Review: I heard this is Rafael Palmeiro's favorite game.
When Acclaim was forced to shut down in 2004, many projects were left lying in the ruins of the troubled publisher. Many of these projects have been in limbo ever since, as no other publishers have picked up the rights to titles like 100 Bullets and The Red Star. It looked as if Juiced was to suffer the same fate as well, until rising publisher THQ took the initiative and acquired Juiced Games' street racer. It's roughly been a year since Juiced became a THQ property, but in that time, the game has been further tweaked and polished; the added time is the sort of thing game developers crave to further enhance the quality of their product. As a whole though, Juiced is a mixed bag. While it carries some unique features, it can't fight the 'been there, done that' feeling of actually racing. It's a more realistic game than contemporaries such as Need for Speed Underground and Midnight Club, but if you're expecting Gran Turismo with that infamous faux-hip charm seen in NFS or MC, you'll be disappointed a well. Juiced is merely a middle-of-the-road game that can't quite compete against other racers on PS2.
Juiced takes place in the fictional metropolis of Angel City (you know, just like Los Angeles, only in English!). Though there's single race, time trial, and offline multiplayer modes, the only two worth really noting are the career setup and online play. Within the career, you enter Angel City as a newbie driver, looking to make your name against the other underground racers. Much of the progression is based around respect from the various 'crews' of racers. At the start, you can only compete in events hosted by one team, or you can simply visit and gamble on cars (more on that later). However, as you win races, build a decent collection of cars, be an honest gambler, etc. your respect rises for other teams, and eventually you'll be able to take part in their events, from merely making the vists for gambling, all the way up to being able to compete for pink slips ? which of course means gambling not money, but the very ride you race with (this is also the main feature of the online play, aside from the basic races you can partake in). As time goes on, you can assemble your own crew of racers, and you can use them in races and bet on them, or actually control them in the race. You also can then set up your own events, and have different crews enter them. There's numerous race types, such as drag racing, circuit tracks, and point-to-point; all you need is drift and we'd have an outright NFSU homage here.
Money is quite vital in Juiced, as you need it to upgrade cars, repair damage, buy new cars, enter certain events, and of course, gamble. Gambling is simple enough ? you either accept a bet from another driver, or approach them with one and then long as you finish higher than them in the race, you win their half of the money put up. Because race winnings tend to be a bit on the small side it's almost necessary to bet, if you want to make any progress. However, it's possible to really get screwed over and have no money at all, if you make bad bets (and you can't just restart the game if you screw up, the game takes your half of the bet and saves, and if you reboot, it's gone forever). But then, that's why they call it gambling. But it is possible to get outright stuck in the game and be forced to start over completely, which is a real drag (especially in this day and age when good game design means never forcing someone to outright restart a game, the stuck must get unstuck). And being a weenie and not gambling won't do any good; your progress will be minimal at best without much money.
Juiced offers a ton of vehicles, all licensed from major manufacturers. At the beginning, you can only choose from a small collection, but eventually the big boys come to play. However, you can take a small fry and transform it into a heavy hitter via upgrading, like other racers in this sub-genre. However, you have to keep in mind the 'level' your car is, if you put too many upgrades on, you can actually have a car far superior to those allowed in a race (similar to the class restrictions in Forza Motorsport), and miss quite a few money making chances (aside from gambling as a spectator) until races for your level appear. Obviously you can keep multiple cars in your garage, but if you have a car you enjoy racing with, this can be a problem. Thus upgrading should be a cautious thing ? don't upgrade your car just because you can. In addition to important upgrades like engines, brakes, tires, and whatnot, you can customize your car with different colors, vinyls, stickers, etc. Juiced claims millions of possible combinations, though it would require millions of years to actually see them all ? we'll take their word for it. And though cars have no visible damage during races, you do have to 'pay up' for repairs, which also can hurt your money flow.
On the tracks, the races play out in fashion similar to a regular racing simulation, and not so much a street racer. Tracks have layouts with barricades and arrows leading you around, and there's no traffic to worry about running into. For a game about illegal street racing, it's awfully organized. Not even the drag races have traffic to deal with ? that at least made the drags in NFSU interesting. And as mentioned before, the cars handle far more realistically than Juiced's contemporaries, though a few corners were cut to allow for faster cornering and maneuvering. However, the cars feel pretty heavy and some strategy must be employed around turns or you can wipe out and cause damage. Unfortunately, some cars handle terrible, regardless of any upgrades you might give it ? some RWD cars suffer from Enthusia-its, where they spin out of control almost too easily around bends. On the other hand, front-wheel and 4WD cars feel pretty good and with proper upgrades become even better. For the most part, Juiced has good, solid controls, though the drag races are a bit unwieldy because of button placement. Having the 'Juice' and shifting buttons both on the R side of the controller is slightly awkward and you might hit the wrong one ? having them mapped to L1 and R1 would have been far more intuitive. Either way, the drags are simply less fun than the ones found in Need for Speed Underground ? and even those aren't always great.
As you progress through the career, you can unlock more places to race, which is good. Track designs range from really good to fairly generic, and early on, you will see a lot of the same tracks again and again until you're either tired of them, or you can race them in your sleep because of being tired and memorizing the damn things. Once the game opens up, it gets better though. AI is decent, though early on it's far too easy, as you'll watch opponents take forever to turn corners...until of course, you get ahead of them, and then they're usually pretty good about it. Veiled rubberband AI, yippie! Usually the drivers are aggressive, but not violently aggressive; after all, I'm sure somewhere in the AI world, they have to pay for their repairs too. There isn't much of a 'rival' quotient however ? as each team has a crew leader you interact with and can contact/bet with, there's a sense of personalities, and yet it's more about the whole respect thing, without any sense of competition. It's all about money and camaraderie, apparently. As such it makes some aspects of the game somewhat dry, especially when you think of what could have been had they worked such a thing in.
While Juiced is technically competent, and certainly not bad, it feels too old and bland in a genre that's evolved a few times in the year since the game was originally supposed to drop. The races, while usually pretty good, don't feel like 'street' races, but instead any old race you'd see in Gran Turismo or Ridge Racer, and not done nearly as well as those high-profile titles. The career mode is lengthy, in-depth, and has quite a good bit of unique qualities you can't get in other racers, but also starts off very, very slow and requires a lot of patience just to get far enough in for this to change. Online play obviously adds to the fun, but you'll probably find more people playing MC3 or NFSU2 instead of this. I can't go so far as to call this a bad game, but it's certainly not very exciting or worth buying over other racers released in recent times. I'm sure it's far better than the old product was before Acclaim fell apart, but still, Juiced is merely a competent title in a sea of racers (most notably a sub-genre of illegal street racing, one that's slowly faded off from a few years ago), and likely not one to set the world on fire. I hope it does sell enough for a Juiced 2 though, as there's a lot of good ideas here, but just need more fine tuning to make it great.
Visually, Juiced looks pretty good, though definitely not the peak of quality. The car designs are sharp and the hordes of customization allows for a ride unique to you. Tracks are littered with bystanders watching the events, which is probably the most true-to-life aspect of the whole underground racing fad in this game. Weather effects are nice and affect driving, though usually it's either sunny or dark, with few rainy events. The frame rate is solid, and doesn't dip, and Juiced maintains a very nice sense of speed, which was a real surprise. Even a little puny VW Beetle feels fast at 120 MPH. The most impressive aspect is the character models of your street racing buddies; while you only see their heads, they're really designed well and carry a ton of realistic facial motions and lip syncing. They're almost a bit creepy. Juiced carries good voice acting from characters, even if they're a bit stereotypical at times, and likely not the attitudes of most street racers. There's a few sound effects like engines and screeching tires, but it's usually drowned out by the licensed soundtrack, full of generic hip-hop that I can't remember much about.