There's a lot to like about Juiced. It's got a very clean interface, the racing is fast, and the customization isn't even remotely a chore. Being able to do tricks with your car is also a hoot. I'd be lying if I said the game was perfect, though. Far from it.
It's kind of hard to decide where to start with this. On the plus side, the racing is an intriguing mix of sim and arcade physics, the betting system is most interesting, and I absolutely love the driving team aspect of the game. On the other hand, this game can be absolutely infuriating. Let's start with the good and see where that takes us.
One of the best parts of Juiced is the team racing dynamic. As you progress through the game, you recruit a variety of non-player characters to race for you. The more they race, the better they get, and the more they win. Giving them a fast car doesn't hurt, either. You cannot directly control how they drive, but you can adjust their driving style. They come with either high, medium, or low aggression racing styles. High aggression tends to lead to lots of turbo and mistakes, but can also bump you up a place or two when you really need it. Medium is a normal racing style, while low is mostly for maintaining a position during a race. Once you get your drivers trained (which only takes a few races, really) and get the hang of managing their racing style (I've found that micromanaging in tight races works wonders, but free reign in average races is a-okay), this mode can be a ton of fun. It's a little frustrating to see them make mistakes that you would've avoided, but that comes with not actually doing the races yourself.
Career mode involves racing for money and respect points, which are a kind of experience point. Earn enough respect points and a representative of the AI racing crews will eventually give you the right to attend, race, and host races for them. You gain a certain amount of points after each race, and these are divvied up between a number of crews, depending on the type of race, how you bet, and a few other factors. Since the points you can earn tend to be split among two or more crews, and the respect points meters go well past one thousand points, you're basically guaranteed hours upon hours of gameplay, particularly if you're pushing for 100%.
The other big feature in the game is gambling. Gambling is more fun than it has any right to be. It's fairly simple: When racing, you can bet that you'll beat another car or two. When watching a race, you bet on who's going to win. There really isn't much to it beyond that. You'll have to learn how to read the odds, skill, composure and horsepower ratings of the drivers, but "more is better" is usually a good rule to follow.
Believe me, you'll be betting often. Particularly when you earn the right to race for pink slips, win three out of four laps, take one turn poorly on your final lap, and then watch as the other driver passes you and wins your fully upgraded ride. You'll have to bet just to regain enough cash to buy another car. I mentioned earlier that Juiced is a weird blend of sim and arcade racing. What we end up with is a system that encourages car stunts in one (very cool) mode, and then punishes you eagerly for making any mistakes in another mode. Car damage costs you money, so be ready to pay up. You'll take a corner in what starts out as a clean fashion, only to slide out of control and scrape the wall.
Even better, you lose respect points when you damage other cars in addition to taking damage. Normally, this would be a totally sensible feature. Here, though, you also lose respect points if, say, you're coming around a bend and an AI driver comes screaming around the corner and sideswipes your ride. That is a very unfair way to lose points and money. There's nothing quite like losing two-thirds of your winnings to repairs because another driver has no business being behind a wheel.
The racing itself could've used a bit more balance. The cars are divided into classes according to their horsepower. This means that if your car has, say, 299 horses under the hood, it's the best in class seven. If it has 301, it barely even rates in class six. My first race with my new class six Camaro was a fun one. I thought my car was awesome with its 327 finely-tuned horses. I got smoked by three cars who had 375 plus. Most racing games will set the AI cars either at your level or relatively close to it. Not Juiced, no sir. Not a chance.
That is by far my biggest problem with the game. It seems like the only way to get ahead sometimes is to down-tune your car so that it's at the top of a certain class, stockpiling money as you win races, and then upgrading to the top of the next class. This leads to wins that aren't necessarily easy, but are a great deal more likely than racing with a more natural progression. That's not fun. There's being difficult and then there's work. The lopsided race balancing turned the racing into a chore, and no one likes doing chores. When the most important part of your game is a chore, you've got a serious problem. It feels like you have to exploit the system to win.
Juiced graphics are well-textured, but still manage to feel lackluster. There really aren't any stages that stick out as something new. It's a crying shame that these tracks feel as generic as they do.
At best, Juiced is a mediocre ride. It's got a few shiny bits in the form of the team racing and gambling portions, but then the rough edges come roaring out of the gate and kill whatever joy you had at playing the game.