Introduction:It's been a long time since Test Drive's debut on the home computers back in 1987. Trust me, I remember playing the original Test Drive on the Atari ST with a monochrome monitor. I guess you can say we've come a long way since the monochrome, and Test Drive has been a steady franchise over the years. With 10+ versions Test Drive has lost a bit of its luster, but as they say "These Times Be A Changing". Eden Studios development team is now behind the wheel of Test Drive and it's been fine tuned back to the pinnacle it once was. It's time for a vacation on sunny island of Hawaii. Sipping on a margarita, here is our review of Test Drive Unlimited.
The Game:Test Drive Unlimited is the Test Drive game Atari needed to pull off, to keep the series running with the top dogs. Like I mentioned in the intro, it's been a while since Test Drive was on top, but luckily things are changing thanks again to developer Eden Studios. Eden Studios has one racing series under their belt with V-Rally, so I expect Test Drive to have the fundamentals down, but with some new dynamics ideas and Atari leading the helm the results are better than expected. Test Drive Unlimited is more then a comeback for the series, its one of the best driving experiences for the next-generation of gaming. Test Drive is back and it was my pleasure to give this one my full attention over the last week and a half.
It must be nice to live in Oahu
For the setting of Test Drive Unlimited, Eden Studios went beyond the typical mapping of sections of a city; they went full blown out and mapped the whole island of Oahu in Hawaii. In a first we have a driving game which is based on a free roam system with a tropical setting as the background for the entire game. It's good to think outside the box, and it has definitely paid off for Test Drive. In Test Drive you play however you want, when you want, free and without too many restrictions. It's liberating, innovative and fun, it's about time we have more freedom in this genre of game.
Racing both multiplayer and single player are all prompted with hot spots around the island, this goes for location spots as well like car dealerships, mission points, and clothing stores, etc. They have done a phenomenal job integrating Multiplayer gaming and Single player gaming into one seamless game. In concept it is very interesting and what is better then just an interesting concept is that Eden pulled it off. It is an exciting time for gaming because in another first, Test Drive lets you drive around in your single player game and be hooked up on multiplayer at the same time. Of course you'll need an Xbox Live Gold account to see these features, and if you don't have one Test Drive Unlimited is just another good reason to get hooked on Live.
Keeping with the innovations Test Drives free roam approach, combined with the theory always connected means you'll be cruising the island in your single player game while others are doing the same, except you can see each other. If you're not connected to Live these other players will be bots, but when hooked up they are your fellow Xbox Live subscribers. It can get pretty interesting online and this brave idea has also caused some server problems, but a patch has already been released and Atari has been awesome supporting the game already in the first few weeks. From what I have seen from my time with Test Drive the community seems to be buzzing and it should have a long shelf life for most gamers.
Isn't hitch hiking illegal?
Besides normal racing, timed racing, Test Drive Unlimited (TDU) has a few more options. One that is partially fun is the Need for Speed inspired speed trap races. This like in NFS has your engine revving up to blazing through speed traps and top speeds to beat a pre-set speed. In a more distinctive twist Test Drive leaves the normal constraints of racing and gives us a few timed missions which revolve around escorting models, hitch hikers, packages or other cars to a certain destination. The models and hitch hikers are the most changelings and have restrictions for certain types of cars, and a Driving gauge which acts like a damage meter registering how much bad driving a person can take. You'll have to be fast, but you also have to be precise in your driving to get through the majority of these missions.
Grab a Race at Lisa's Diner
Some other modes of interest are the ability to instant challenge gamers who pass by you by simply flicking your headlights. You can set up how much you want to change for a length and type of race right on the fly. You can also go to Lisa Diner a franchise restaurant chain in the game which is the host for custom made races. Creating a custom race for other gamers to challenge is fun and a good way to earn some cash. The races, either time attack or speed challenges are easily built with the editor placed in the game and you can set up a number of features making it easy or harder on the gamer to score. You also get set the amount you will offer up as a reward and the entry fee. Make a popular event and you could see some cash rolling in your way. This is similar to the things you can do with the car clubs that are also built into Test Drive Unlimited. Test Drive really delivers on the multiplayer interactivity and it should keep gamers hooked for a while.
A little Customization
Lastly, Test Drive also offers up the option to buy clothes to change your appearance with brand names no less (*ecko, Ben Sherman, Ellson, and more). You also can tune up your cars with three upgraded performance package, watch out they aren't cheap. To store all these cars you'll need to access the other add-on part to TDU and that is purchasing Real Estate. Surprisingly TDU offers more variety by giving you the option of renting a car which is how you start the game. If you don't want to pay for the ride you can just rent it and do some racing, every class is available to rent, so cash shouldn't be a problem. These are all just little extras that help in their own way to make Test Drive a little more customizable and personable.
For the cars we have the typical list of super cars, mid ranged sports cars and of course the classics. You can also race bikes in Test Drive which is a lesser focus of the game, but included for those bike fans. The bikes aren't as detailed as the cars or other racing games like MotoGP, but they provide some fun when you get bored of driving cars. Some of the manufactures featured in Test Drive is Lamborghini, Ferrari, Mercedes, Pagani, Saleen, Doge, Ford and the list goes on. In total you are looking at 90 cars each broken down into different classes, A to G and to special mA and mB classes. The list is not as high as we've seen in other games but it's sufficient.
Licenses out of Cracker Jack Boxes
The races themselves and the cars handling is like any other top racing game. The racing mechanics are solid and the handling of the cars seem to have a good feel and have more of weight then in some other racers. Each vehicle handles a little different which is nice to see. Along with the handling, it seems not only I had problems driving at times, so did the AI. This is wonderful, a non-perfect A.I. system. Not making the A.I. drive perfect is great for the overall feeling of the game which means you might win a few races in the mean time. The only system that needs to be overhauled is the police system. You can get arrested for driving recklessly, only if you slammed into another car. The police don't seem to mind that you are speeding, driving on the other side of the road, or driving backwards on the highway. If they can make the police more in tuned with the gaming world Test Drive would seem a lot more real, the AI is good, but in the police area, it's a dud.
Need for Test Drive
Test Drive Unlimited isn't a simulation styled racer, it's definitely tilted toward arcade action. Cars take no damage, you can't fine tune your ride, and customization only comes in the form of pre-tuned packages and paint shops. I do enjoy this style of racing game, but it's always nice to have some more options towards car tuning first then the others afterwards. I would compare TDU's gameplay closest to Electronic Arts, Need for Speed. If you enjoyed NFS then you'll be right into Test Drive , gear heads beware, and there is no tuning for you.
Trouble in Paradise
At times things can get repetitive in Test Drive so it's great that Eden gives you this island to free roam and explore. Free roaming is a great idea and is works in TDU, but it's also where we get into a little problem. Test Drive is huge, and its fun to explore the island, but if you don't want to explore and you want to get straight into the racing you might be limited in what you find. Events are unlocked by finding them on the map, this goes for every type of race, so no exploration, no game. Although, I really liked the concept, it's not going to please all, and for the quick game it might be a little too slow. Of course once you found an event you can quick travel to the exact spot, so some of the monotony is taken out for the gamer.
Graphics/Sound:For the audio in TDU it goes from blah to sunsets. The bad is the soundtrack which didn't overly impress me. The few stations they have built in are pretty dull and have a limited play list. I hit them all up for a while from Metal to Classical and I only found a few good tracks, overall the soundtrack is uninspiring. Besides the soundtrack the audio is all excellent, cars sound great, each engines roar is distinctive and I didn't even mind the jibber jabber of the navigator.
In the graphics department Test Drive Unlimited shines. This is a great looking Xbox 360 game which takes full advantage of the new hardware. Although, the design of the landscapes and the vehicles are detailed to the finest point they kind of missed out on thing, people! There are absolutely no people living on the island except drivers. I think Midtown Madness is the last game besides Carmageddon that I had a good number of pedestrians. I know the focus is on driving, but a few beauties in bikinis and a few dudes hammering back a 40 would have been a nice touch. In another abnormal touch to TDU is that it never gets dark and it never rains. Maybe Hawaii is placed on the outskirts of reality, but I doubt it, I've never been there, but this game never hits more than dusk and I'm fairly certain they get a lot of precipitation. Well, besides these three bizarre absentness, Test Drive exceeds well with the graphics and is one of the best looking games for the 360.
Lowdown:Test Drive Unlimited has put Atari's racing series back on the map. Test Drive Unlimited goes in some new directions for the racing genre and pulls most of them off flawlessly. The ability to cruise or race, online or offline in a free roam fashion is refreshing and Eden has picked the perfect local in Oahu, Hawaii. Test Drive Unlimited is worth a look for all driving fans, this is one of the year's best. Check it out.
Reviewed by DowntownJimmy | 09.21.06
Test Drive Unlimited is redefining the racing genre online with M.O.O.R.: Massively Open Online Racing. It is the only game that allows for literally thousands of gamers to play within the same game world simultaneously. The seamless online connection offers unlimited new challenges, opponents and competitions as well as monthly additions of vehicles, aftermarket parts, clothes and apparel;
More than 90 licensed vehicles from exclusive manufacturers including Lamborghini, Ducati, Aston Martin, Mercedes, Saleen, Shelby, and Jaguar;
Realistic cars and bikes: Amazing render quality and unrivalled interior details including full car functions such as radio, electric windows, horn, wipers and more;
Personalization: Upgrade each car or bike with options from the actual manufacturers' catalog. Players create characters, buy new homes and garages, and tune and upgrade vehicles with aftermarket parts;
Create challenges or races from more than 50 game rules and settings. Upload your created challenges online to become part of the player community;
A gathering of communities: Players can create or join a club to talk, chat, trade, race or organize club-based competitions and tournaments;
Simplified match making and division based rankings make this game the most comprehensive and accessible online racing experience.