Developer: Juice Games
Release Date: June 15, 2005
Odds are that if you’re well-to-do enough to read a video game review on a computer monitor, you’ve seen the commercials for Juiced by now.
The ones airing in the United States are a hoot. They feature a guy in a garage who looks a little too hopped up on some sort of substance, rambling on and on about how he’s built the perfect ride, and he’s only making it better as he goes. He’s using it to race his fastest against some of the toughest street racers in the city, and a split-second can mean the difference between victory, and his ride going home with someone else.
At the end of the commercial, you’re led to believe that if you buy Juiced, you’re buying the ultimate illegal street racing experience, where the action is fast and furious (no pun intended), and the roar of your engine and the blur of the cityscape are a double-edged sword in your pursuit of money, fame, and sweet rides.
Don’t believe that commercial--or for that matter, the game’s opening video which says the same thing.
It’s all a lie..
That’s the one problem with this game that sends it crashing down like a house of cards.
Make no mistake: there are lots of things to like about Juiced. The career mode can be fun and engaging if you stick with it. The idea of being part of your own start-up street racing crew and having to win respect from others is nice, as was giving the leader of said street crews their own voices and personalities. It’s got lots of racing types, and lots of criteria for gaining respect. Just tricking out your car impresses one guy, placing smart bets impresses another, and one girl gets impressed if you score well at events where the object is to do as many wheel-busting tricks you can think of in a set amount of time. You can host your own races, or simply attend and bet on others.
You’ll have to put all of your skills together if you want to build your own crew, win others’ cars in pink slip races, and basically take over the underground racing scene of a fictional Los Angeles. Sounds cool enough. Juiced’s Career Mode is full of great ideas.
Unfortunately, odds are that you won’t want to go through them, due to one tiny snag:
It is not fun.
Honestly, I don’t understand it. In a game where you want to give the player a sense of speed, illegality and racing around in fast cars, why would you bog it down with simulation physics out of some sort of twisted perversion of games like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport? The cars, even when upgraded, handle strangely, there’s lag from the controller to car movements, and I swear even now I don’t know if the nitrous speeds my car up or just the screen. You will never be able to slow/brake through a turn and come out better for it on the other side. You will lose a place unless you’re one of the people on the development team, or take a week and a half off to learn how this game handles—and forget all of the other driving games you’ve ever played.
The fact that the racing isn’t fun—because it’s buggy and unsuited to the game’s atmosphere—is the reason that even the inclusion of an Arcade Mode, where you already start with a tricked-out car and race around the game’s locales in a number of circuits and modes, while a good idea, isn’t fun either. In the end, you’re trapped in a small room of good intentions, with the walls of frustration completely surrounding you, cutting off your freedom.
With the racing aspect as lackluster as it is, the inclusion of some very well-put together multiplayer options (split-screen, PS2-system link(!), and online multiplayer--which includes pink slip races—note to Rockstar, put these in Midnight Club 4, please) become a small factor at best.
The other big problem with Career Mode is that this game falls into the same trap that Street Racing Syndicate does involving money management. Simply put, this game sucks it out of you faster than a Dirt Devil. Bets cost money (up front), races cost money, damage to your car during races cost money, damage you do to other peoples’ cars comes out of your pocket. If you don’t finish in first place (and trust me, it’s easy not to), prepare to sometimes not even break even on your race entry fees. Upgrades cost money as well. There are at least twice as many ways to lose money as there are to make money, and the way to make money which involves the least risk is to bet on another car in a watched race. Even then, you have to watch the AI car run the entire course before you’ve found out if you’ve won or not. It’s maddening, and in the end, you end up doing less racing than you already do when your bank is full.
This game was originally an Acclaim project, but Acclaim died over a year ago; thus, THQ took the reigns. This thing’s been in development longer than most games take to establish themselves as sequel franchises. Therefore, the graphics in this game are dated like nothing else. They work, but they’re easy to see they they’re a generation behind—heck, I could honestly see playing this on my Dreamcast. It’d be easy to overlook the graphics if the gameplay were on point, but, well, we’ve already covered this.
Get ready for a whole lot of loading screens to boot. Between races, after races, heading to the garage, fixing the damage to your car in the garage, almost everything you can think of. It grates, very quickly, as you have no idea just what game features justify them.
The ambience is harmed even more by the fact that the soundtrack positively hurts. I don’t mean that in a “it doesn’t conform to my narrow tastes in music” kind of way like rock-heads who complain about hip-hop being used in urban-themed games like to do—I mean that this soundtrack literally hurts to listen to. Again, it’s detrimental to the atmosphere. Very little of this stuff is Illegal Street Racing music as opposed to Sunday Drive tunes. So many of these choices are the softest of rock, or almost elevator music altogether. There’s a nice selection here… of ways you want to go to sleep.
I’ve avoided making the obvious game comparisons up until the end of this review, and for that, I’m proud of myself, but in the end, there’s no getting around it. If you want the best street racing games this hardware generation, you have two choices: Midnight Club 3:DUB Edition and the original Need for Speed: Underground. Juiced--as much of a shame as this is because it actually tries out some very good ideas and could have been a contender with some fundamental changes--is more akin to Street Racing Syndicate: Champion Edition. Take that as you will.
Highly recommended for a rental, but you’ve been otherwise warned.
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