Test Drive Unlimited Review

With over 14 games in its series, the Test Drive line of games has been around nearly as long as mainstream console gaming. Atari has nabbed the Test Drive license and issued its most ambitious game yet with Test Drive Unlimited. There are faults to the game, which include some graphical issues and a general feeling of being alone on the island, but overall, TDU is a racing game for the masses. For TDU, Atari drafted V-Rally racing series developer Eden Games, who crafted the game with some love.

When I started the game up, the game’s server had trouble identifying my Gamespy ID. After a good 15 or so minutes trying many ID logins and managing my accounts, it finally accepted a very old nickname even though I login to their websites all the time with others. Anyway, the game opens up with a cinematic of you boarding a plane to Hawaii. Upon landing, you’re hand-held for a little bit; you buy a house and a car and are escorted to a small tutorial race. Afterwards, that’s it. The game is now your oyster. Now, I’ve read a few accounts of people not adjusting to sandbox games too well — like Oblivion for example — but I feel that TDU is much less daunting than Oblivion. It’s a better environment, i.e. racing in Hawaii, and it seems a bit more user friendly.

Eden Games executed the game well, and the freeform racing concept is the main drawing point. Being pretty much the first online and fully capable massive multiplayer racing game, TDU provides some rather unique racing bits. You are basically free to explore an entire island in Hawaii and participate in a variety of races. Bored of doing time trials by yourself? Drive to a nearby street and hook up with some people anywhere in the world for some multiplayer racing. The idea of just driving up to someone and putting together a race is a neat concept if you think about it; Eden Games put that concept into action, so props to them.

Like Oblivion (I hope I don’t say this too much), you can customize your character to a very fine point. Throughout the island there are various clothing stores along with car/bike dealerships, tuning shops and real estate agents for your car/bike and housing needs. The game is seemingly split into two parts — the single player and the multiplayer. Both aspects are seemingly connected to each other, but for whatever reason if you don’t have an Internet connection (or the server goes down, which I encountered a lot while playing) there is still a lot to do in the single player portion. Racing includes racing against other cars, time and speed challenges and transporting packages and vehicles. Completing challenges nets you money, while completing others nets you tokens to buy clothes.

As for the multiplayer part, you can race against other players or challenge other players for various tasks. On the map, you’re given locations where people are hosting races, which is nice, so you don’t have to just drive around and hope you bump into someone. Of course, you can drive around and seemingly bump into someone, but it’s nice being told where races are being held. Like I said before, the multiplayer aspects is interlaced with the single player so you get the best of both worlds while playing online. While playing, I kept on getting messages saying I’ve been disconnected from the game’s server. I jumped to the game’s forum and noticed a lot of other people experiencing the same thing. Interestingly enough, most of them were from Europe while I’m in the U.S. Atari is working on a patch that seems to address connection issues, among other things, so hopefully this can be addressed.

Navigating through the entire island may be daunting, but thanks to a helpful map and a GPS system, you’ll never get lost. The map acts like the map in Oblivion (sorry), where you can click and automatically be transported to already discovered places. You have to physically drive to a new place in order to discover it; then you are free to click and travel there afterwards. The GPS system acts like your standard guide, and you’re able to click on a location and either have your GPS map it out for you or not.

The visuals are very nice, if you’re speeding on right by. Of course, this is a racing game and speeding on a road through cliff-sides or by the coast will please the eyes with bright and sunny days and crisp waves crashing against the shore. On the other hand, driving slow or just stopping opens up some rather ugly and low resolution textures, which seems pretty weird and out of place. Eden also gets props for rendering some of the ugliest NPCs I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I’ve seen some pretty bad games with ugly visuals and NPCs, but TDU is now up there with them.

Performance-wise, the game holds up pretty well. Framerates are pretty stable, especially driving at high speeds for extended period of times. At times, I noticed that while speeding along the game had trouble rendering trees and the like so pop-ups occurred. This seems relative though from computer to computer and also the server.

The game comes with four radio stations with your generic brands of music. I ended up just tuning the music out and putting on my own tunes; you can also make your own in-game play list with your own music. Just a warning now, the voice of the GPS system can get annoying in the long-run, but thankfully, you can turn it down/off.

Car handling was a little shaky at first, since I’m playing with a keyboard, but after some experience, handling got easier. The game is marketed as an arcade racer and TDU fits somewhere in-between that and a bare-bones simulation. You won’t get the hardcore racing simulation like other titles, but you also won’t be doing sweet jumps across fire hoops and the like. Racing off-road is pretty nice, but the handling gets a little looser when you do. As for bikes, they seem a little tacked on. The only collision animations are on AI cars, so you won’t be denting your own or other players’ cars. This detracts from the game experience a tad, but I understand why — no one wants to fork over $ to fix their car, and tracking hundreds of players’ cars and their damage every second would certainly destroy the servers.

Even though it’s still relatively early in its life, TDU is a bit rough in some spots. Despite being billed as a massive, free and open racing environment, it just felt empty while driving around. It’s nice to be able to drive anywhere on the island but that’s about it all you do. There’s no city life; you never see people walking around and you never are actually able to leave your car except for specific places. Along with that, all the different races serve no purpose but to earn you money and some rankings. In other words, there are no mission continuations in-between racings. Once you set foot out of your house in your car in the beginning, the story seemingly ends. Well, I understand that it’s basically up to you then to craft your own "story," but I didn’t feel that I was this hip racer in the middle of Hawaii driving around, I just felt alone in a massive gaming world.

Eden Games delivered with TDU and it successfully blends two wonderful game playing aspects (single player racing and multiplayer) together into one nice package that plays well. But, like any online game, it does have some small problems, which I hope Atari addresses. A game like TDU has plenty of longevity and the presentation was on the mark. But like I referenced to earlier, there aren’t many racers for the PC version; the 360 version has a little more meat. If you want to get into racing titles, specifically arcade-racing titles, TDU is a very good choice.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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