Gaming has gone pop. Once nothing more than the logical evolutionary step for gangs of bespectacled Dungeons and Dragons "uber-nerds", it's now mainstream in a big way. Proof? The Urban Race Simulator.

X Box Games: Juiced

Thankfully, Juiced makes genuine efforts to levitate itself above the potential pop stereotype. There are four main game modes: arcade, career, custom race and multiplay (both offline and online). In the career mode, you begin by purchasing a lowly car that's neither physically attractive nor technically impressive, before personalising it with a plentiful array of mods. With that achieved, you head through a mix of street, sprint and show-off meets and as your reputation grows you can access more features and earn more money.

This potential complexity is elegantly handled via an enlightened interface. Events can be selected on a calendar, and a Nokia mobile phone is used to organise potential meets, chat with crew members and learn about cars for sale. This is the culture that we perceive exists and Juiced does an excellent job of making you feel like part of the whole "Fast and the Furious" phenomenon.

Unfortunately, another integral part of this subculture is its urban playfield - a part Juiced ignores in shunning an open city landscape. You don't weave in and out of traffic as it criss-crosses across your path or improvise shortcuts on the fly. Hardly in tune with the culture it's seeking to ape.

Still, there's plenty to do and gamers will cruise through eight environments and evolve through a wonderful bounty of cars and modifications. Car lovers have access to licensed vehicles from over 50 manufacturers and they look, sound and move beautifully. To counter this wide range of vehicles, events are broken up in accordance to each entrant vehicle's BHP (Brake Horse Power).

Thus, good management of the nine categories of mechanical modifications is required. For example, upgrading your turbo and exhaust will raise your BHP, so you better have the dollars to match it with better tyres and brakes. This requires a lot of focus on test driving and dynamometer work, which racing fans will dig, but is somewhat askew from its core MTV audience.

More in tune is the ability to build and control a crew, allowing you to dish out orders such as "be more aggressive" during a race. This is quite cool and, with the pre-race betting, provides a solid undercurrent of strategy to each meet. Shame about the AI though. They challenge you like V8 racers, but react like Volvo drivers, which can make for some frustrating gaming.

The presentation is equally wayward. The cars look fantastic and the environment is solid, but there's nothing particularly adventurous going on. Where is the atti­tude and gloss? This isn't helped by the repetitive vocal SFX and the fact that the rush of nitro is never truly captured. And that pretty much sums up Juiced, it makes a good fist of the racing genre, but never quite captures the vibe of an Urban Race Simulator.

Score Card

Visuals: Pretty cars and a smart interface

Audio: Some repetitive vocal SFX

Gameplay: Good car physics

Developer: Juice Games

Publisher: Acclaim

URL: www.juicedthegame.com

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Chris Stead

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