As someone who doesn't really get the attraction of, say, putting neon lights under a car, I'm going have to make a couple of assumptions about the street racing scene. The biggest is that the whole scene is gaining in popularity (if the number of games going all 2 Fast 2 Furious is any indication) because of the anti-establishment, adrenalin pumping thrills it provides as you race through city streets weaving in and out of traffic and staying one step ahead of John Q Law.
Games like Midnight Club 3 have successfully tapped into this, providing great action in a living city full of vehicles and innocent pedestrians. Juiced, the newest street racing game to add to the genre, gets the cars, the lingo and the culture right, but strangely falls short of the mark when it comes to stick-it-to-the-man gameplay.
While the souped up cars, the in-depth performance options, the pimped-up rides and 'crew' mentality is all there in Juiced, the races themselves feel more like what you'd find in traditional racing games like the Gran Turismo series. Instead of having to navigate streets choked with traffic, Juiced puts you in closed tracks where you only have your fellow racers to worry about.
This makes Juiced a game with an odd schism in its attitude -- one minute you're all 'street' with your tricked out car, challenging rival crews for pink slips and trying to earn respect, and the next you're racing in a relatively sterile environment with the public safely behind concrete barriers. It's keepin' it real while keepin' it safe -- The Fast and the Furious without the Furious.
You start the career mode of Juiced by choosing your name, a logo for your crew and, in another blatant example of in-game advertising, a mobile phone to use (you get to choose from real world models like the Sharp GX30, Sony K700i and more). From there, players will need to participate in races to earn money and respect. Earning money allows you to buy new cars or upgrades to existing vehicles, while earning respect opens up relations with new crews.
To its credit, Juiced presents players with an impressive amount of vehicles and upgrade options to buy. Real world brands are represented, with players being able to do everything from engine upgrades, adjust ride heights, stick decals on their vehicle, change the colour scheme and much more. You can even select new stereos, if you've got money to burn. It's certainly not Forza-like, but there's more than enough options here to please.
Players can choose which races to enter via a calendar which shows what events are on and which ones they can participate in. Most of the races require some sort of entrance fee, so players will need to make sure they have enough funds to enter. Before a race, players can also make side bets with individual racers -- even if you don't win the pot by finishing first, you can still earn some cash as long as you finish in front of the racer you bet with.
Another thing jarring Juiced's attempt at a devil may care feel is its in-game economy, which can be quite unforgiving at times. While cash can be earned by winning races or bets, it can also be quickly lost with one bad run. Juiced doesn't allow you to replay races (with the exception of some specific challenges), so if you've made a large bet and somehow lose, that money's gone forever. Add to this increasing entrance fees and sometimes exorbitant repair bills at the end of each race, and you could easily whittle away what was at one stage healthy savings.
Once on the track, Juiced presents gameplay that's easy to get into. Controls are much more arcade than simulation, with powerslides and big prangs the order of the day. As mentioned before, you race in closed off city streets, which can be quite challenging later in the game when they get narrow and have sharper angles. Your opponents are generally intelligent, if a little conservative, at the easier levels.
The racing gives players an OK sense of speed, with motion blurs applied to your opponents and the surroundings to add to the effect. But the fact that the streets are devoid of life apart from your opponents takes away a lot from the adrenalin -- Midnight Club 3 this game is not.
Winning enough races will attract others to join your 'crew'. These new members can race alongside you in crew races, but can also stand in for you in normal meets. Each crewmember has ratings which determine how well they drive, with each race you put them in increasing these ratings. Unfortunately, once you let one of your crew race, there's no way to fast forward, meaning you're forced to sit and watch the computer play against itself.
Juiced certainly does some things well -- its respect system is well thought through, the look of the game is generally impressive, and the racing itself is quite enjoyable. But the game's halfway approach to the genre means hardcore street racing fans may be left wanting for more.
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