Written by: Rik

Date posted: April 22, 2014

Check me out, ruining my tyres.

Check me out, ruining my tyres.

In the very recent past this writer, in an attempt to make an argument in favour of arcade racing games presenting a short and sharp challenge instead of a long-running battle of attrition through a series of races on largely-identical circuits, made mocking reference to an ‘endless career mode with…sneakily re-hashed assets’ that would inevitably involve ‘a young kid arriving on the racing circuit with a dream of earning respect on the streets.’ On a completely unrelated matter, here’s a review of Juiced, a game in which you are tasked with earning maximum respect on the streets by grinding through as many different races and other sundry challenges as it takes to do so. Let’s go!

Juiced is a street-racing game in the mould of Need for Speed: Underground, although it does away with the pretence of the action taking place on public roads – there is no traffic to be seen anywhere, and whoever is responsible for organising the various events in the game appears to have a healthy regard for public safety, with all the relevant paperwork in order for the streets to be cleared and marked with the appropriate signage. In most other respects, though, it’s similar to NFS:U – with circuit-based, point-to-point, and drag racing forming the bulk of the action, with the occasional bit of twatting-around-while-doing-wheelspins (known as ‘showoff’ here) thrown in for good measure, although there are a number of additions and innovations.

As usual, the main event is the career mode, during which you attempt to earn the ‘respect’ of eight rival racing crew leaders. As is the tradition, you begin with a little money and a rather puny selection of vehicles, but are offered support in your early career by a rather altruistic and easily-pleased chap, who also happens to be one of the other crew leaders. T.K (groan), leader of the Urban Maulerz (double groan) is happy to give you ‘respect’ for not finishing last in circuit races, of which there are many. Other crew bosses can be won over with good performances in the sprint events (drag racing) or showoffs, while others are only moved by the size of your car collection, how much you bet on the outcome of races or how often you race for ‘pink slips’ (if you haven’t seen The Fast and the Furious, this means you race for ownership of the loser’s car).

Racing in the mud and rain provides more of a rally-style experience.

Racing in the mud and rain provides more of a rally-style experience.

While crew bosses are most impressed according to their own particular preferences, their level of respect can also be positively affected by generic good performance or making/winning bets. You can also lose points for poor performance, refusing a bet (or a pink slip race) or by colliding with them and causing damage during a race. At the end of each event you’re presented with a summary of where you stand with each boss and how your most recent performance has affected those standings. To complete the career mode, you need to earn maximum respect from all crew bosses, as well as completing all of the individual solo challenges they set you (well, this is what the manual says, although I’m not sure what ‘maximum’ means – I reckon it’s probably 1,000 respect points based on my own experience, although I never got beyond 98% completion, but online FAQs suggest it may be as high as 1,500).

In the equivalent mode in Need for Speed: Underground, your hand is held to the extent that it’s almost impossible to do something wrong, other than by driving like a moron. In fact, you kind of stop paying attention after a while and just let all of the superficial nonsense wash over you until you do what you need to in order to get to the next race. By comparison, Juiced gives you very little help at all – there’s an option to take ‘advice’ but this assistance seems to be limited to indicating whether you have the vehicle necessary to take a challenge from a crew leader (more on which later) and is otherwise fairly useless. It’s a little bit overwhelming, to be honest, although I suppose you could say it’s good to actually encourage the player to engage with what they’re supposed to be doing rather than sleepwalking through the menus.

Juiced, though, arguably takes this to extremes by allying this structure with an auto-save system that is, at best, a little punitive and, at worst, a game-hobbling deal-breaker. In Juiced, your mistakes and losses are permanent. You can’t just restart a race if you mess up a corner – you have to do your best and take a loss on the chin. On the one hand, you can sort of see what they were trying to do here – make your actions actually have consequences, a bit like a football game where defeats are part and parcel of the experience. But the implementation, or at least the balance, is all wrong. If you play as the makers intended, Juiced becomes a battle to break even financially: money worries are all-encompassing, and the end is only ever a couple of extravagant impulse-bets away.

I'm going to blame my team for this.

I’m going to blame my team for this.

For me, the ability to restart a race is a fundamental part of an arcade racer. If all of the messed-up corners in other racing games had counted against me as they do here, I would never have made it past the first few races in any of them. In many ways, yes, a restart is a cop-out, but to ask the player to produce consistently error-free driving in order to succeed is unreasonable, particularly when the game doesn’t exactly play fair, as is the case here. Juiced still features unwelcome genre hallmarks such as catch-up logic, underpowered cars (or poorly-skilled drivers – or both) that mysteriously go faster than you, not to mention the occasional bit of inept opponent AI that makes other drivers smash into you and completely ruin your race (which leaves you tearing your hair out as your inevitable defeat is compounded by crew leaders losing respect for you because of the damage you supposedly caused when it was all their fault – the frustrated gamer may well find him/herself wondering how to register a loss of respect for an opponent, only to find that there is none: it’s all very one-sided, this quest for respect on the streets). Juiced simply doesn’t have the finesse to justify omitting the quick restart that provides an easy escape from the kinds of issues that so easily afflict games of this type.

Another gripe would be that you’re really not provided with enough information on vehicle performance. The BHP of a car is what’s used to determine what class it falls into (there are 8 in total) and though any fiddly tinkering associated with modification of stock parts can be bypassed here, there’s not much in the way of help in terms of the potential of available vehicles (although to be fair, you don’t tend to lose too much money if you end up selling one that you’ve changed your mind about). Visual mods are also rather expensive, and with money at a premium during the early stages, there seems little point in splashing out when there’s virtually no return in terms of ‘respect’ and you could lose the car in a pink-slip race anyway. Having been warned about the auto-save system and associated money shortages, I purchased a mouthwash-blue Honda CRX for very little and only spent money on performance mods – not only was this a wise decision in terms of the game, but I also took a perverse amount of pleasure from winning races while driving a vehicle that I might have borrowed from my grandparents ahead of a field of heavily-stylised opponents. But perhaps that’s just me.

Graphically the game holds up pretty well, although in replays the cars do appear to skate over the top of the road.

Graphically the game holds up pretty well, although in replays the cars do appear to skate over the top of the road.

An obvious solution to the Juiced’s auto-save system – and one that I recommend making use of for the sake of your sanity – is to make occasional backups of the save and restore it manually should you get into serious difficulty. Okay, it may be considered cheating, but in my view, it’s necessary (and also, if you’ve bought the game, it’s up to you to decide how you want to try and extract some pleasure from it). It’s natural to progress on adrenaline, accept another race immediately after a victory, or bet big on one after a damaging defeat, only for a bad call to undermine several hours of work. Of course, once you go down this road of self-regulating the difficulty, the temptation to never accept defeat becomes greater, and it would be a strong man/woman indeed to came up with a fair system (although the save/copy process is of course a bit of a pain to administer and represents somewhat of a deterrent in itself). I would say, though, that even if you were able to save after every race, there’d still be plenty of challenge remaining.

It’s a shame, because elsewhere there’s much to admire. The driving model is a rather satisfying arcade/simulation hybrid, which rewards execution of sensible fundamentals such as braking in a straight line and accelerating through bends without requiring the use of a steering wheel or analogue controller to do so successfully. Some of the more enjoyable moments are to be found in completing the relatively low-key solo challenges presented by each crew leader, which involve either beating a lap time, completing a ‘perfect lap’ (ie with no crashing) or maintaining a minimum speed for the duration of a lap. Mercifully, you are able to restart these challenges if you mess up, and they do actually teach you some of the skills necessary to well in the main game. Lap time challenges show you how to really get the most out of your car, perfect laps dissuade you from bouncing off the scenery, while speed challenges underline how much momentum is lost through flashy powerslides. Each challenge must be completed in a specific car, too, forcing you to get to grips with the handling of a number of different vehicles regardless of your own preferences.

Racing opponents can be satisfying, too, and although some kind of catch-up mechanism is employed here, it is altogether less obvious than in other titles, and you do generally feel as if you are racing real opponents rather than AI drones. Juiced employs a technology known as DIStress(tm) which essentially means that opponent vehicles can sense when you’re tailgating them and become affected, to the extent that they may lose control and spin out if your pursuit is sustained. (An arrow indicates if an opponent is tailing you, and if you’re as nervy under pressure as I am, then it can induce similar results in their favour). An evenly-matched 1-1 or pink slip race can really be rather exciting, and for better or worse, such excitement is heightened by the fact that you’re supposed to win first time – the lack of a restart, while flawed, does focus the mind under such circumstances, it has to be said.

That's one dope ride, yo.

That’s one dope ride, yo.

Team racing is also an interesting concept. At various points throughout the career mode, other drivers will contact you on your (2005-era) mobile phone and offer to join your crew. You should accept (there’s no downside) and then you’ll be able to participate in team events, which are normally circuit races except the winner is the team whose drivers all finish first. Your responsibilities include providing the cars for all crew members, setting their aggression levels (too high and they are more prone to being stressed out by opponents; too low and, well, they just don’t drive very fast) and of course driving well yourself. These events aren’t without issues – your crewmates are a bit crap at overtaking AI opponents if they fall behind and are very good at ramming you out of the way and messing up your race – but when it all works, it can be very satisfying. If your crew are good enough, and are given good enough cars, then a sensible strategy is to let them lead while you hold off the rest of the field.

There are elements of the open-ended structure that work quite well, too. In the absence of being force-fed any stats about what car is best for what, I noticed at one point that a particular car always seemed to win the sprint races for a certain class, despite not having the highest BHP (the most easily-accessible bit of information about each car). As an experiment, I decided to purchase that car for myself and tune it up to see if I could improve my results. It worked – and having used some initiative to make that decision, the wins were all the more satisfying. I also liked the fact that you can use the facility to host races as a relatively low-risk way of unlocking upgrades (you have to use a newly acquired car to be able to mod it), test out handling, and develop your crew’s skills. Also, after a while, when you’ve built up a reserve of cash and are familiar with the best vehicles, you realise that losing a pink-slip race isn’t exactly catastrophic and more a matter of taking a cash hit – simply buy the same vehicle again and apply the mods (which will already be unlocked) and you’re back where you were before.

There’s enjoyment to be had here, but Juiced makes you work hard – perhaps too hard – to earn it. My own experience involved the game crashing with a memory error (if you have more than 2GB RAM – grab the patch to get around the problem) and then again every time I tried to adjust the controls (I couldn’t find a fix for this and so had to use keyboard controls as the default joypad setup just didn’t work for me). Such issues could probably just be a peculiarity of playing something several years after release, although it’s not the kind of thing that’s usually a problem, but then on top of those you have the whole issue of having to manipulate the save system manually in order to achieve some balance.

The Viper is a bit of a slippery beast, but it's the best car in the game.

The Viper is a bit of a slippery beast, but it’s the best car in the game.

Even having done so, you do feel rather hectored by the game. In general, you feel as if it is happening to you, rather than something you’re in control of, pushing you into decisions that you’ll later regret. The music, of the type you’d expect for this sort of title, will give you a headache as you try to navigate the menus and work out what you’re meant to do next. Once you’re at the level at which you can race others for pink slips, your phone won’t ever stop ringing with someone or other challenging to you a race, to the extent that you dare not dawdle on any menu for fear of being goaded into a challenge. Of course, you can say no, but that just means you’ll lose respect points that will take significant effort to claw back (it’s not like you can race your crap cars for pink slips, either – they’re only ever interested in your best ones). At times it seems as if all the pestering and micromanagement is designed to distract you from the repetitive nature of the racing itself. Although Juiced isn’t alone in this, it does follow the template of the era by forcing you through the same, or similar, tracks over and over again. As time passes, you recall familiar corners and sections, but are never able to – or are ever required to – master any of them to any great extent.

Bearing in mind Juiced’s history – it was ready for release in 2004 but publisher Acclaim went bust, only for THQ to pick it up and give the developers some more time to work on it – for it to have such fundamental issues with the career mode really doesn’t really make much sense. There are other puzzles, too, such as the unnecessary (and really rather unhelpful) on-screen exhortations to BRAKE NOW! or SLOW DOWN! – instructions which, if you followed them, would result in certain defeat. (You can train yourself to ignore these, of course, although in the heat of the moment a certain instinct to do what you’re told does occasionally take hold). I should point out that there is an arcade mode, which removes all such complications in favour of some fairly standard circuit-based racing, but it all seems rather lightweight and insubstantial when compared with the main event which, with some tweaking, could have been really good.

Juiced7

Oh yeah? Well, I lose respect for all of you on account of your terrible acting.

And that goes for the game in general. Juiced had the potential to be something really enjoyable, if not terribly original, but although it has all the necessary ingredients, they’re served up in a way that only the generously-minded and patient gamer will persevere with. Others might well point to a number of competitors, many of which are older than this (NFS: Underground or Midnight Club 2 if it’s street-racing you’re after, or either of the TOCA Race Driver games if you want a good arcade/sim hybrid) as better balanced and well-executed titles. Still, there’s plenty of good stuff here, if you’re willing to go find it.