Reviewed: July 20, 2005
Released: June 13, 2005
I have to admit I went into this review with a bit of trepidation. I wasn’t the original reviewer and when Juiced was ultimately assigned to me it came with an implied warning along the lines of, “I nearly broke the $&*#@ disc in half before sending this to you”. Great…
Well, after almost two weeks of solid street racing I have to admit, Juiced is unlike any racing game I have played before it. Sure, it’s a street racer like SRS, NFSUG, or Midnight Club 3, but the presentation is so unique and so “deadly” serious that only the most patient and strategic gamers need apply for their drivers license.
What do I mean by “serious”? Unlike most any other racing game, Juiced forces you to see your choices through to the rewarding or the bitter end. You bet money in Juiced and you can even bet your car in Pink Slip races, which is a great way to build up a stable of cars (if you win) or lose your coveted $200,000 racing machine you have built up for the past week.
There is no RESTART option when you spin out on lap 2 of a 3-lap circuit and there are no "do overs" when you miss that shift into third gear on the sprint (drag) race. If you lose you lose, and a lot of conventional race fans might not be prepared for such a harsh reality.
Juiced has been around for several years. Acclaim passed on Burnout 3 to publish this game putting a few million into EA’s coffers and putting Acclaim out of business before the game ever saw a store shelf. Thankfully, THQ picked up the torch and ran with it, and the result is a fairly original twist on a standard street racing game.
Juiced forgoes the luxury of having any kind of story to drive the countless hours of racing. The Career mode is nothing more than picking a name for yourself and your team, then purchasing one of about four models of cars (buy the Bug) with your limited bankroll.
The game features a huge city with miles of tracks and a massive assortment of cars, car parts, and body mods. The back of the box boasts 7.5 trillion car possibilities, but considering there is only a fraction of the mods and parts available compared to NFSUG2 that seems like a frivolous claim.
Car parts and mods are broken up into three levels plus a prototype level. The more you race any of the cars in your garage the higher the level parts you eventually unlock. The trick is to race all your cars because racing your Eclipse all the time won’t earn you any parts for your Chevy Camaro.
Juiced does a few new things that should have been done along time ago. The first is a unique and most useful auto-tune feature where you can pick your car and upgrade within any available classes. Cars start off in one class and can rise through the ranks by upgrading parts and increasing horsepower. If you don’t want to cycle through all the various car parts menus you can simply auto-upgrade and it will pick all the best parts while still keeping your car in the desired class then give you the bill.
Juiced also has a respect feature, but it’s not some lame star rating for your car like a certain other game. In Juiced you earn (or lose) respect points for the various cast of existing street racers and the more respect you have with these people the more options you have available to you. It takes respect just to get invited to WATCH a race let alone join one. Then you have to earn even more respect to host your own race or challenge someone to a Pink Slip race.
Respect is earned in several ways. You can easily score a few points simply by betting outrageous sums of money, then when they decline you bet something reasonable. Of course you have to watch out for a few of those girls who will actually accept that $14,500 bet when you really only wanted to bet $10k. But most of the respect is earned in races, by driving clean and winning the race.
Did I say, “driving clean”? Oh yeah! Not only will crashing into the other racers lose you loads of respect it will also damage your car and in this game damage is real…really expensive, and yes, you must pay to fix your car after every race. This includes filling your nitrous canisters. There were several races where my winnings barely covered the repair bill.
The Career Mode is presented as an ongoing calendar of events. These are color-coded to indicate the ones you can attend, watch only, or race. Races are almost always assigned a class and you must have a car in your garage in that class in order to join. For that reason alone you will want to start a good collection of cars early and get each of them upgraded to the maximum of their respective class.
Races come in several styles including circuit races, sprint (drag) races, point to point, showoff mode, pink slip races, and numerous challenge modes that require you to beat lap times or maintain a certain speed for the entire lap. Challenges and races for pinks often come in via your virtual cell phone and are a good way to make money and build up your car collection outside the normal event calendar.
Showoff mode is one of the more interesting modes in the game. It puts you in a car of your choosing on one of many tracks and a few minutes on the clock. You must perform as many tricks as possible in that amount of time. Tricks consist of 360’s, 180’s, Drifts, J-Turns, Donuts, and more. You can combo these for big points and there is also a special trick that randomly appears at the bottom. If you can do that trick when prompted you earn big points. The trick is that some stunts are easier to pull off in certain cars. You also need to balance the reward of a long string of combos with the accidental contact on the wall that loses it all.
Some events are free while others have entry fees. Other sponsored events will earn you prototype parts and once you install four of these parts your car achieves a prototype classification and is open to all new events. It’s a good idea to keep a base amount of cash, not only for repairs, but also for entry fees so you can access any events you need to on the calendar.
Even though you start the career alone you will eventually build up a team of racers. People will call you and request to join your team. Each comes with stats like composure and you can hire or refuse as you see fit. Having teammates is a nice idea but it takes a bit of work to get them anywhere close to your level of proficiency.
You can pick any available team member to drive in your place then sit back and watch the race unfold. I wouldn’t bet money on these races, at least not at first. The computer often lacks the skill or strategy to know when to drive dirty or when to use the nitro. I’ve seen the computer come in 4/5 with a full tank of nitro. But even when they lose they earn experience and will do better and better the more they race.
Later in the game there are team races where you must race multiple cars with multiple drivers. This is when it becomes important that you have a team (so you can enter) and have them trained (so you can win). It’s best to peek ahead at the calendar to see what events are coming and make sure you are prepared, either with staff or the appropriate class of cars.
Gambling is a huge portion of Juiced and most likely entirely responsible for the Teen rating. You will invariable need to bet large sums of cash to get anywhere in this game. Most races will earn you a few thousand if you win but the real money is in the wagering that takes place before the race.
You are presented with the entire roster of racers, their car stats, and their ideal bets. You can bet from several pre-selected amounts including sums much higher than their ideal bet. Usually the more mismatched the cars (in the computer’s favor) the more you can bet. Evenly tuned cars will only get you a few thousand in wagers.
The nice thing about betting is that you don’t have to win the race, just beat the car you bet against. You can also wager on races that you do not actually drive in, those “watch only” races where your respect isn’t high enough to join the roster. The only small problem with these races and the races where you let the computer drive for you is that you must watch them unfold in real time. Most races aren’t more than 6-8 minutes so it’s not horrible; time to take out the trash, visit the bathroom, or refill your drink.
Wagering and Pink Slip races are enforced through a simple (yet entirely evil) process where once you make a bet or put up a car the money or the car go into a virtual escrow account and the game saves before the race. This means that if you abandon the race, either intentionally or even through an accidental power loss (or broken Internet connection during online races), you will lose your part of the wager. You are given several chances to back out and even a big warning message about the power loss thing.
Juiced is a serious racing game, not so much in driving, but in its sim-like management elements that require a degree in accounting or a good woman by your side to manage your checkbook. You might want to run off to the dealer and buy that new Mustang when it hits the showroom floor, but perhaps you would be better off buying the used car and investing the savings in future repairs and entry fees. It’s a very delicate balancing act where a short rash of bad races can empty your bank account and force you to sell a car just to pay the bills.
In addition to the Career mode you have all the traditional race modes like arcade and custom races along with some multiplayer racing for split-screen and online via Xbox Live. Perhaps the coolest aspect of the online racing is that you can actually race for Pinks against total strangers and win some killer cars. These cars are added to your garage and can be used in your solo career mode.
I’ve seen this game on the PC and I know how good it “can” look. The Xbox version does a good job considering its limitations, offering up stunning textures, detailed car models with real-time damage, and some great lighting and weather effects.
The first thing I have to commend the designers on is not having “wet streets” unless it’s actually raining. You can't begin to imagine how much I hate driving on shiny streets just because some art guy wants to show off the fact their game engine can render reflections and still maintain 60fps. And even when the streets are wet in Juiced, it’s not an overall sheen but rather pools and patches of water that reflect like scattered bits of mirror on the road.
Apparently the world of Juiced condones street racing because there are no cops and just as many races take place during the day as they do at night. I love being able to see the environments in both light and dark conditions. The city is massive making it that much more regrettable there is no free-roam mode that lets you just drive around and enjoy the sites. The sheer scale of the city and the fact that it encompasses so many unique parts of town guarantee a fantastic selection of original tracks.
The framerate is very smooth, especially given the complex nature of some of the courses and their detailed environments. The designers use an interesting gimmick of having power lines crisscross the roads - not exactly intelligent by city standards- but it adds an extra layer to your perception of speed. There is also an excellent yet subtle blurring effect when you kick in the nitrous.
Menus are nicely designed although the calendar is pretty boring and the artwork for the various events starts to repeat all too soon. I did enjoy the parts overview screen that shows all car parts and body mods along with what is available and what you have installed.
I really love the music selection in Juiced and I really hate the way they presented it. The music changes whenever you switch screens so you never get to enjoy any song selection in its entirety unless you are driving in a race that is at least as long as the song. There are more than 25 fantastic songs in the built-in soundtrack, although I could pretty much listen to Oakenfold’s “Ready Steady Go” on an infinite loop.
The cast of rival racers is small yet diverse. Each comes with their own personality and ethnic accent, but unfortunately their repertoire of responses, both during the race and in the menus, is limited to a few choice phrases you will tire of quickly.
Sound effects include the standard purr of finely tuned engines, yet I seldom heard any differences in my own car after upgrades other than kicking in the nitro. I was hoping adding a turbo or blower would give me that unmistakable whine from under the carbon fiber hood.
Juiced is much like a professional career in racing. As long as you win you can go far and play forever, but a few bad races, a few wrecked cars, and the funds run out and the game is over. There is no sponsor to bail you out and you start selling off your cars to pay for entry fees and fresh nitrous. At this point it becomes all too much like selling your blood to buy Raman noodles back in college.
The online racing is pretty sweet and just the fact that you can race a total stranger for pinks is something exciting and dangerous at the same time. The potential to lose a car you have invested hours of your life and thousands of dollars adds new and unimaginable pressure to these online races.
Juiced is a serious game for serious racers with an ancillary interest in accounting and business management. Racing is just a small part of this game that happens when you aren’t worrying about building up an empire of cars, earning more money or the respect of your peers.
It’s not exactly the best presentation of a career mode I’ve ever seen and I certainly would have preferred a free-driving mode like just about any other street racing game currently available, but for painfully realistic racing, it doesn’t get any juicier than Juiced. Definitely worth a spin around the block.