Developer: Eden Studios
Release Date: March 20, 2007
If you're like me, when you heard another Test Drive title was in the works, you weren't all too enthralled. The Test Drive offerings have been known for their mediocrity, which is the exact mold the developers of Test Drive Unlimited were aiming to break — and did. This time around, the game features a myriad of vehicles from 20+ different companies, each fully modeled around its real-life counterpart, from the shape of the grill to the grooves on the shift stick. In addition, each car is fully customizable with exterior and interior color packages, rims, tires, spoilers, bumpers, and even turbo kits. On top of all this, Test Drive Unlimited is a "MOOR", Massively Open Online Racing, Atari's inventive new genre.
The game opens with a handful of people waiting in line at the ticket counter of an airport, an admittedly notable character selection process. However, there is no character customization to speak of; you simply choose one of the people standing in line, and presto, they're the new you. The character diversity isn't that great either, but hey, in a game about racing, it's what your Ferrari looks like that counts. After selecting your virtual representation, you board the flight destined to the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Oahu, your new home, is modeled entirely after the real island, using the same terrain, roads, cities, locations, and buildings.
Your first objective on this floating paradise is to spend what little cash you have on a low-end car and a starting house or apartment. To do this, you need to rent a car from the rental agency at the airport for a predetermined chunk of time; the least expensive five-minute rental will suffice. You might think that a rental agency in a game where you can theoretically purchase everything might seem a bit unnecessary, but when you need to compete in a special race, and you need a specific car to do so, renting is the way to go.
In the driver's seat for the first time, your built-in GPS system will display the route to the nearest car dealership, complete with an on-board floating arrow to guide your way. The GPS will play a large role in Test Drive Unlimited ; it displays crucial locations, driving directions, distances to targets, when to make turns, and much more. Since the world is so huge, TDU employs a system of "been there, done that" to allow players to get around much quicker. It's very simple; if you're been to a particular road on the island, it'll light up blue on the map, and you can instantly teleport there by clicking on it.
After you've established your first car and home, the game will no longer hold your hand so you're on your own, and not soon enough. There's a lot to do in Oahu: races, courier server, taxi trips, time trials, challenges, even car deliveries. Car delivery missions are very different from the rest. The owner of a very expensive or antique car asks you to deliver the vehicle to a secondary location, usually halfway across the entire map, and offers to pay very generously. Any damage to the vehicle will result in a payment decrease, to the point where the mission will terminate if the car gets too banged up. These missions are time-consuming and can be very frustrating, but ultimately, the reward is usually worth the extended drive session.
There are also multiplayer races, which come in a few different flavors. The first, of course, is the street race; simply approach someone else's car, flash them with your lights, and an on-screen invitation to a race will pop up on his/her screen. Upon the opponent's acceptance, the map opens and you designate the wager and end point of your challenge. Another multiplayer challenge involves driving over to the local diner and selecting from a list of player-made courses with strict vehicle restrictions and a time limit. Complete the course with the specified vehicle in a faster time than the creator, and you win the prize money. The third multiplayer racing option is simply a predefined start location and a course designed by the game, where regular racing will ensue.
Online racing may seem like fun, but it's the difficulty of getting online that may ruin it for some players. Test Drive Unlimited employs GameSpy as its login system, and as such, a GameSpy account is required to play online. If everything checks out with GameSpy, you'll see a small icon that says "Connection to TDU servers established" in the top right. Unfortunately, as simple as logging into GameSpy might seem, it can prove to be quite difficult.
With my username and password entered, I logged in with the expectation of a greeting to the online world. This didn't happen. Instead, a box appeared instructing me to allow a good two to three minutes for the login to be processed. Two minutes seemed like an awfully long time for a login, but I didn't mind, since there was no rush. Sometime later, a new dialog box popped up, exclaiming that my login information is incorrect. Somewhat annoyed, I figure it's my own fault, and retry. The result is the same as before, and a good five minutes of my life is gone, never to be seen again. I decided it'd be best to reopen the game and play offline instead. When I go to click offline mode, I mistakenly click on the login to GameSpy, and the process ensues yet again. This is when I learn that during a login, there is absolutely no way to halt the process, lest I restart my computer. The added benefits of online play are quite fun with other players, if you can get to the TDU servers.
That's not to say that Test Drive Unlimited doesn't suffer from flaws in the game stability, either. It's riddled with unexplainable and irreproducible crashes and sound glitches that happen randomly and can very quickly turn your joyride into a nightmare. In fact, there's a decent chance the game will not only crash, but also completely delete your saved game file, forcing you to begin the game anew once again. This has been acknowledged by the development team who has gone so far as to create a program that can prevent this. Its method? Simply run an external program in the background, and it'll make a backup of your saved game file every 10 minutes. Not a very fun thing to worry about.
The game interface is a pain to deal with as well. From the very beginning, you can clearly determine that Test Drive Unlimited was featured on a console before the PC. The menu design and interface options all work better when you put the mouse aside and use only the keyboard. For some unknown reason, closing a window does not use ESC (as that will open a second standard menu pane asking if you want to quit), but a small red circle in the bottom of the screen you can barely click on. It's obviously the descriptor at the bottom of the console version that instructed the user which button to press to close the window. And when you mistakenly open that menu pane by pressing ESC when you meant the close the current window, pressing escape once again does nothing; you need to click the "Close" button. Overall, the interface will annoy you more than anything, and you'll learn to try and avoid it as best you can.
Graphically, Test Drive Unlimited looks really pretty. Along with the precise design of vehicles, a nice pearl black really shines like it's supposed to, to the point where you can see reflections of the world on the roof. The tree leaves and patches of grass are sprites, but hey, when you're zooming down the highway at 210 mph and you feel like you're in the middle of the light speed effect from Star Wars , tree textures aren't exactly your main concern. Unlike the Xbox360 version, the PC version allows graphical tweaks like different resolutions, vertical sync, anti-aliasing, antistrophic filtering, and even different texture quality levels so that the game can perform well on less beefy machines.
The sounds of the game are by far the best representation of engines since the Need for Speed days. Lamborghinis sound like Lamborghinis, and Nissans sound like Nissans. Some of the vehicles even boast a specific horn, but most use a generic horn relative to the appropriate vehicle class. TDU also features a handful of radio stations, and when I say radio stations, I mean five or six different looping tracks, each featuring five or six different songs. You'll get tired of the music quickly, but there's enough diversity between the stations to alternate a little before switching to your own music playing in the background.
Test Drive Unlimited , a driving simulation game in a genre only few others can claim to be a part of, provides an original driving experience unlike any other. If you're a car lover, then you're going to drool over the detail and specifications of the vehicles in TDU . Even if you're a casual gamer who happens to enjoy a racing simulation here and there, you'll be able to hop into a car and just cruise. However, should you be questioning whether to purchase the Xbox 360 or the PC version, I'd say go for the Xbox 360 copy, simply because the game was developed for the console first, and then ported to the PC. Test Drive Unlimited is a solid racing game at heart, despite connectivity and stability issues on the PC.
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