Most street racing games these days put a unique spin on the genre. Need For Speed Underground 2 buries the player in car choices, customization options, and race types. Burnout 3 lets players wreck dozens of cars in a row and watch the carnage in slow-motion. Midnight Club 3 lets players drive freely inside large city environments that are filled with traffic. By contrast, Juiced takes a formulaic approach to the genre and doesn't really include a notable hallmark feature. There are "only" roughly three dozen different cars, paints, and body kit upgrades, and only a few different race types. Crashes are anti-climactic and discouraged, since they take away from race winnings. Meanwhile, the courses are cordoned off and completely absent of commuter traffic.
On the upside, even though Juiced doesn't go to the same extremes that the current crop of street racers does, it's still very decent in its own right. The courses, although cordoned off, are fairly lengthy and exhibit a fair bit of detail. The handling is realistic enough to give players a feel for drifting, but not so unforgiving that regular people can't just jump right into a game. Race types include circuit, point-to-point, sprint, and trick contest. You can tackle these choices separately in the custom race and arcade modes, or experience them in the career mode, which is highly recommended. In addition to making it possible to unlock rides and earn money toward upgrades, the career mode also lets you put together your own racing team, complete with a garage crew and associated drivers. The missions you get in the career mode will vary based upon your garage crew's desires (some want you to protect the car, some want you to go all out). When you enter a race, you also have the option of driving it yourself or watching one of your associates participate. If you choose to watch, you can relay commands to them during the race, similar to the B-Spec mode in Gran Turismo 4.
Juiced does offer one unique feature that other games don't. You can bet on races--picking yourself or your opponents to win--even to the point that you can wager one of your car's pink slips as collateral. While betting really doesn't change the landscape of the game very much, it is a good way to rack up money more quickly than by simply winning races.
Again, compared to the crop of games that were out a year ago, Juiced looks and sounds pretty good. However, recent games like Burnout 3 and Midnight Club 3 have pushed the PS2 to new heights, which means that Juiced ultimately comes across as stale. The courses are sharp and the textures are smooth, and the frame-rate is rock-solid. Unfortunately, the lack of commuter traffic means that the tracks often feel empty. Also, a lot of the buildings and signs in the background are re-used over and over again. The car models look nice, although the metallic shine is excessive and some of the body shapes are so exaggerated that they look like cartoon vehicles. Likewise, the sound effects and soundtrack are nothing special, although fans of Xzibit, Roni Size, and Talib Kweli will feel right at home.
It's also worth mentioning that the PS2 version of Juiced includes an online mode that lets you race against as many as five other people in online matches--and you can wager pink slips if you want. Too few PS2 games offer online play these days, especially racers, so it's nice that Juiced does. There also isn't any noticeable lag either, at least on a broadband connection.
Ultimately, it's impossible to recommend Juiced when games like Burnout 3 and Midnight Club 3 are out there doing everything it does, and more, in much better fashion. That said, it is a decent street racer in its own right.
6/29/2005 Frank Provo