When Acclaim went under in 2004, they left with them a complete version of Juiced which unfortunately was not published last year. THQ picked up the rights and rather than ship it in the current from, which was impressive at the time, decided to overhaul it completely and delay it until Q2 2005 to give Juiced gamers time to get the most out of the game. THQ have been quiet since taking it over as to how the game has changed but we got the chance to take it for a spin a little while ago and even though it was an impressive game when it was originally finished, THQ has added some buff and shine and it is now a contender for racing game of the year.
The game itself hasn't changed too much since THQ took it over. It still revolves around gaining respect from other crews in a fictional city created for the game. Like many other racing games you begin with an amount of cash and have to build your way through various classes to get access to the more respected cars in the game. The game still remains split in two with a career and arcade modes with a custom mode also on offer for those who want to race an exhibition style race.
The career mode which has remained is very much the same as the old version. You start off with no respect and have to buy a car, build it up and race to gain respect. As you gain respect the game becomes more open and the respect is individualized to each crew. One thing that may surprise is that the initial money is actually quite high allowing you to buy either an expensive car with no mods or a cheap car but with the money to add modifications. The cars are split into different categories and each category has certain models to choose from. The calendar has remained and you are still either invited or rejected from race meets.
The big difference between this game and something such as GT4 is the aim of the game. It really is reinforced that collecting cars is not the aim, rather, gain respect and become one of the best drivers in the city. This in some ways better represents the care enthusiast lifestyle as you buy a bomb, mod it up and sell it for a tidy profit before moving on. The cars are highly modifiable and not just in aesthetic terms. You can get under the hood and tune the car as well as run them on Dynamometers to see their full performance off the race track.
The biggest change is the most important and why Juiced is now a 2005 contender. THQ have completely overhauled the engine. Rather than fight with the cars at high speed, you now have a greater level of control of the car and it just seems smoother and even faster than before. In fact at high speed it is comparable to Burnout 3. THQ have not taken the game on an arcade tangent however with the simulation aspect still very much part of the game. The cars feel like real cars, but now they handle like real cars as well. Within twenty seconds of seeing the game in action (we didn't have to play it to notice the difference) you could see the work THQ has put into the game and just how much it has improved.
Juiced still features all the licenses it had before it was moved to THQ with real world manufacturers and cars represented. The damage model remains as well although it does not seem as pronounced as in the original plan. From our time with the game we have not seen a nitrous leak as yet which was one of the most annoying damage options in the former game but this could be related with the changes to the AI now that they drive properly and don't try and run you off the road continuously.
The city has been improved as well. The buildings seem closer to a realistic look rather than the cartoon style look previously featured in the game and at night the game looks even more stunning with headlights viewable on the road - add rain and you have even better graphics for the city so Juiced games have really worked hard on improving the overall visual style. It's probably here we should mention the version we played was Xbox, and we have not as yet seen the PS2 version. The cars are all highly detailed still but there are small nuances that make them seem even more realistic such as the viewable suspension and the way the cars lean around corners.
Juiced was already an impressive game but after what THQ has done with it, it is no doubt on its way to AAA status. Granted, they had a fairly solid base to work on but THQ have left almost nothing unchanged, even the menus are tweaked and this, amongst the other changes, has led to Juiced being significantly better than before and certainly one for racing gamers to look out for in May when it should see release.