If you actually remember 2005's Juiced, you've got a better memory than most. THQ and developer Juice Games' unassuming arcade-style street racer did little to set the world on fire. Instead, it offered up a mostly competent take on a well-worn genre that had some interesting, yet flawed, design concepts. Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights is the follow-up to that unmemorable game, and this sequel is equally forgettable. It offers up yet another arcade-heavy street racing experience with driving mechanics that do little to impress, an offline career mode that's laudable only because you don't experience the teeth-gnashing frustration you may have with its predecessor, and presentation that's cut from the same swath that every generic street racer in the world uses. The one, saving grace is the Xbox 360 version's online play, which includes a whole career mode that you can play online against other armchair Paul Walkers. Sadly, PlayStation 2 owners are left on the side of the road with no online play at all.
The world needs a lot of things. A Juiced sequel might not have been one of them, if Juiced 2 is any indication.
Juiced 2 drives like some unholy hybrid of Midnight Club and Midway's old Rush series of arcade racers. There's nothing remotely realistic about the physics or handling of these cars, yet at the same time, the driving isn't so over the top as to be entertaining because of its ridiculousness. It toes the same middle ground as the original Juiced, and like that game, it isn't especially exciting. Sure, there are momentary thrills to be had during the circuit races as you find a quick shortcut to zoom past a rival driver or pull together some ludicrous combo while taking on one of the game's drifting events. But eventually, the imprecision of the car handling and sometimes questionable sense of speed conspire to dull up the proceedings.
The interesting thing is how differently the circuit races and drifting events play. Races are like any other racing game you've ever played, except you may need to get used to the loose-feeling controls. Drift races, on the other hand, are a whole different animal. Even if you're driving a car you just drove normally on a race track, the handling becomes a slippery mess. This was probably done on purpose--this mode is all about drifting your car through turns, but the game basically sends your car sideways with even the slightest twitch of your controller. Your only job is to maintain some level of control and avoid hitting barriers. It's easier said than done. The whole thing feels like the track has been caked in bacon grease, and steering properly under those conditions is a dicey prospect. Still, if Juiced 2 deserves credit for any one thing, it's that even with its control weirdness, it provides one of the least complicated and generally enjoyable interpretations of drifting in a video game thus far. Maybe that isn't saying much given the competition, but it's still worth saying.
Most of the racing takes place inside the game's career mode. Included in the career mode are a variety of race types. There are standard races, eliminator races, team races, standard solo drift events, and wheel-to-wheel drift events. There's also a decent roster of tracks in the game (the track designs are aesthetically different, though functionally similar between the 360 and PS2 versions of the game), though they're the same brand of closed-off tracks as in the first Juiced. There's no open-world racing here, no traffic to avoid. It's just tricked-out rides racing other tricked-out rides in somewhat sterile environments.
One of the big issues with the original Juiced was that its career mode was a frustrating mess. The whole thing relied on a calendar of events, and every time you raced, you had to drop cash for an entry fee, as well as repairing your ride afterward. As time went on, the fees got more and more expensive, making progression more of a chore than anything else. All that stuff is gone in Juiced 2. The only cash you stand to lose in an event is whatever you opt to gamble against another racer (a feature that is entirely optional), and all the events are free to play. On top of that, in place of the calendar is a tiered series of leagues, each with multiple events and goals to complete. The goals are nonlinear and range from simply placing third or higher in a certain type of race to winning a bet of a certain amount or defeating specific rivals on the track. You can actually knock out multiple goals in one race if you know what you're doing.
It's a cool system that actually helps alleviate some of the insane difficulty of the later leagues. As the cars get faster, the issues with car handling are exacerbated, and at the same time, the opponent artificial intelligence goes from merely suspect to completely ludicrous. The game suffers from pure rubber-band AI: When you're ahead, opponents always seem to be close behind; when you're way behind, opponents practically seem to slow down and let you catch up. It's really silly in the early goings because you could be a good 50 yards behind an opponent, but right before the finish line, you'll see him spin out or do something otherwise stupid and let you overtake him. By the same token, opponents in later career tiers have an uncanny ability to just overtake you at will. Suffice it to say, it gets pretty irritating in the later goings.