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Test Drive Unlimited Preview

Joe_Dodson By:
GENRE Racing 
DEVELOPER Eden Studios 
E10+ Contains Language, Mild Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Somewhere over the speed limit.

When Stefan Eriksson wrecked his million-dollar Ferrari Enzo in Malibu a month ago, we were so overwhelmed by the mysterious details and bizarrely intertwined characters that we lost sight of the most crucial part of the story í¢â‚¬“ that of a man wrecking a million-dollar car going nearly three times the speed limit.

Forget the mafia connections and shady business practices - we want to wreck our million-dollar sports car going half as fast as a speeding bullet. Sadly, we don't have one, but this June we may have the next best thing in a big racer from Atari, Test Drive: Unlimited for the Xbox 360 and PC. We recently got to take the new ride for a spin and we have to say, it's as ambitious as a Swedish mobster, with similar tastes.

click to enlargeBut instead of wrecking limited-edition cars on the Pacific Coast Highway (ugh, that's so last month), you'll be smashing them into the hillsides and concrete support beams of a fully-realized replica of Oahu, Hawaii. Say hello to beautiful mansions and expensive cars, goodbye to your competition, or just "Aloha" to all three.

And hopefully, you'll do it all online, because aside from offering gorgeous graphics and sexy rides, Unlimited features the most robust and progressive set of online features since EA's ahead-of-its-time Motor City Online first revved its engines.

Online or off, the game's chassis is constructed of challenges you undertake for cash. This, in turn, is spent on new cars and new houses, which provide more storage space for your ever-expanding automobile collection. Boring, right? Well, it would be if it weren't for the unbelievable online content.

Unlimited's online world exists on dedicated world servers, just like an MMO. But instead of seeing every car and every player at once like you would in World of Warcraft, everything is instanced, like Guild Wars. So at any given time, there will only be seven other players racing around Oahu with you, and these will be regularly switching in and out.

Using filters, you can limit the cars and players that can enter your island paradise. If you spot a pal or an enemy, you can challenge them to a race, blacklist them, or lock them into your world. If you challenge, a Google Earth-style map of Oahu pops up, and you can use pointers to create a custom route for your race. The map is eerily accurate, featuring spot-on topographical details and nearly all the streets, cities, parks and notable stops in Oahu. Included in these are all manner of locations, which you can filter between and highlight with ease, then instantly travel to by simply clicking icons.

click to enlargeThe map can take you anywhere and there are lots of places to go. The island is seeded with dozens of various challenges, all of which provide instanced races to every online player. If you aren't in the mood for one of those, you can create your own challenges with the exact same tools and parameters the developers used. Once you've created one, you can set an entry fee and a prize and open it to the racing public. You receive all the fees, and the person with the fastest time gets the prize. It's self-perpetuating content and it's a great idea.

Players will also be able to join 16-member car clubs and challenge other clans to any of the various challenges for huge purses. It's an interesting guild mechanic for a racing game.

Of course, every part of a slick racer hinges on its engine, and developer Eden Studios definitely has some fine tuning to do. The framerate in the version we played was rickety, and the whole thing handled like a work in progress. Fortunately, that's what it is, and we suspect that when finished, Test Drive: Unlimited will easily make the cut.

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