After a lengthy hiatus in game publishing limbo, THQ slams its foot down to release this current chart-topper - but has Juiced survived the pit stop?
Xbox, PS2, PC
The name, Juiced, has been floating around in videogame world for well over a year now, yet for a thirdparty release you you may have expected it to have been and gone in six months. Originally worked on by Acclaim - the developer that tricked us all into buying Turok 2 - and went bankrupt last year, leaving development and publishing rights to be picked up by THQ.
Juiced is one of these new fangled street racing games; you get to drive a wide selection of "boy racer" cars and put silly lights on the bottom of them, among other things. The game starts off by asking you to select your name, your group name and your cell phone (used to call all of your crew, of course). Next T.K., the leader of the Urban Maulers crew will challenge you to a race. T.K. will speak to you in a small Bink movie and you can place bets on the race, then once you're done you've got $50,000 to spend on a car with funny wings.
The initial selections of cars to choose from are a Volkswagen Beatle GLS 1.8T, a Honda CR-X and a Peugeot 206 GTI. My urge to become a virtual chav left me disappointed with the lack of a Renault Clio to stick my body stickers on, but I settled for a Peugeot 206, made it green and put a massive wing on the back. Once your car's ready and looking pretty, you're introduced to the career mode - basically a calendar with racing events on about half of the days, some free and some with an entry fee. Each race has cash-pot that can be won by the winner, but the real money is made by making personal bets with other racers.
The money system is perhaps one of Juiced's biggest flaws. It's quite easy to lose a lot of money by not finishing first or winning your side bets, repairing your car after every race also takes any winning fees you picked up in the first place. Once your savings are low, it's very hard to get them back up; sometimes you'll get your car repaired for free by strangers but once the game progresses, free races become very rare, and you could find yourself skipping months through the calendar to find a race you can afford to enter. The game becomes less about actually racing and more like an accounting sim. This is all, of course, if you're not very good.
There are however other ways of making money in Juiced: As your reputation increases you'll pick up a whole crew of drivers, instead of driving yourself you can attend and let someone else in your crew drive. A crew is needed to attend the team races, in which the winner is determined by which crew gets all of its drivers over the finish line first. For some fast cash, you could also simply bet on the other drivers who all have odds of winning, although you're going to have to sit through the entire race in real time and watch the intriguing AI struggle to finish.
The visuals are quite damn impressive. The car models are very pretty, and a sense of speed is achieved with some nice screen blurring effects present in most racing games. The framerate is what really makes Juiced shine though: solid 60fps all the time which is a feature that's becoming increasingly and disappointingly less common in console games. The soundtrack is not to be sniffed at either; there's a nice selection of licensed music for you to enjoy (or endure if it's not your thing) and it's reasonably varied which is nice to see.
Juiced has a lot of good ideas but is soured by a lot of bad ones tacked on. The oppressive calendar system has you spending more time managing your money than actually racing, and a paranoid auto save system prevents you from trying a race again when you've just lost 14 grand on a bet. The game is at its best when you're fighting to place before your rival who you have a high side-bet with, and at it's worst when you've lost and you're spending the rest of the game trying to earn your money back.
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