Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights
22nd Jan 2008 | 11:33
The rise of achievements, those little popups that reward us with arbitrary scores for in-game acts, has mostly passed us by in PC Land. We've fired a few gnomes into space (Half-Life 2: Episode Two) and like the idea of a Gamerscore in Gears of War, but at the moment, they're a curiosity. In Console Land, they're everything.
Take Juiced 2, the latest chav-'em-up to try and take a chunk out of Need for Speed's car-upgrading, bonnet-pimping and street-racing mega-sales. It's a biggish game on consoles, and worth a curious peek.
Progress in Juiced 2 doesn't just come about from winning races. Its career mode is laid out as a series of tasks you must complete in any event before progressing to the next level. Some are smart, fun ideas: spook out the crazy lady in the Audi by punting her off the road, achieve 180mph on a straight, win a tournament, come third in a drift competition...
Others are more tedious and underthought: complete a race without touching the concrete barriers, or don't dip beneath 50mph in a hotlap (despite the automatic gearbox pinching just above 50mph, and instantly dropping three mph).
A constant stream of races to be won would be dull, but this allows you to pick and choose challenges, and avoid some of the tedium of repeating the same circuits. It's a good idea.
There's a problem, though. For all the smart design off the track, Juiced drives like a dog on crutches. On ice. In straight lines and smooth corners, cars are stiff, almost rooted to the road. There's very little give, as if you're driving on rails. But touch the brakes, or move into anything more than the shallowest of bends, and the back end flips out and suddenly you're screeching sideways.
You can understand why the handling model plays so fast and loose: arcade racers like Daytona and Sega Rally have made great hay from kerazy, wheel-smoking antics. Juiced tries hard to match them but it doesn't work. The handling model isn't quite as fun and relaxed - you can't seem to spin 360 degrees, for instance. But neither does it fit with the 'it could be real' fantasy that surrounds the game.
Juiced sets itself in the real world, with real cars, real places and real manufacturer's brands. In between races, you can fiddle with cosmetic mods to your chosen car. I took an Audi TT and lowered the suspension, then bought branded 18in rims, bucket seats and an enormous spoiler. (I then tried to draw a yoghurt-slinging phallus using the logos of the 3 mobile network, a random tyre manufacturer, and some pre-made white explosions, but I'm not going to encourage that kind of behaviour.)
The point: if you're going to use such detail from the real world, you're setting expectations for how cars should behave on-track. That Juiced doesn't match those expectations is its greatest failing.
Other problems: a horrifically irritating commentator, endless night-time city tracks and some woeful plastic characters. Also the fact that the only gamepad it'll work with is an Xbox 360 controller for Windows.
But, with a similar career structure and a better, more sophisticated and subtler on-track engine, Juiced 3 really could be an achievement.