sufficient level of respect from any of the main leaders, you have the ability to race them for pink slips. More than just an expensive bet, winning a pink slip a race can get you have the respect boost of the week. Winning a pink slip race is doable, but don't kid yourself into thinking that Juiced will make it easy. On the contrary, the risk of losing your favorite car is rather high, so don't race for pinks on a whim.
Arcade mode allows you to skip to the head of the pack, racing some of the fastest cars in the game. Finishing in the top three for a series of races will complete the challenge of a level and unlock new courses with specific requirements to meet the challenge. For example, an unlocked level may feature Europeans only as the type of car able to race for that series. Take first in each race of the series, and Juiced will typically unlock a car for you to use in future challenges. The cars in arcade mode already have aftermarket add-ons for tuning to improve performance so this allows you to jump right into the action without having to customize your car.
Creating custom races allow you to build a race from the ground up choosing the event type (e.g. point-to-point, circuit, or sprint) region and/or performance level of the cars, and even the type of weather for the race. As you unlock cars, custom races can become quite involved to build with the expanded options. Initially, the choice of cars is so limited that waiting for a good foothold in the game is recommended before attempting to create enjoyable custom races.
The final mode option is multiplayer. There are three options within multiplayer that Juiced supports: system link, split screen, and Xbox Live. Split screen competition meets expectations of a multiplayer racing game, performing similar to others in the genre. Up to four players can utilize split screen, and system link will allow up to six players. This can make for some great competition between friends if you can get all the consoles in one place. With Xbox Live, quick match allows easy setup of races with other players, and the optimatch functionality creates the ability to more evenly match up with your opponents. Also Juiced allows you to match up with your friends online in order to find out who really is the best driver. Online game play also supports team racing, allowing groups of two or three to match up in order to see who can work together best. Toss in some action by betting for pink slips, and you can make or break your career in a matter of minutes.
Driving with a controller in Juiced is fairly standard to other games in the genre, but the use of the Y button for nitrous seems more active than any other newer game currently on the market. The timing of nitrous use is essential to success in the sprint races, where a manual transmission is mandatory, and matching nitrous to your shift patterns makes all the difference between first and last place at the end of the race.
Use of a driving wheel is nice, but it seems to present little or no real advantage over the controller, no doubt because of the compensation coded into the game for the controller, making the game very playable and even enjoyable with the good ol' thumbsticks. Contributing to this is Juiced's physics engine. While not nearly as obsessively realistic as Forza, it isn't nearly as lame as older games like Auto Modellista. However, to say that the performance of the physics engine is in the middle would be a disservice. In reality, Juiced's physics engine is on the side of being very enjoyable, with plenty of reality mixed with tires that grip the road like an arcade game. The best point about this configuration is that one major burn-out of the tires will not cripple your handling for the entire race, but it still feels almost real.
Once again, Juiced follows publisher THQ's tradition of making sure the "fun factor" is present in each and every game they help push to the market. Juiced is definitely fun to play, but it does present one major flaw that it keeps a bit too far from simulation – impact. This relates specifically to striking the edge of the courses and hitting competitor's cars. Juiced allows you to bounce off the guardrails and other cars in much the way that Auto Modellista did, and that is very unfortunate. During the creation of Juiced, we asked the developers at Juice Games if they were planning on altering the inadequate modeling of impact, and the answer from our experience is a resounding NO. Bouncing off certain guardrails in the right spot on some corners will sometimes make the car exit the corner faster than taking that corner correctly. This severely strikes at the performance of the game, unless you are into wall bouncing.
Impact gripes aside, Juiced is an excellent game for those in search of a racer that provides some nice, simple rendition of the culture of street racers. Although the game lacks opponents who really, really hate you, the challenge of gaining respect in the game is still quite dynamic.
One of the biggest player complaints we've seen so far is that the game is "too hard" or "too easy to lose everything." For those who fall in these categories, we hope to speak for Juice Games when we say, "Get over it or play a different game!" Every race in Juiced is a gamble, and sooner or later, everyone will have a string of bad luck. This is actually a shining point of the game compared to other racers that have hit the shelves in the past year. Juiced is not just your lame linear experience where you race a track until you win, then move on to the next track – you need to race, bet, and tune strategically or end up on the sidelines watching everyone else. This makes Juiced a challenge at every bend, knowing that if you don't beat the driver you made a side bet with, it will cost you $20,000, and that's before you even worry about taking the cash prize for first place.
Overall, Juiced lives up to the THQ mantra for having the "fun factor," as it is a very enjoyable game to play, with surprising turns of events that keep you scratching for the top. Control of the vehicles is a bit loose sometimes, and the barriers of the tracks are far too forgiving, but not to the point where it makes the game annoyingly unrealistic. The graphics are average for other offerings in the genre, but the car paint customization is incredibly variable and looks fantastic. As far as racers go, Juiced presents the best culture integration of any game this year, something woefully lacking in the genre. It's not phenomenal, but it's far better than the total absence of personality we've seen in other titles. While it isn't for simulation racing aficionados, Juiced will be appreciated to the fullest extent by casual drivers and hardcore arcade racers alike. One word of advice: be careful of betting Sue in the sprints – she's tougher than she looks!
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