One could almost wonder if the food and beverage industry is involved in the automobile modification scene these days. Having your car riced, or even juiced can be a lot of fun, and during the past few years weâ€™ve seen many (perhaps too many) games trying to cater to the Fast and the Furious generation. Juiced however, falls short.
The concept behind this game, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, Need for Speed: Underground 2, and even Street Legal: Redline is to take fairly standard cars and upgrade them in numerous ways. You start with limited resources and an equally limited network of friends. Using your driving skills you try to work your way up from zero to boss, or something like that. In other words you play in a hip version of the American dream, if you can call it that.
At the beginning of your career you get to know T.K., a pretty nice guy who lets you borrow his wheels for a single race. This lets you try out some of the game mechanics, and perhaps win some much needed bucks. Regardless of the outcome he gets his car back and youâ€™re left sifting through the dealershipâ€™s car listing looking for something cheap yet powerful. Juiced features about fifty licensed cars, including European, American, and Asian cars. A nice detail is that the selection doesnâ€™t JUST contain new â€œcereal boxâ€ / â€œfart rocketâ€ cars, but also some nice old American muscle cars. Early in the game youâ€™ll choose between a Peugot 206 GTI, a Mazda MX-5, a Fiat Punto GT, and various others. A personal favorite of mine is the 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback, but I assume others will opt for the Nissan Skyline GTR R34, the Honda NSX, the Dodge Viper, or perhaps the Corvette Z06.
The cars you acquire can receive visual, motor, and color upgrades. Each of these raises your carsâ€™ level, and of course the motor upgrades also improve statistics such as BHP, handling, braking, acceleration, and so on. Upgrades are typically sorted into three normal levels, along with a special prototype bin that you can access by winning sponsored events. Most of the biggest modding brands are featured as well, meaning you can probably end up with the car you always wished you had the money to trick out, juice, rice, or maybe even sandwich? The visual upgrades let you add a whole lot of the things you could add in Need for Speed: Underground 2, namely rims, hoods, spoilers, huge entertainment systems, neon, tints, decals, and god knows what else. Motor upgrades consist of turbos, nitrogen oxide, better wheels, exhaust, induction system, suspension, ride height, gear ratios (you adjust speed versus acceleration), and fine adjusting (just a single lever that lets you increase the horse power a little bit, at a cost). Finally you have color adjustments, which let you alter the base color, add a metallic color, a pearlescent color, and even change the color of your wheels. Unfortunately the selection of visual upgrades is poorer than NFS: U2 and the engine upgrades / adjustments are laughably basic.
To become the greatest racer in the city that Juiced takes place in you have to earn respect from a number of people. You see, the city is divided into a number of territories, each ruled by a certain gang. As you enter and hopefully win races and competitions youâ€™re faced with a respect window that tells you how much the various gang leaders respect you â€“ think of it as experience points that you can lose by screwing up. To earn the respect you crave you must compete in races where you directly face other gangs, or just basically play well enough to impress those that just watched. Upon reaching for instance 300 respect points with a particular gang youâ€™ll be able to attend (watch) races. With more respect youâ€™ll be allowed to race, pink slip (race for the opponentâ€™s car), or host a race of your own. Each gang leader has three cars, and to completely defeat someone you normally have to win in different kinds of challenges. To challenge someone for money, respect, or even a car you just phone up that lucky someone and ask. Challenges range from circuit, to drag racing, to special move competitions, and more. In the special move competitions you have to pull off tricks to earn points, much like the drifting mode in NFS: U2 â€“ only you can do 180s, 360s, boomerangs, donuts, J turns and more as well. These moves are fairly well documented in a tutorial, but most basically require you to use the handbrake and accelerate in a certain way. Combinations can be done; linking tricks together. You could for instance drift through a turn, pull a 360, a 180, and maybe finish with a J turn. The more points you earn in the competition the more money and respect you receive as a reward.
Handling is obviously essential in a racing game. Juiced is said to be a simulator, but this is very far from the truth. The gameplay is very much arcade oriented, meaning you donâ€™t really have to think about much more than acceleration, braking, turning to the left, and turning to the right. Early in the game your cars wonâ€™t be very exotic, and I suspect the very poor handling will make a bad first impression on a lot of people. The cars feel heavy and unresponsive, but not really in the best of ways. Sure itâ€™s nice that you canâ€™t pull off 90 degree turns in 100 mph, but still. Handling does improve further on in the game, but itâ€™s never one of the gameâ€™s highlights.
A moderately interesting feature is that you can form your own gang of racers. Not too far into the game people will call you up, asking if they can join you. Every member of your gang has a certain amount of skill and composure, but these stats can be improved as they enter races. You see, when you have members in your gang you get to choose who will do the actual racing â€“ much like Gran Turismo 4â€™s B-Spec mode, only a little simpler. Here you only choose how aggressive the guy or gal will drive; low, medium, or high. Each has obvious advantages, but unless itâ€™s a very technical course youâ€™re not likely to use low. The difference compared to GT4 is that you watch the race from the standard third person view, not in what you could call the overview mode of B-Spec.
In terms of graphics Juiced isnâ€™t really all that glorious. It does use some neat shaders and some nice shadowing techniques. It also does have some decent particle effects and some pretty detailed cars, but the environments just look blocky, fake and uninteresting. The texture quality ranges from good to quite poor, but the polygon count is just something thatâ€™s hard to not notice. Additionally, the 3d engineâ€™s performance leaves quite a bit to be wanted, because even though itâ€™s capable of rendering some occasionally pretty frames it doesnâ€™t perform as good as it should. Juiced is a game with a lot of speed and movement, meaning the framerate needs to stay fluid unless you want trouble coming into sharp corners at high speeds. Turning down detail obviously helps, but even on the lowest detail when everything else runs properly the corners can be slightly jerky. It doesnâ€™t help that pretty much everything else in the game (menus, the in-game user interface etc) looks cheap. Sure a game can be excellent even if its menus and user interface is below par, but unfortunately Juiced doesnâ€™t make up for it with anything except its good selection of cars and a fair selection of courses. A big difference compared to NFS: U2 is that you donâ€™t really have multiple paths and itâ€™s not really open-ended at all â€“ for better or worse.
Following up Need for Speed: Underground 2â€™s audio is no easy task either. Juiced does feature a pretty solid playlist, consisting of music by Xzibit, Roni Size, Paul Oakenfield, Guru, Talib Kweli, and a great big bunch of bands Iâ€™ve never heard of. Overall Iâ€™m fairly pleased with the selection, and I suspect fans of hip-hop, rock, and electronica will be too. But oddly enough, most of the in-game sound effects youâ€™d expect to hear are just not there! No proper engine roar, nothing when youâ€™d expect to also â€˜hearâ€™ a huge collision, no tire squeal â€“ just music and the occasional comment from whoever you placed a bet against earlier. A better selection of sound effects wouldnâ€™t have saved this game, but it clearly wouldâ€™ve helped.
Multiplayer is fortunately included, and there IS fun to be had if you have friends or foes also willing to spend the time it takes to build up a good car. Setting up a race is pretty easy, and there are enough cars and tracks to keep things interesting for a while.
Juiced has been a long time coming, but even after switching to THQ as a publisher they didnâ€™t seem to polish away enough of the rough edges that hurt the game. It does feature a fair bit of cars, some decent courses to drive on, a nice arcade mode and multiplayer to boot, but when the graphics and overall presentation is unimpressive, gameplay mechanics donâ€™t feel right, and very limited sound effects are included youâ€™re probably left thinking that the money you spent shouldâ€™ve gone elsewhere.