Review by trancejeremy
"Fun, but lacking in some areas"
There have been a number of street racing games in the last year or so. Street Racing Syndicate, Need For Speed Underground 2, Top Gear RPM Tuning, Midnight Club 3. And now comes Juiced from THQ, though it was originally going to be released before any of those titles were, but it's publisher, Acclaim, went out of business. THQ bought the rights and decided to put it out about a year later, albeit with some enhancements. Was it worth the wait? Yes and no. The game is fun, but lacks many of the feature in the many street racing games released in the past year.
Gameplay is basically calender based. That is, there's a calender with a list of events on them in which you can race. Or, and this is the key to the game, you can host your own racing event, setting the race type, type of competitors (both class and specific, like what country and what manufacturer), how many laps, etc.
Once you go to an event, you can either race yourself (or enter a crew member of yours) or simply watch the race and bet on which car you think will win.
There are 3 main types of races - point to point, circuit (ie, laps), and spring (basically drag racing). There are a lot of tracks in the game, each set in an area "owned" by a given crew (I think 4 circuit, 2-3 point to point, 1 sprint). You apparently own an oval race track and can hold races there, but you have to earn the right to hold events at other crew's tracks, and even attend races they are holding on their own tracks.
Each race is one of 8 different classes, based on horsepower. Class 8 is 100-199 hp, Class 7 is 200-299 hp, and so on, until Class 1 which is 800 hp and up. This pretty much ensures very close races, though it does seem to bias the game towards smaller cars.
Racing itself is pretty fun. While not completely realistic, it's very much towards the realistic end of the spectrum than arcade. You will need to brake before going around turns.
There is damage, but it's largely cosmetic (though the cosmetic damage is nicely detailed, and you do run the risk of losing your nitrous when damaged enough). However, you really do need to avoid hitting other cars, because you will lose reputation if you do so. So while you can hug the rails a bit, you do have to be careful not to hit anyone.
The AI is okay for the most part, but occasionally baffling. It's tricky to judge the AI in Juiced because it really is trying to simulate intelligence - each AI driver is rated for their driving skills and "composure", the tendency to make mistakes when they are pressured. Sometimes they try to avoid you, sometimes they spin you out.
The game is actually somewhat hard at first. You generally only win money if you win the race or come in second, and you will almost always have to pay to repair your car afterwards.
I've played a lot of racing games, and I was struggling to break even until I learned the trick to make easy money - hold a Class 1 sprint race and bet all your money on the Viper (which will almost always win since it's much faster than its opponent, the Corvette).
Sprint racing in this is somewhat similar to that of other games (most notably Need for Speed: Underground), in that you have to shift manually. But what sets it apart is that you race in heats of 3. Each heat you have a different starting position. Even though most sprint tracks are just straight ahead (a few curve a little) and have no obstacles (unlike the NFS:U series, where you have to dodge things like trains), this provides fairness. That is, if you screw up or have the AI run into you, but have the better car, you can probably still win the event.
Crew racing is basically the big innovation that Juiced offers. These are team races, where groups of 2 or 3 crew members race against other crews. Basically, while you race (or while you simply watch, the AI can race instead of you as well), you can set how aggressively they drive - Low, Medium, or High. While you can simply leave it on high for sprint races, in longer ones you have to actively manage the aggression settings, as leaving it on "High" will cause the AI to eventually lose it (they do this gradually, they start to sort of wobble, and eventually they spin out) and "Low" is simply too slow to win.
This is a neat idea, and works pretty well in a race itself, but the crew bit is implemented a bit too simply, I think. First off, drivers only have 2 skills - composure and driving skill. Driving skill is self explanatory, but composure indicates how well they can handle the pressure of being tailgated by other drivers before slipping up. These skills improve fairly rapidly, too. Something like the Drivatar system from Forza Motorsport would have been better, where the AI is rated at types of driving maneuvers.
Similarly, the choice of your crew members is very simple - there isn't any. You are apparently stuck with Vito, Chief, and Amber. Which kind of makes having a "Crew Concept" difficult. For instance, say I wanted to make a crew called "The Village People". Chief might fit in, but Amber and Vito really wouldn't (well, maybe if he wore a leather jacket & pants).
All the AI portraits in the game are pretty bad looking, basically what computer rendered people looked like about 10 years ago. The sims from the original Sims look more realistic than these people, much less the ones from the Sims 2.
Car modification is solid, but not particularly deep.
As mentioned, cars are divided into 8 different classes, based on horsepower. So you want to sort of max out the horsepower in a given class.
Each car generally has 4 different upgrades in a few basic areas: intake, tires, turbo, exhaust, suspension, nitrous. The first level is unlocked from the start, but the 2nd and third get unlocked by using that car model in a race. Just racing it unlocks the part. The 4th level of upgrade is special, "Prototype" and has to be won in a special race which happens a couple times a month.
Body part upgrades basically work the same. But generally at start, only the stock parts are available, racing the car model will unlock an additional option each time it is raced. At least for bumpers and hoods and sideskirts, different wheels and neons are all unlocked at start.
You can either fiddle with permutations of the various parts on your own, or you can take the car to a tuning shop, where they will automatically figure out which combination of parts will give you the best results in each class. This saves a lot of time, and is useful, since you will likely have a lot of cars for the crew races. (Something like this is really needed in Gran Turismo, where it can take 5 minutes to mod a car with all the best parts, as opposed to 10 seconds here)
There are basically 2 neat features to visually modifying your car. First off, the decals of the upgrades you use are automatically applied to your car. Like if you use Nos, Bridgestone Tires, AEP brakes, etc, their sticker goes in a certain spot in your car. Kinda neat, though you can toggle this off if you don't like it (you can also adjust the color).
Also very cool, it's got the most detailed paint system I've seen. Rather than a limited number of preset colors, you can pretty much pick any out of a huge palette (based on RGB values). Then, you can pick the "metallic" color (sort of the shiny color), and on top of that, the "pearlescent" color (sort of a different color at a different angle). You can come up with some really cool looking paintjobs.
There's only a limited number of decals (or vinyls), none of them all that attractive. So, overall, if you are mostly interested in customizing cars, then Juiced really isn't the game for you.
The car list in the game is pretty good. Probably one of the best mixes I've seen in a game. Most games either favor certain regions, but this has cars from almost everywhere - Europe, US, Japan, Australia. The only real exception is the apparently lack of Hyundais (from Korea). And missing is the new Mustang, but that is perhaps explained by the original release date for this game (last summer, before that car came out). Only one Skyline, too, which is a plus in my book.
On the other hand, while the mix is nice for the most part, it's lacking at the top end. There's really nothing that can compete with the Viper. Because the car classes in the game are grouped by horsepower, the Viper is generally put in the same class as the various Muscle Cars. But the Muscle Cars are much heavier, and thus much more tricky to handle.
And older cars are simply geared differently - back then, you were lucky if you had 4 gears, and so even though they have lots of horsepower, they only top out at 130-150, compared to the Viper's 6 gears and top speed of 230-250. Most games sort of gloss over this, but to it's credit, Juiced doesn't. But it also doesn't provide a solution, like say Forza, which lets you install a new transmission in the muscle car with gearing to go faster.
I bought this for the PC because it was much cheaper than the Xbox version ($20 on sale, vs $50 for the Xbox version). However, I find it somewhat hard to drive with my gamepad (a cheap Microsoft Sidewinder, no analog stick, just a D-pad). Cars tend to either understeer or oversteer too much, but that could just be me. You can adjust the settings quite a bit for the controller, but the way you do it is something of a pain (it's an external program).
On my PC, a AMD 64 3400 with 1 gig of ram and a lowly GeForce FX5200 (just about the worse "modern" video card, according to Tom's Hardware's benchmarks), I had to set the graphics settings to the lowest levels to get a decent frame rate, though I am using Shader 2.0 (which I probably shouldn't, due to my weak video card).
However, the graphics are still pretty nice looking. Cars look a bit like matchbox models, but there's little draw-in/pop-up, the tracks are well detailed (including 3D spectators, not cardboard cut outs), there's weather effects (rain, mostly) and the lighting is good (tracks have 3 or 4 different times of day).
I can't really comment on sound, since I disabled it to get an improved frame rate.
All in all, it's actually a pretty good game, and actually quite a bit different than its competitors. It also features an excellent car list (perhaps the best I've seen in a game which only 50-60 cars) and nice graphics.
There's a lot of room for improvement, though. While the Crew racing is neat, it's somewhat shallow - you just have a name and 2 skills for each driver. Maybe not a full fledged carpg or something like "The Sims: Juiced", but something more like Forza's drivatar ratings would be nice.
And the basic gameplay, while addictive, perhaps needs a bit more depth as well. Free roam through the city would be cool. The class system, while a nice try at balancing races, breaks down with the Viper - it's pretty much the best car of classes 5 through 1, simply because it's geared to go much faster than anything else.
If you just want to get 100%, the game will probably only last a couple of weeks, but it keeps generating new races, so you can presumably play it forever without running out of them. And frankly, the game is fun enough that I can see myself playing it from time to time a year from now. So I give this game a B-, or in terms here, a 7.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/29/05
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