Test Drive Unlimited Review
|Release Date:||September 8th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Paul Lowton (Kendomonkey)|
|Buy now at Amazon.co.uk|
Test Drive Unlimited is a completely different type of car racing game. It still is a car racing game, no doubt about it, but it lives up to the hype of the MOOR (Massively Open Online Racing) genre it has now invented, and does so with aplomb. When playing Test Drive Unlimited, you genuinely are able to do pretty much whatever you like, and (so long as you're connected to Xbox Live) you are pitted in a dual single and multi-player world from the get-go. It is in this blurring of the lines of on-and-offline play, combined with the scope of the environment that you are set in, that Test Drive Unlimited really impresses.
Test Drive Unlimited starts with a movie-style intro sequence which allows you to choose a basic character. Once done, you're quickly swept through a sequence which sees you: rent a car, buy a house, buy a car, win a race and finally, drive to your new house. All this is done within the first 30 minutes of playing the game, after which you're told (almost literally) by the game "Go, have fun, explore!"
You are based on the island of Oahu, a pretty big Hawaiin island as it happens, with plenty of roads, buildings, cars, hitchhikers and palm trees - the whole kith and caboodle. The level of realism that the environment brings to the game really helps sell the concept of "Test Drive Unlimited". For me there are too many other car racing games that are simply too empty to feel realistic. OK, so there are not enough pedestrians in Oahu (other than the few milling around trying to cadge a lift) but if there were the game would quickly turn into Carmageddon. One minor nitpick about some of the detail in Test Drive Unlimited; Oahu must be the Island of the Litterbugs - streams of paper are constantly floating across the roads you drive on. A nice feature for realism, but perhaps just a bit too much, too often.
The cars in Test Drive Unlimited are excellently detailed and through the "Test Drive" system, you can check out how individual cars handle before deciding to part with your cash for a bigger, shinier number. The cars handle well, steering is not a problem, braking is usually harsh but to the point, and you don't spend too much of your time as a beginner trying to avoid slamming into ditches. My advice would be to get the default controller settings changed as soon as possible. Personally I prefer a little more control over acceleration, I feel that the triggers on the 360 controller offer a better solution to acceleration than simply holding down the A button. You'll also find, hopefully, that the missions in the beginning are quite easy, but they do get harder.
There are nearly 100 licensed cars in the game from Audi, Ferrari and Chrysler and so on. You can choose to buy new cars at any point during the game although naturally you are restricted on what you can buy by the amount of cash you have. You begin the game with $200,000 although that quickly gets eaten up once you buy your house (and therefore, garage). Hence, it is up to you to earn more money doing the things that Test Drive Unlimited is all about: racing, time-trials, running deliveries, or giving people lifts. You need to do all these things if you're going to have a full garage to be proud of.
I guess this is where my major bugbear with the game comes to the forefront. You see, it's just not very interesting! Some of the races are great, the time trials can be extremely taxing but addictive, and the delivery type missions are fun enough. For me, that's not a lot of variety for a game that appears to have so much more potential. I guess the difficulty that the developers have with a game like this is that even though it is ground-breaking in some ways, it is still a driving game. The missions and races are, to be fair to them, very well done and the necessity of earning money does make them exciting. I don't wish to exaggerate this issue too much because I do think that we're given plenty of reason to enjoy the game.
With your hard earned money (and believe me, some of it really is hard earned) you are free to go and splash out on all manor of new cars, clothing and upgrades. You'll need to have a pretty reasonable churn-rate of cars because some missions or races will require specific grades of cars to be able to compete.
As I say early in the review, the single and multi player parts of the game are "always on", and it is thrilling to see real people zooming past you at any time. There is a limit on the number of human players you can interact with at any one time but I think it's a fairly reasonable limit. Missions and races are chosen in Test Drive Unlimited by using a map interface. Within the map, single and multiplayer races are differentiated between and you can jump straight into a player match or a ranked match with an online competitor. Sometimes you have to have driven along certain points on the map before various challenges will appear on it, all of which means that you are actively encouraged to drive around a fair bit and explore the island.
Exploring the island is far from an ugly chore; it is beautifully rendered and nicely detailed in a lot of places. The graphics engine is sturdy though a little chuggy at times, but generally makes for a very enjoyable driving experience. There are problems, the odd palm tree which is horribly hazy, and on an SDTV some of the shadows and reflections on the cars look a bit blobby. I have had the opportunity to play this game on HDTV and it is stunning; the colours are vibrant, the reflections are spot-on and the cars are beautifully detailed.
One of the first things I do whenever I got hold of a driving game is check out the crashes. I love games with crash modelling and Test Drive Unlimited does an interesting job. You can't cause damage to your own car (because of the car licensing) but you can cause damage to the computer controlled ones. It's a fair trade, I feel, so it's just a shame that some of the physics feel wrong in collisions, and some fairly light-weight objects, such as lamp-posts, when hit are handled as though you've hit a solid wall (ie. your car stops dead on collision). Usually games with Havok physics tend to play well, perhaps the integration could do with a little more fine tuning.
Test Drive Unlimited is a tough game to review. On the one hand it's got a lot of things going for it: the environment, the meshing of on and offline play, the cars, the races and missions, the pure sense of freedom… and then there are the little niggly things that are peppered throughout. But hey, at the end of it, every time I play the game I have fun and that must mean that the minor problems are just that: minor.
If you're tired of the usual driving games and aren't looking for innovative game-play modes, then please try Test Drive Unlimited for the inventive way it handles every other part of the driving game experience.
- Good challenges and races
- Great range of beautifully crafted cars
- Mixture of on- and off-line play
- Genuinely innovative driving game
- Well balanced learning curve
Not so good stuff
- Some buggy physics and graphics
- Slight lack of more imaginative gameplay modes
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