It can be a damn shame when there's something that could've been cool, but with the fickle nature of fate it has been given a metaphorical kick to the curb. That may a bit melodramatic, but it's pretty much what has happened with Juiced
. While the game isn't spectacular it would've received a much warmer welcome last year when the game was going to be released by Acclaim. Well, Acclaim bit the dust and THQ has picked up the game, but in the past year other titles have raised the bar and Juiced
is looking even worse in comparison.
Since last fall we've seen the releases of Gran Turismo 4, Forza Motorsport, Need for Speed Underground 2, Burnout 3: Takedown, and Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition. These are all fine titles that cover the spread from simulation and realism to arcade and over-the-top action. Some of these games cover extensive street-style modifications on the cars such as body kits and decals aplenty. So now with Juiced entering into the street-racing fray it looks more and more like the little brother that's trying to be cool, but still needs some time to grow up a little.
To provide some flavor of the street culture, Juiced starts out with players choosing their name and group name as well as their cell phone. After that, there's a quick race against T.K., the leader of the Urban Maulerz crew. Win the race and a bet against him and players can start the game off with $47,000 in their pocket to buy a car and get going in their new life. The initial selection of a Volkswagen Beetle GLS 1.8T, a Honda CR-X, or Peugeot's 206 GTI is a little small at first, but more cars get unlocked as the game progresses.
After this initiation to the game the career mode is set up around a calendar that's filled up with different races on about half of the days. Some of these races are free , but most of them have an entry fee. Each race has a purse that can be claimed by the winners, but the bigger money can be made by making side bets against the other racers. So even if the player doesn't come in first, they can still clean p by beating the one person they bet against. Of course, they can also lose quite a bit of money and if players get stuck in a position with very little cash it can be hard to get out of that situation and one of the game's crucial flaws appears.
The cars can take damage in the different races and as such there is almost a tax on entering races due to the cost of repairs. By not winning a few races, losing a bet or two, and banging up the cars a bit, players can see their savings get close to zero. While mysterious strangers will always come in to help fix the cars if the player doesn't have enough money for even that so they can keep racing it's easy to get into a vicious cycle of not having enough money ever. Even worse is that later on in the game the free races get rarer and rarer so that once the player can't afford any of the races the only option is to skip through the whole calendar, day by day, and pray that a single free race will come up in which to get some cash to afford a much-needed upgrade. If that race gets shot, then it's another long wait.
All of this time spent flipping through the calendar is the reason why the career mode drains the fun out of the game. After a while of trying to get some cash up again, I was looking out at the other racing games in m collection where the goal was to simply race and if I ever wanted to just jump into a race, I could. If I messed up one race, then I could simply try it again instead of trying to farm my way back up to a decent bank account. There are other ways to make money, but once again they fail to bring any excitement to the game.
Instead of actually driving in the different races there are a couple of other options: attending or letting someone else drive. As players' reputations increase in the driving world they'll assemble a crew of drivers. These are needed for the team races where victory is determined by which team gets all of its cars across the finish line first. In the regular races, they can be put out there on their own. The more they race, the better their skill gets and the more likely they are to win.
The other option is to attend and simply bet on any of the drivers. Each driver has been given odds on their winning and so it is theoretically possible to turn a hundred dollars into a few thousand with some careful betting. The only problem with these two methods is that every race that is being driven by someone else or being bet on has to be played out in real-time. In GT4 there is the B-Spec mode that allows for the race to at least be done in triple speed, but here there's no other option than to watch the entire thing. Or it's a good time to do something else, like write an e-mail or few, whatever's your pleasure because watching a computer drive in Juiced is as much fun as reading some online forums and wondering when the first idiotic response will appear.
There is some strategy in telling the drivers on your crew how hard to drive, but even that is just choosing from a couple of options. There are hard, medium, and easy levels of driving, but the last one is rarely used. All of this suddenly makes accounting look like an extreme sport and it's when the cars spin-out and end up facing the wall that one seriously begins to question whether there's any point at continuing at all. Once the AI has come to a stop and is facing the wall it will slowly back up, make the most minute of turns, and drive into the wall again. It will keep on doing this until the hidden overbrain of the game completely resets the car back on the track and it can keep on going.
After spending way too much time trying to bet or watching other cars drive I was spent wishing yet again that this racing game was all about racing. The career mode fleshes out the world with other characters to race against and impress in order to open up other parts of the game, but the oppressive calendar system takes away any chance of just jumping right in to race in the career mode. Making bets against specific people makes the game more personal, but that's about the only aspect that should be salvaged here. Life has enough problems without a game reminding you that having no money still sucks.
Get beyond the career mode's style and there's a decent racing game here, but it's still not enough to make the game stick out among the rest. The action is closer to Burnout 3 than GT4 or Forza with its high-speeds and blurry effects to give a sense of speed, but it still has a few touches of realism that don't help a lot in its favor. One of these is the way that the cars can spin-out and come to a standstill. Computer-controlled cars will do it both on the turns and the straightaways and while bumping up against the other cars in the race, the player-controlled car is much more likely to get spun-out than the others which leads to some confusing moments and a flurry of profanity. Even with all of the possible mods to the car to improve the handling this can still happen.
Even though the action has been done better elsewhere, Juiced still has the high-speed racing with the dueling against the other drivers that keeps it interesting. Where it really shines is when it gets to be more of a personal fight with the betting. Losing to a smarmy driver is one thing, but losing to one who is walking away with $14,000 of your own hard-earned cash is another. It's really this aspect that keeps the game going for a little while.
Since the races happen all within a city and the developers worked towards making the locations realistic there are also several sidewalks and curbs that are in the tracks that can royally screw with trying to take turns quickly. Navigating these makes the game more intricate and difficult, but it can also lead to yet another spin-out. It would've been more fun to have tracks that are made difficult by the turns and tight squeezes rather than crap in the road that can mess with a car's alignment.
And all of this stuff that gets in the way of the racing, the career and the spin-outs, is a shame because the rest of the game is a fun enough racer on its own. Steadily increasing the power of the cars with upgrades and buying more powerful cars is a way to gradually increase the speed of the game and the new territories open up some new tracks to race along. The tracks aren't as inspired as they could've been, but there's enough variety to keep the action interesting.
But instead of a game that takes the street culture and uses that as a clever backdrop for a racing game that entertains with the thrill of the race, Juiced has the feel of a game that was a decent racer with lots of other ideas tacked onto it. Even though the ideas of betting and racing for pink slips (all backed up by an aggressive auto-saving function in case you tried to turn the machine off in the middle of a race) bring in the feeling that all of the races matter it's the same exact things that take the fun out when just trying to play a racing game.
One key area that Juiced has a unique idea is in the Showoff mode where points are earned by doing 360s, donuts, drifts, J-turns, and other tricks involving clever use of a handbrake. Mastering the moves is interesting at first, but it quickly reveals itself to be just another gimmick. Combos are done by doing moves one after another and mixing them up so that the crowd doesn't get bored, but how many times can you get excited about another 180 followed by a boomerang?
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