Sept 18, 2007
Bigger, better and more fiercely contested than any race Juiced 2 can muster will be the battle for supremacy between it and Need for Speed: ProStreet. EA's NFS juggernaut had the edge the last time these heavyweights met, but two years later THQ's street racer sequel is pumped up, primed and ready to rock. Perhaps more importantly, it's sneaked out ahead of its bitter rival.
This headstart could turn out to be massive given the growing apathy towards US-centric street racing games (much the same way everyone's bored of World War Two shooters). We're not entirely convinced that the gaming world needs another neon-lit arcade street racer, let alone two within the space of a few months, and so the one that got in there first was always bound to create more interest.
It also helps that developer Juice Games has tinkered, expanded and improved every aspect of the original as well as introducing some great new features. There's no shortage of race types to compete in - both online and off - and the first game's big selling point, an eye-popping amount of car customisation options, has been upped to a staggering tweakage total.
The handling is tighter than before and you certainly feel more in control. With plenty of 90-degree turns on every circuit, you'll need to master the art of keeping your car in the centre of the track and tapping the brake and the handbrake to swing around corners smoothly before accelerating away. Without this technique you'll slam into the barrier and come to a dead stop.
However, there's still plenty of room for improvement should we ever see a Juiced 3. The tracks are uniformly bland and crop up time and time again in every league, which means you'll rattle through many of the events just by virtue of knowing the tracks so well.
The driver AI is decent enough, but the pop-up windows during a race showing them bragging or shaking their fist at you are just annoying. Giving them names like Ken and Bobby in a supposedly "edgy" and "street" scene is laughable too. Juiced 2 is also without doubt the shiniest game ever made, to the point of looking fake and faintly ridiculous - even managing to out-gleam the notoriously neon Need for Speed.
The Career mode sees the biggest changes, and quite rightly too, considering how crap it was in Juiced. The calendar system - whereby you painstakingly picked out free races - is gone, as is shelling out more cash on repairs at the end of every race. This system quickly saw you enter a downward spiral of having no money and being forced to flip through the calendar until the next free race showed up. It won't be missed.
Now, you start in the rookie league and must work your way up from here through leagues seven to one before the going really gets tough in the World Class and final HIN Elite group. Each league contains several challenges and a promotional event that unlocks once you beat a few of these challenges. Complete the promotional event and you move up to the next league. It's simple, no-nonsense and ensures you always have a choice of events to try, no matter how bad you are.
In the lower leagues, there'll be simple objectives such as "place third or above in a US circuit race" and "break the speed barrier of 180mph," but by the time you reach league four you'll be required to complete more difficult tasks like "win a $35,000 driver bet at a Drift event" and "score 1.5 million points in a drift endurance," which means performing one continuous drift without hitting a barrier. Easier said than done.
There are also various circuit and drift tournaments, pink-slip races where you put your car on the line (it's best to hold back on these until you know a track inside out) and drift obliterators in which you need to cross the finish line first, but also have to score a certain amount of drift points on each lap. Eliminator races see you spooking out opponents by driving up their arses until a panic meter peaks and they wipe out. As well as earning points towards unlocking the promotional event, some challenges reward you with bonus visual mods and bonus prototype mod packs to spend on extreme nitrous upgrades which you'll need installed to compete in any extreme nitrous challenge.
Customising your cars is one of the most satisfying parts of the game. Tuning packs for each league improve your motor's power, handling and weight, with the first of three packs for each area of the car already unlocked. The only way to unlock the next two pack levels is to complete one-off challenges such as finishing a lap in a set time without hitting any barriers, or beating a high-powered car in a one-lap race after being given a small headstart.
Chances are you'll earn enough money to build up a steady collection of cars suitable for the different leagues. When you cycle through them at the dealership, you're told which ones are a good drift car, a supercar or a muscle car, and it's a good idea to own one of each - not least because certain challenges impose restrictions on the type of car allowed to enter.
Souping up the inner workings of your car seems pretty dull compared to completely changing how it looks on the outside. If you're really into shows such as the awesome Pimp My Ride, then the unbelievable amount of ways you can tinker with different types of paint, visual mods and decals will be your favourite game feature by far.
The Driver DNA feature also works really well, keeping track of your skills under the broad headings of drifting, circuit and gambling - and rating each of them as wild, sane or cool. Before every race you get to see each player's DNA, allowing you to make an informed choice as to whether to challenge them to a bet. Even if you aren't participating in a race you can still bet on the outcome.
Juiced 2 is by no means perfect, and even with all those improvements, it's still unlikely to win over players put off by the original. They're missing out on an enjoyable arcade racer with more longevity than most thanks to a variety of cool unlocks, comprehensive customisation options and an extensive multiplayer mode. Need for Speed: ProStreet will need to work hard to better it. Game on.