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Juiced

Time and again Edge has seen the clinical precision with which current technology can render vehicles, yet so often the spirit is absent. The curves are there, but the sense of dangerous speed barely contained - and all that entails for the driver - is not.

So the burgeoning trend towards personalised, customised cars racing in 'lifestyle' oriented events, rather than professionally governed championships, is perhaps unsurprising. Factor in phenomena such as Hollywood's 'The Fast and the Furious' movies and the links with the rap lifestyle, itself a highly marketable commodity, and such a treatment appears to be more than just a niche. And Juiced is squarely aimed at exploiting it.

At first glance similar to EA's Need For Speed Underground, it goes much further by welding on associated aspects such as betting, gathering and directing a 'crew', the mastery of stunts and playing to the crowd. Vitally, it also has a highly pleasing driving model, something the aforementioned title patently lacks. While Juice Games' claims of 'realistic' physics fall short of the mark, the dynamics are authentic enough to please enthusiastic drivers while remaining entirely accessible to more casual players. An early playtest revealed a pleasing weight and depth to the controls, despite the game still having some months in development before its September due date.

Events are spread across a fictional American location, currently called Angel City, and comprise point-to-point dashes, street circuit races, straight drags and cruises. The latter entails simple showing off for the crowds. Obvious patches of rubber-smeared concrete dot the track, and performing the stunts the crowds howl for earns extra points. These points can be multiplied with combos in a way reminiscent of Tony Hawk et al - each trick is named and the cars are supple, capable of drifts, handbrake turns, 360s, reverse spins and doughnuts. Such behaviour also pays off in the races themselves, as the mechanism governing the game is 'respect'. Pull off a 360 while leading and still win, for instance, and you will benefit massively - whereas crashing will lose you respect. Any damage must also be paid for, though there are options to either restore everything or simply mend the vitals. Ragged cars are not well received.

The respect system is linked directly to the player's control of a crew. Success, and an appropriately customised car, gathers admirers, and some will ask to join you. Players can control up to three AI teammates via simple commands - push harder, back off or hold station - in response to their agitation levels (when stressed, drivers are faster but more likely to crash). This means success can come even if the player fails to win, so long as a member of their clan takes it. Who drives which car is also left to the player's discretion, and you need not race at all should you so decide, instead sending out teammates and controlling their pace. Regular running in particular events also sees a skill increase, and further profits are available from gambling - again it's not simply about winning.

The options, although yet to be firmly set, will include such things as any crew member winning, your team finishing 1-2-3-4 or the player beating a specific racer. Races themselves also have varying objectives, and each fresh area of the city is unlocked after a high-stakes race for pink slips. These are the V5s, as vehicle ownership documents are known in the UK, rather than pieces of silky negligee. Given the strangely homoerotic nature of obvious influence '2Fast 2Furious', this is a good thing, though losing your car and all its customising parts remains painful.

The cars themselves cover Japanese 'technology' supercars (the now-familiar Lancers, Skylines and Imprezas), flamboyantly powerful US muscle cars and the impotently furious shopping boxes so beloved of supermarket car park-based youths. These include Civics, Clios and other such nonsensical mumsymobiles, yet the licensed bodykits, alloys, nitrous and turbos mean each of the 50+ vehicles can be sliced and shaped beyond recognition.

Though all this may sound a lot for a new studio to pull off, behind the new name lurk the creators of the highly promising Lamborghini, which disintegrated within weeks of the shelves when Rage succumbed to the dying of the light. EA now owns that game but currently has no plans to release it: when Juiced finally squares up to NFS Underground, we may just find out why.

Juiced is scheduled to appear on PS2, Xbox and PC in September

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