I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately discussing car racing video games that attempted to cash in on the Tuner craze of the 2000s. The game that probably went all-in the hardest was Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights. Released in 2007, Juiced 2 was a sort of middle ground between Need for Speed Underground and Need for Speed Pro Street.
Players competed in a racing league. It was set up with divisions, tiers and disciplines, similar to Pro Street. In fact, some of the later leagues even had real-life companies listed as sponsors. But most of the racing took place on city streets, at night, like in Underground, minus the traffic.
Juiced 2 was decidedly arcade in nature, disregarding real life vehicle physics and driving dynamics. Gameplay was somewhat sloppy and devoid of any real-car feel.
But back to the actual racing. So, front-wheel drive cars could drift, in the game alt least, although in fairness, ‘Good Drift Car’ tags were applied to rear-wheel drive cars which handled drifting duties better. It also helped to make the game more accessible to those less familiar with the inner workings of automobiles – a good idea as the game really seemed aimed at those who thought the Tuner scene lifestyle was cool, but weren’t as into cars as a regular gearhead.
Eclectic Mix of Cars
While on the topic of cars, the list may not have been as extensive as games like Gran Turismo, but there was upwards of 100 cars in game that included manufacturers from all over the world. Old Muscle cars, modern exotics, Japan’s best from the 90s; it was all in there. Quite a few European hot hatches were included, a nice touch for North American players maybe not familiar at the time with the likes of the Vauxhall Astra VXR and Renault Megane RS.
The muscle cars included the usual suspects plus a few outside the box ideas like the 1976 Ford Gran Torino and 1971 Chevrolet Camaro. And speaking of oddities, the Melling Hellcat and Ascari KZ1 were in game as well.
Poor Gameplay, But Fantastic Features
As mentioned, the driving dynamics in this game were poor at best, and after awhile the game felt like a grind. Plus, the opponents would rubberband at times as the difficulty increased. But for all the missteps in actual racing, it was the features of the game that kept me comping back for more.
For starters, each league wasn’t set up with the usual win-this-set-of-races-to-advance format. Instead, there were specific objectives to complete like getting a certain amount of airtime during races, beating rivals, winning bets against other players, accumulating drift points, etc. These objectives could be completed on a choice of tracks most of the time and done in any order. Better yet, the career mode could be completed online as if desired, with all races against human opponents instead. It allowed the player to customize their gameplay experience.
When a league was beaten, the player had the option to either upgrade their car to the performance level of the next league or buy a new car from the new tier. Each car had a performance range so buying a car was important as some could be upgraded through many tier levels while others might only be good for one tier only.
Of course, being a game cashing in on the Tuner scene, every car had a plethora of upgradable visual parts, paint options and vinyl options. A cool touch was the pink slip that came with each car. It tracked the value of the car, its win loss ratio, race winnings earned, the money spent on the car, and the history of the car’s owners.
Crews and Bets
The reason the pink slip kept track of previous owners is because it was possible to bet pink slips in game. Prior to a race, a player could bet any of the drivers in the race to a cash bet of various amounts, or for the pink slip to their car. Careful though, lose a pink slip race and the player loses their car. This happened to me once right after I sunk ever last cent I had into my vehicle. I was then stuck with no car and no cash – forced to restart my career.
The real secret to betting in game was to look for the player whose DNA had a high proficiency to gambling, but low driving skill. These were usually easy marks that would accept a player’s high wager, then promptly lose during the race. And if a player needed a break from racing, they could spectate a race and bet on drivers that had various odds, just like going to the horse races.
DNA was used to show what skills an opponent had when it came to driving skills. They were split into different categories like handling, overtaking, spooking, power sliding, etc. This not only helped to determine what type of opponents a player was facing, but also how good potential teammates were.
A player’s DNA was a wholly liquid score in game as it was determined depending on their driving style. Points were given to different DNA categories depending on how well a driver can take corners without crashing, how much they use nitrous, how much they gamble, how much they spooked drivers, etc. Yes, I wrote spooked drivers. It was possible to intimidate opponents by tailgating them long enough that they would spin out and bin their car into a wall.
With Better Racing…
It’s too bad the gameplay wasn’t better as the developers were really onto something with a few of the ideas incorporated into Juiced 2. Maybe the racing was actually better than I remember, although I am sure the barely dressed female models on the loading screens in suggestive poses still seems a bit unnecessary.
I do have fond recollections of trying to execute long chain drifts in my GTO The Judge while jamming away to Queens of the Stone Age pumping Go with the Flow. Maybe it’s time to dust off my copy of the game and fire up my PS3.