Test Drive Unlimited

The original Xbox is home to many an amazing racing game whether you like a straightforward racing simulator of the ToCA variety or an arcade-like racer of the Midnight Club family and so far the Xbox 360 is off to a good start. With Project Gotham Racing and a Ridge Racer game already available, it was only a matter of time before Atariís Test Drive series made it to our new console. Yet Test Drive Unlimited just didnít aim to bring the same old racing experience but put us in an open world where the lines between offline and online have merged into an experience that makes this a racer fans will certainly enjoy.

Test Drive Unlimited begins in an airport where you are given the choice of picking your avatar from a small list of nameless characters. It should be noted that no other modes, at this point, are available to you including the online multiplayer. After you made your choice your avatar reaches his or her destination of Oahu, a tropical Hawaiian paradise with impressive buildings as well as miles of beautiful green scenery that makes up the other of half of the island. Your first stop, aside from a car rental place, is the offices of a real estate agent where you will get to purchase (from a small selection) your home and then off to buy your first vehicle. Now itís time for you to make a name for yourself in the Oahuís racing circuit as well as unlock the online multiplayer portion as well as a few extra features.

From the very start, Oahu is open for you to explore and believe me when I say that there is a lot to explore seeing as the game managed to cram as much of the place as possible into the map. While you wonít see pedestrians taking a stroll or crossing the street, there is traffic that makes the place feel alive. Oahuís various locales are well represented in the game, changing the scenery dramatically as you move from the airport district to the city and finally off into the green fields. Youíll be thankful for your GPS that is good at pointing out stores and other notable places like a dealership, detail shop and car rental lot (why buy an expensive car to beat a race that requires a specific car when you can rent it instead?).

The good news is that you will never be forced to follow a certain career path by going from major race to major race. You are given the freedom to take on any regulation race at any time and in any level as long as you meet the raceís requirements. Some races require you to go behind the wheel of a different class of vehicle and meet certain conditions during a race. Aside from the major qualifying races, there are extra racing challenges that earn you rewards after completing them successfully. For example, the Top Model challenges have you picking up pretty girls that ask you for a ride home in return for some valuable shopping coupons you can use to purchase new clothes and accessories (cute sunglasses and shoes) for your avatar. The catch is that you have to get from Point A to Point B before the timer runs out and without scaring your passenger.

The racing challenges are composed of official trophy races to Speed challenges that have you racing through the map past some stationary radar detectors in order to attain the highest possible average speed. Then thereís Time Attack where you try to race to the finish line in the shortest time possible. The racing challenges are actually fun but when it comes to short but enjoyable thrills the Top Model, Courier (deliver a package to a far off destination) and Hitchhiker (like Top Model, you take your hitchhiker from Point A to Point B) are fun distractions that will have you ignoring the main races for awhile. Youíll even encounter other racers just zipping through traffic, oftentimes slowing down when they reach you as if to taunt you into a quick race. You can drive up to a street racer and challenge them to a race where you decide where the race will start and where it will end on the map. This is great stuff, indeed.

Test Drive Unlimited also includes loads of hot cars and even some motorcycles. You can jump into a Dodge Viper SRT 10 as well as a Chevy Camaro Z-28. Fans of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films will like the fact that you can slip into an Aston Martin Vanquish while bike fans will have a blast riding on a Triumph Speed Triple or even a Ducati 999 R. Atari took the ďtest driveĒ aspect of the title literally since you can walk into a dealership, get into a car and open or close windows and doors, honk the horn and then take a test drive with the car salesman in the passenger seat.

The problem, unfortunately, is that the cars themselves just donít drive as smoothly or realistically for that matter. Slam into oncoming traffic (and you will do this a lot and not on purpose) and your car will not even suffer a single dent so go ahead and ram a rival car all you want. The controls arenít horrible and they certainly are responsive enough, but they lack enough polish that would have made this an amazing racing game that can rival the likes of the Project Gotham Racing 3. Driving a motorcycle shouldnít be the same as driving a car, after all. Secondly, Oahu seems to swarm with cops when you break a few rules when oftentimes youíll find it hard to spot at least one squad car. While racing from the cops would have been cool, it just becomes tedious here. Expect to be caught and pay a hefty fine each time you come under the police radar (which only seems to happen if you ram one too many cars).

While weíre concentrating on the negative, I should add that the game borders between beautiful to somewhat disappointing. Sure the game is about the hot cars that do look good and Oahu is just as beautiful in the game as it is in the real world but when it comes to displaying your avatar during cutscenes, the game just falls flat. In fact, the characters feel like they would feel right at home on the original Xbox and the same can be said about the lighting and smoke effects.

The gameís sound is also something of a letdown since the car engines really start sounding the same no matter when car youíre driving. Car enthusiasts will find it hard to believe that a Ducati engine sounds exactly like the rumble of a Pontiac Firebird. Thatís like saying Rod Stewart sounds like Frank Sinatra. Your car comes with a radio filled with different stations that play decent rock tunes and some from the likes of Queens of the Stone Age. While the variety isnít great (there is a good classical station) you can always use your own tunes.

While these things hold the game back from being true classic, itís the gameís online component that makes up for some of the gameís shortcomings. Hoping online basically changes your rivals and thatís about it. You will almost seamlessly jump back into the same map only instead of finding AI racers zooming past you or waiting for you in a trophy race, you will find actual gamers in their place. Itís almost like a racing MMO game where youíll be able to challenge anyone you come across on the streets. The other good news is that you can challenge others to accept a racing challenge of your own creation. You can unlock an editor that allows you to decide on the rules (motorcycles only or Class A vehicles only, if you wish) and where the race starts and finishes. Really, this is the reason you will still be playing this game long after you finish the single-player mode.

While it might not be the perfecting driving game or a strict racing game for the Xbox 360, Test Drive Unlimited is certainly a better alternative to the Ridge Racer series if youíre looking for a game that blends offline and online play almost seamlessly. Itís hard to dislike a game that tries to bring something different to the table and succeeds in putting gamers into an open world filled with plenty to do and the freedom to take on any race at any time. If youíre a true racing fan or just a casual one you might want to seriously consider buying this game.

Review Scoring Details for Test Drive Unlimited

Gameplay: 8.2
Oahu is certainly a great place to explore behind the wheel of the automotive worldís hottest vehicles and it is certainly a great place to race through the winding streets offline or online. The racing challenges are fun as are the little side races (picking up girls and hitchhikers) but the controls lack some polish.

Graphics: 7.2
Hawaii is a gorgeous place and Test Drive Unlimited certainly captures the scenery perfectly down to its lush flora and fauna. The characters look like they would feel more comfortable on the original Xbox and weíve seen better lighting and smoke effects in other games. Really, this is a 360 game that could have looked better.

Sound: 7.2
The engine sounds donít drive home the feeling that youíre behind the wheel of a classic muscle car or a trendy new sports machine and that hurts. The radio stations donít offer too much of a variety but what is there isnít bad at all.

Difficulty: Medium
The gameís offline Challenges and Time Attack modes will keep you busy but itís the Courier, Hitchhiker and Top Model challenges that will have you retrying the race again and again. Online youíll just have a blast taking on multiple racers in ranked races.

Concept: 8.5
While the options arenít ďunlimitedĒ there are enough extras to will set your avatar apart from other gamers. The open-world environment is not bad at all but the real treat is in the collection of vehicles you can drive. You can shop for everything from cars to clothes to apartments.

Multiplayer: 8.9
Easily one of the most creative introductions to what could be the start of a racing MMO, the online multiplayer aspect simply replaces AI with real players in the massive gaming world. You can challenge other gamers or compete in a ranked match. You can even host your own unique multiplayer challenge edited and created by you. In short, this is the reason youíll start dreaming about burning rubber.

Overall: 8.8
Test Drive Unlimited manages to deliver a fun racing game that combines a worthwhile single-player experience with an even better online multiplayer mode. While the cars donít control realistically and motorcycles feel slightly awkward, the wonderful terrain and the entertaining racing challenges make this an Xbox 360 game racing enthusiasts will definitely enjoy.
16.10.06 17:08
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