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When Acclaim went under in 2004, they left behind a complete version of Juiced which, from our perspective, turned out to be quite an impressive game, but unfortunately it was delayed for a year to get it up to THQ standards. THQ was relatively quiet about the game until a few months back when they sent a build out for preview. Throughout the development process we've had a chance to see both the THQ and Acclaim versions change until finally the game was finished. Last year it was impressive because it was the first to market, this year it has a lot more competition and while it has some unique features, it doesn't really stack up.
Juiced in a way has a storyline and that is to become the biggest and most known racer in the city. To do this you gain respect by winning races and winning them fairly without crashing and bashing into other cars. You start off with a small amount of cash to buy a car and from there the city is your oyster, although the game is not open ended and rather has structured races which is a shame. There are two primary game modes - arcade and career, plus the online features as well.
The career mode hasn't changed much since THQ took the game over and in a way this doesn't surprise us. As with most racing games you buy a car, win cash and build it up before selling it and getting a better car. You have to be careful however as the class you race is determined by horsepower which can make it confusing for those not that familiar with cars. It works better because the game is much more balanced to start with.
Once you gain enough respect you can host your own races or challenge others for pink slips. This is a nice touch to the game and makes it quite easy to build up your garage quickly, if you have a fast enough car. You can also challenge others for Pink slips online but it appears that this won't take off and may be prone to cheating because no one wants to lose their car after pouring hours into it. Another unique feature to career mode is the crew feature. As you become more prominent you can setup a crew of races to drive in tournaments and can give them instructions during the race. This adds another level of strategy to the game but it's not as fleshed out as it could have been.
The other mode which is probably easier to get into is the arcade mode. This gives you a selection of a few cars and as you win races you progress further into arcade championships unlocking more cars and tracks for use. We enjoyed this a bit more because despite progress THQ has made with career mode, it still is quite hard to get a grip of in terms of progressing and gaining respect. In both modes the racing is impressive and quite fun to play but the AI is a bit lacking. They don't run you off the road, but they don't really defend their line either when going for an overtake and seem to get rattled (via the ! Icon) rather easily to give you respect in positive or negative ways. The engine was completely overhauled and it really shows with the game a lot easier to play and a lot more pick up and play than it was.
While the game has real cars from official manufacturers, the aim of the game is not to collect as many as possible. Most of the time you will only have one or two cars to play around with and that's because there is a huge emphasis on building a car up, and selling it for maximum profit rather then having all the cars in the game. The cars are well modeled but seem a bit shiny to be photo realistic and the damage model is very lackluster. The cars do damage and it can greatly affect your race such as a NOS Leak where you lose your nitrous gradually if not used.
The visuals are really a like or loathe aspect. They are not photorealistic and nor has THQ tried to make it that, it's more a mix of cel shading with realistic textures and ultimately it has turned out quite well. It's not a bore to look at but you're not going to mistake it for the real thing either. The graphics engine has changed in a few small ways such as reflective surfaces in the wet and a stable framerate during inclement weather. The sound effects and soundtrack are extremely well done and if you have 5.1 surround, you will get the best out of this game.
Juiced may have been last to market but is by no means in last place. It's no NFS Underground 2 or Midnight Club 3 but it is a worthwhile addition to any racing game fan's library with its unique features, strong career mode and easy pick up and play engine.