Designed to combine elements of both simulation- and arcade-style play, Juiced features more than 50 licensed vehicles, including import legends such as the Toyota Supra and Honda CRX Si. Racing decals, graphics, and wild paint jobs make an artist out of the gamer, though beauty is only skin-deep and winning races is what it takes to earn respect in this virtual circuit. To help with winning races are after-market parts from leading manufacturers such as A'PEXi, AEM, Bridgestone, Ferodo, Konig, Alpine, and HKS, all of which are available to the crew chief for use in tuning and tweaking the car. An innovative aspect of Juiced is its "Crew Based" team-racing feature. Players can go online not only to race head-to-head against other gamers, but to build custom racing crews and recruit drivers. It takes real teamwork to win races in this mode of play.
Juiced is fundamentally an arcade-action racer. You get an exciting sense of speed from the game (barring the occasional jerky slowdown) as you roar down straights and slam through corners. Still, you do need to finesse things a bit since the tracks can be tricky, and the A.I. competitors put up a strong fight. The cars also tend to be twitchy and prone to oversteering, requiring a sort of finesse that shouldn't be needed. The damage modeling is almost nonexistent, so you might blow out your nitrous system, but that's about it, other than cosmetic dings.
Like so many racing games these days, Juiced tries to cash in on the hip street racing/tuner car scene, but hits some design potholes. On the one hand, you trick out your cars with fancy decals and neon lighting and battle crews of street racers, trying to earn respect (one of the game's chief forms of currency, alongside cold, hard cash). That's all well and good, but the street tracks in Juiced are all closed-off circuits, not open roads taken over by the racers. Some races take place at purpose-built venues with giant grandstands ... as if it were a Formula 1 race. It's great that Juiced doesn't honor the illegal activities of a lot of real street racers, but at the same time, the game lacks any sense of danger, edginess, or style. The presence of a few characters with dubious accents and affected attitudes doesn't do much to create a vibrant underground racing scene.
Juiced may lack soul, but still offers a good range of race modes. You get an arcade mode, but as with so much of the game, you have to unlock most of the tracks and cars. Race types include multi-lap circuits, point-to-point matches, sprints (multi-heat drag races), and entertaining show-off events, where you perform wild tricks like high-speed, rubber-burning 360s. Along with the arcade mode, you get a custom mode where you set up events using the cars and tracks you've unlocked in the arcade mode. Here you choose the venue, the number of laps, time of day, weather conditions, and so forth. There's also an online multiplayer mode, which is decent enough as far as the racing goes, but marred by a clunky console-style interface. (Unsurprising, considering the game was just released for the PS2 and Xbox as well.)
The meat of the game is found in the career mode. Here you buy and sell cars, modify their performance and looks, enter races (host your own if you want), place bets, and more. There's a lot to do, but many headaches, too. Car upkeep can get very pricy, not to mention race entry fees, buying mods, paying off lost bets, and so on. One short run of bad luck can devastate your bank account, effectively ruining your career. Another problem is that you can't attend many races on the schedule because you don't yet have the needed cars or respect points to enter them. You can still bet on some of these races, but then you have to sit and watch the A.I. drivers compete for the whole race, which is just as boring as it sounds.
When you're on the track yourself, you can easily lose respect points by damaging other drivers' cars -- when they slam into you. The A.I. drivers that join your crew can drive ineptly, causing you to lose races, and therefore money and respect. Car modification is a bore, too: the tuning options are simplistic, and the visual mod choices don't offer much pizzazz, though the parts (and cars) are at least licensed from real manufacturers.
Juiced could use some more juice in its presentation, too. The cars don't look as sexy as they should. The tracks tend to look too similar, though they feature some nice details like steam pouring out of grates and jets flying by. Mostly second-rate bands provide a second-rate soundtrack to the action. The car sounds seem realistic enough, yet lack the extra oomph needed to get the blood pumping.
Juiced offers a good variety of race options and an involved career mode, but that flawed mode puts too much focus on money, respect, and schedules, and not enough on actual racing. That's a shame because the races can be fast and furious, even if repetitive. Juiced is bland and soulless in the style department, too; it's the sort of game you forget having played by the next day. Juiced has its ups and downs, but nothing to really make you care about it either way.
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L. A. Rush, Need for Speed: Carbon, Need for Speed Underground 2, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Sega Rally 2 Championship, Ford Racing 3, GTR: FIA GT Racing Game, Need for Speed: Underground
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