IGN Review of Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights
While it's common practice in the music industry for a band to have a self-titled album, it's not too often that you'll find something similar in the gaming world. But here we have Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights from Juice Games, the sequel to the original 2005 release of Juiced. The follow-up sees a large number of changes in the series' overall design - the calendar-driven event sequence is gone, you no longer have to pay to repair damage after a race nor pony up a race fee to enter an event. It's a sleeker experience to be sure, but it's still far from perfect.
You'll immediately notice issues with the game's control system. There are two distinct driving mechanics - racing and drifting. Neither is perfect, and they almost feel like polar opposites. The racing controls are overly touchy, where if you tap the stick to the side your vehicle will veer quickly in that direction. When you enter a drift event, however, you'll feel like you're in a completely different vehicle. In order to help you get your car sideways, the game makes you feel like you're sliding around on ice. It's actually difficult to keep your car straight, which is important in the Drift Obliterator events where you need to actually cross the finish line first.
While both mechanics act predictably and you can quickly get used to them, that doesn't mean that they're good. But at the same time, they do work and don't really ever get in the way of your driving. While that may sound confusing, just know that there's no mistaking Juiced 2's controls for those of Burnout, Gran Turismo or Forza.
Fortunately, the track design is generally pretty good. The environments that you see trackside aren't all that memorable (the only building or object that we can remember off-hand is the Eiffel Tower), but what's important is the layout of the tracks and they do indeed make for fun racing circuits. There's a nice variety of turn types, be it tight 90-degree hooks or long, looping runs that you can quickly drift through, and they're mixed up well.
While the tracks are fun and the driving mechanics are passable, the presentation aspects of the Career mode and so forth are extremely hit or miss. One thing that we like quite a bit is the new goal-based progression. For each racing league, you'll need to complete a number of goals in order to race in an advancement qualifier to move up to the next tier. Each level has a number of goals for you to complete, and they're generally pretty varied.
For instance, one goal might be to win a $25,000 bet against a certain racer, while another is to amass an airtime of 6 seconds in a race while another is to simply win a single circuit event. The cool part is that you can achieve multiple goals in a single race, so if you're good and know what you're looking for, you can cut down on the number of races you need to partake in to advance. It's also nice that not all of the goals require you to actually win a race, which will help those who begin to struggle at the later tiers.
While going from race to race is much better this time around, what with the game having a series of goals to hit at your leisure before advancing rather than relying on a calendar, a number of other elements outside of racing are poorly implemented. For instance, the Driver DNA system doesn't really work all that well. The idea here is that you can swing a number of your racing styles (and those of the AI drivers) from being red hot, a.k.a. aggressive, to ice cold, or calm and refined.
One of the issues with this system is that it doesn't seem to have an impact on how well anyone performs. Drivers that have practically maxed out their racing abilities one way or the other can finish dead last in a race and do so just as often as someone with a rather "plain" DNA readout. When hiring drivers to race on your team, which you'll only need for crew-based events, you're shown their DNA structure to help you figure out who to pick, but they're difficult to read on this screen and, again, don't seem to matter very much.
While the Driver DNA's lack of any real impact upon what's going on doesn't really break anything since you can essentially just ignore it, the car performance and upgrade system can be anywhere from confusing to a nuisance to a money-drainer. For one thing, each car is given a single performance number that is supposed to tell you how well the car will drive. This isn't an entirely accurate system as we've had cars wipe the floor with other cars at the same performance level. Why there aren't separate numbers for acceleration, top speed and handling, we'll never know. As well, while you can upgrade the handling of your car, your performance rating doesn't include your vehicle's handling ability, and there's no way to see exactly how much of an impact your upgrade has made.
Speaking of upgrades, each racing league that you advance to unlocks three new levels of upgrades for each of power, handling and weight reduction. While this is nice, the issue is that if you pay for a level one upgrade of any sort, you don't get any kind of discount for upgrading to level two or level three. With a very minimal price difference between the three, it feels like a complete waste to pay for lower levels. The only reason that you would ever do so is because in order to unlock upgrade levels two and three you need to complete small challenges to unlock them, and then you need to pay for them. We're fine with this part since the challenges can actually be fun. But something that we're not fine with is having to repurchase an upgrade if you uninstall it for any reason (like to allow the car to compete in a different league, for instance). We could understand having to pay an installation fee, sure, but why do we need to pay for the whole thing over again if we've already purchased it?
In addition to upgrading your vehicle's performance, you can also install a number of visual mods, like new hoods or rims, and apply decals and paint jobs. The physical additions that you can add all look nice and allow you to customize your car pretty well, though unfortunately they have no impact on its performance. The vinyls tool is generally good, though it does have issues. For instance, when trying to create racing stripes we couldn't stretch a single decal over the length of the car, and instead had to carefully layer two different stripes on top of each other to reach each end. And since it costs money to apply vinyls, we had to pay double the price.
From a visual standpoint, Juiced 2 ranges from decent to poor. The cars are nicely modeled, as are the tracks for the most part, and the reflections that roll of the vehicles can look nice. But there is some pop-in to be seen, especially on smaller items like reflectors and signs. When using the in-car view, you'll witness some pretty terrible reflections and shadows that crawl across the dashboard, and on some cars you'll also be forced to stare at some low-res texture work on the instrumentation and steering wheel. While the game does generally run smoothly, it can slow down a bit at certain track spots with a handful of cars on the screen.
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