Juiced may have suffered one of the most unfortunate delays in videogame history. Originaly due for release by Acclaim towards the tail end of 2004, the game would have compared well to the other games on the market. Need for Speed Underground 2 hadn't yet been released and Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition was many months off. Now, things are different. Midnight Club 3 has taken the street racing genre by the scruff of its neck, and Juiced feels - rather sadly - a year too late.
Now published by THQ, Juiced is a pretty straightforward street racer. You won't find any of the city cruising that you may now be accustomed to after playing MC3 and NFSU2; this is organised street racing, where the roads have been closed off and the traffic has been removed. It's just you and your rivals, making this much more of pure racer. The lack of traffic makes the game far less exhilarating to play as there simply isn't as much of a challenge. It may be "street racing," but it feels like every other circuit based racer ever made.
Juiced doesn't really play like an arcade racer, but it isn't really a sim either. You can't powerslide around every corner, with the handbrake being your new best friend, but the constant brake signs that flash up on the screen aren't very akin to a sim. Juiced definitely seems to have an identity crisis and given the extra development time that the game was given, this is something that should have been sorted out.
Visually the game looks pretty smart. The extra nine months of development time have been used to add some nice bloom lighting, and the frame rate is nice and smooth. The big problem is the general unremarkable track designs. You aren't racing through real cities and the tracks tend to merge together in your mind. Some more variety would have helped things no end. The audio is what you'd expect from a street racer, with tracks from Xzibit, Kasabian and a few other known and unknown artists making up the soundtrack. Xbox owners can of course listen to a custom soundtrack.
The main career mode suffers from some severe design issues that will probably make you want to give up after a while. Progression is based on respect from rival crews and the more respect you earn, the more events appear on the race calendar. Some of these races are free, but most cost money to enter. Upgrading your car (There's a reported 7.5 trillion permutations, but games like MC3 offer better customisability) will move your vehicle into a new vehicle class and new races become available (but you can no longer enter the lower class races).
You generally have the choice of four main event types: Point To Point, Circuit races, Sprints, and Show Offs. The problem comes when you lose a number of races, make some bad money bets and are left with a rather depleted bank balance. As with most class-based racers, it is often best to upgrade your car to the class limit to give yourself the best chance of winning, but even then the AI racers can have surprise races. Because money is so important it is easy to get carried away and bet big money to beat a certain driver; loose a few of these and you have a big problem. You can't afford to enter the big races, so you enter the free races. Seeing as you can't bet much money, your earnings are minimal and after a race you'll probably have to make a few repairs, making their worth minimal.
The only solution seems to be altering your car's performance so you can go down a class, but this doesn't work as well as you'd think. The further along the calendar you move, the harder races become, so simply moving down a class doesn't make things much easier. The only way to get back on track is a lot of patience and some cagey betting. It becomes a real struggle to keep playing as your desire to succeed is sucked out of you. You can build up quite a fortune, but this can all be lost in a few races. Once you hit the bottom it isn't easy to claw your way back up to the top. Of course, you may never experience this problem, and I'm sure careful betting could prevent total disaster, but there is no sure-fire way to guarantee it won't happen.
Something worth noting is the 'pink slip' race. These races give you the chance to put your ride on the line against an AI opponent. These races are one chance affairs, so as soon as you start the race, that's it. Whatever happens, someone is losing a car - this includes an unexpected power shortage. There is no way back once you agree to race. Depending on your personality, you'll probably have mixed feelings on this. For thrill seekers, putting it all on the line may well be something that interests you, but for everyone else, it can be rather demoralising.
There are obviously other game modes, such as the arcade mode that gives a choice of where to race, but it isn't a mode that may people will want to play all that much. The online play is a lot more appealing, especially if you're one of these thrill seekers that I mentioned earlier. The 'pink slip' races are part of the online game modes, allowing you to put your hard-earned cars on the line against other human opponents. It's a really nice touch, but has limited appeal, considering most people simply won't want to potentially throw away all their hard work.
Considering that the smattering of reviews that appeared last year seemed to indicate that Juiced was a more than competent racer, it's hard to see what the extra development time was used for. Given the, probably hugely expensive, advertising campaign that you've no doubt seen online, in print and on the TV, Juiced will no doubt sell quite well, but if you can avoid being pulled in by the advertising, you'd be much better off picking up the far more entertaining Midnight Club 3; a game that knows its audience and plays to it perfectly. Juiced simulates what it may well be like to live as a street racer, but most people want more fun in a videogame.