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Test Drive Unlimited

Platform(s): PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Eden Games


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Xbox 360 Review - 'Test Drive Unlimited'

by Nicolus Baslock on Oct. 19, 2006 @ 2:04 a.m. PDT

Test Drive Unlimited is the ultimate automotive experience for car and bike enthusiasts alike. Visit the most sophisticated car and bike dealers to purchase new vehicles or simply take them for a spin. Collect and trade rare performance parts and customise each vehicle to make it one-of-a-kind. Test Drive Unlimited challenges players online to experience the most exotic and fastest vehicles on more than 1000 miles of diverse Hawaiian roads. Gamers win races, challenges, missions and tournaments to earn credits and purchase new cars, bikes, rare performance parts, clothes, apparel, homes and garages.

Genre: Driving/Racing
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Eden Studios
Release Date: September 5, 2006

Online racing has been somewhat fair-weather over the years. Some games shine with this option, like Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham Racing, while others have failed pretty miserably, such as Auto Modelista. Occasionally, online racing works surprisingly well, as it does in the case of Test Drive Unlimited.

The Test Drive franchise has always vacillated between great and terrible. Some of the originals were amazing, while the more recent offerings have been found lacking. As the first MOOR (massively open online racing) title, Test Drive Unlimited attempts to appease gamers who have lately found themselves less than impressed with the series. Imagine driving down a road that is filled with life-like architecture, believable vehicles and great graphics. Then suddenly, a car whizzes past you, and it's another player who just happens to be driving down the same road. The first few times this happens, you'll be blown away by the fact that there was basically no warning whatsoever … that is, aside from the sound of a car shifting gears as it passes you.

The Hawaiian island of Oahu is faithfully recreated for Unlimited using GPS imagery to flesh out a living, breathing world. Most importantly, unlike other street racing games of the same ilk, Unlimited doesn't need walls to separate players from areas that they cannot reach. Oahu is your playground, with the only limitation being the surrounding body of water, since it's an island and all.

Driving down every detailed road is enjoyable, and you have the ability to be GPS-navigated with an On-Star-esque service and female voice (the most important part!). After continual play, you'll learn the layout of the island and won't need the navigation assistance, but it's just one of the little touches that bring this title to life. As a result of the island atmosphere and openness of the gameplay, you will spend a lot of time driving from race to race. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but at some points, I felt as if I'd spent more time driving between races than actually participating in them.

The racing portions in Unlimited are solid and require actual skill. The living roads are inhabited by a plethora of cars, which will irritate impatient drivers at the outset because constant bobbing and weaving is necessary and must be mastered. You'll have to learn to control your vehicle in a manner completely different from any other racing title. Sure, pedestrian traffic exists in other racing games like Burnout, but here, it feels so life-like that real consequences seem to loom just around the corner. A police presence is felt at times, but not until later in the game, when you acquire flashier cars and become siren fodder. Initially, it's not difficult to lose the law, and you can easily trip them up if you've mastered maneuvering your car in the earlier levels, but as you progress, the police presence gets heavier, and successful evasion requires even more skill.

Graphically, Unlimited is a mixed bag. The cars themselves look detailed and great, with the most interesting graphical feature being the vehicle interiors. Faithfully recreated in loving detail, the cars can be driven far more realistically than most racing games allow, with the interior driver's seat view exactly as it would be in the actual vehicle. Whenever a passenger is in the vehicle, you can see them as they nervously watch on as you constantly swerve through traffic. The locations themselves are generally impressive, but some graphical hiccups persist; textures are not always as detailed as expected, and sometimes are reused to a point where you will know exactly where you've seen it before. They are by no means ugly, but there just isn't quite enough consistent polish that one might expect from an X360 title.

The biggest problem in Unlimited was actually in the vehicle racing itself. Designed to appeal to a mass audience, Gran Turismo this is not, which might disappoint hardcore racing fans. Vehicles can be made to feel more realistic by playing with the control sensitivity and turning off driving aides, but no matter what, the cars still feel somewhat skittish. Strangely, it never feels as if you are driving a car on asphalt but are pushing a block of cement around an ice skating rink. Some vehicles do feel better than others, but the mass appeal the developers were going for means that you'll never mistake this game for a simulation.

Although hardcore racing fans might be turned away by the mass market appeal of Test Drive Unlimited, anyone else who loves to race certainly won't be. With so many challenges to complete in single-player mode, vehicles to purchase (with motorcycles rounding out a solid selection) and the inclusion of one of the best multiplayer modes anywhere inside or out of the racing genre, Unlimited is a fun title. Those seeking more depth might want to look elsewhere, but they should still give this new style of racing a try. Nothing can replicate the feeling of driving down a straightaway as you race your Ducati against a Maserati, or the sense of awe that overtakes you while watching other racers engage in their own races. Test Drive Unlimited is meant to be played with others, and in that sense, it becomes the first racing game to ever pull off an online mode quite like this.

Score: 8.2/10

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