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Juiced is finally out - was it worth the wait?
Originally scheduled for a year ago under Acclaim, a spot of bad luck hit, and it was shelved. THQ picked up the title, tweaked it a little, and here it is. Living in the shadow of Need For Speed Underground 2, Midnight Club 3, SRS: Street Racing Syndicate, and many other titles.
I really want to like this title. On paper, it has all the features that we have come to expect, and many weve always wanted in a modern racing game.
Lets start with the basic features. This is a car tuning game. The modding system is nice, although basically a treadmill of mods, but broken up by grade so it is easy to keep track of what you have already installed. For cosmetic mods, you have a nice paint system that has three types of paint and a nice, broad selection of colours, as well as the usual skirting, spoilers, streetglow, etc. It is easy to get a car that looks nice, and easy to tune your car and test it on the dyno - something other games sometimes make a little laborious.
Handling wise, this game is a mixed bag. It is more realistic than Need For Speed Underground 2, but more arcadey than some of the driving sim style games. Accelleration is fast, and if you are skilled you can throw the car round corners at insane speeds, but at the same time it is very easy to spin out and loose control. When you spin, if you hit anything the car often comes to a dead halt. If you mount a kerb going wide on a corner, then you are highly likely to loose all control. Changes to car setup, or swapping to a different car, can mean big diferences in handling too.
Fortunately its playable both on a driving wheel and a normal controller, although re-configuring keys is a bit of a pain because the config section isn't in the game itself, and you have to drop back to windows and run a different program to change the key setup.
Once you are used to the handling you can come to like it, so dont let it put you off, but be warned that it does feel unusual at first.
Graphically, the cars are nice. The scenery is a little dull, but when you are racing you dont really stop to enjoy the graphics do you? The game takes place during the day, which makes the racing much more pleasurable than some of the night drives in other racers. The cars do take damage in the form of subtle dents and scratches, as well as in the form of your repair bill at the end of the race.
The sound effects arent anything special, but they arent bad either. I turned them fairly low so that I could hear the music better. They have a decent sound track featuring mostly electronic and rap, with a tiny bit of rock, although not enough for my tastes. You can add your own tracks, which is a welcome bonus.
=====The Single Player Game=====
Now on to the modes. As usual you get a custom race mode and an arcade mode, plus a multi-player mode which Ill come to later, and the all-important career mode.
In career mode you start out as an unknown racer, and are challenged to a race against T.K from the group Urban Maulerz. If you win that race, you get some money to buy yourself a car, and, more importantly you get some respect.
The respect system in this is slightly different to normal. Instead of one stat, you have multiple respect levels for different racing groups. You earn respect for leading, winning, having a well tricked out car, and driving well. You loose respect for crashing or loosing a race.
As your level of respect increases you gain privileges with each group - to attend races, participate in them, place bets with people, and race them for slips. Having so many groups to earn respect from means that the game takes a long time to get through.
Racing for money or slips can be pretty painful - unlike most games if you are loosing you cant just restart the race - that is registered as a loss, with any respect penalty that would go with it. In a way, this really boosts the adrenaline factor of racing - this isnt a practice run, its REAL.
The problem is, its too real. Its too easy to end up loosing everything. If you loose your good car, and loose races with any backup car that you have, then you can find yourself unable to afford to meet a growing repair bill, lagging in upgrades, and not being able to enter many races. There are free races, but they get rare in the later stages of the game, and the upgrade treadmill to keep up with the competition can be steep.
I did enjoy the career mode, the feel of racing against 'people, earning their respect and then taking their car from them was one that I enjoyed, and the money problems just made me more determined, but the irritations I experienced would probably deter me from playing career mode again.
One of the biggest irritations is building your crew. Racers contact you and ask to join. They usually have low racing ability when they join, and you train them by having them do races in your place. You have to watch the race in real time, and can order the AI to speed up or slow down. The racers are frustratingly stupid, and you will probably suffer many losses increasing their skill.
You need these racers for the team events, where the winner is whichever team has both their cars cross the finish line first.
Racing isnt all circuits or sprints - there is a show off mode where you perform tricks in front of an audience. The tricks are slightly annoying at first, but once you get used to them this mode is pretty easy. Scores increase rapidly as your car gets more modded, making this mode one of the easier ways to get money.
=====Moving on to Multi-Player.=====
This game has several multi player options, this game has several, from console-link, to split screen, to full blown online.
You can have other players join your crew and race in career mode with you, or you can race against players - even for their car if you want. There is a strange satisfaction in taking a car from another player - something Ive longed for since the death of Motor City Online, but the feeling of loosing a car to another player isnt something I really want to face given the other problems with the game. That option is for the brave or the confident only.
This game faces a lot of competition from more well known series. It suffers from its delayed relase, but it is still a great game. The respect system is a brilliant idea, the money / repair bills add realism, even if they are rather unforgiving, and anything that allows you to race for slips is well worth a look.
The team racing is a little clumsy, but in multi player it works well, and the graphics are more than up to scratch. The ability to add your own music to the sound track is something that many other games have lacked.
If you are a fan of racing games, this one is worth adding to your collection. If you arent all that into the genre, then it isnt the most friendly of introductions but it is still worth a look if you are curious.
Im hoping that THQ and Juice Games will listen to the feedback from racing fans and tweak their system a bit - this game shows promise - perhaps for a sequel?