Anyone for Pong?
What red-blooded American doesn't want a Dodge Concept Viper GTS-R or a Chevy Camaro Z28 sitting in their real-life garage? Show me that American and I'll show you a Bolshevik! Of course, most of us don't happen to have one of those monsters handy, and Test Drive for the Playstation 2 proves to be a little bit less than the next best thing.
Test Drive opens with the bare framework of a story which is destined to strike a chord with about three people. In Underground mode, you play as Dennis Black, an underground street racer with the command and presence of fresh pigeon dropping who's been hired by a rich, chatty weirdo named Donald Clark to take his place in a high stakes tournament.
Just what those stakes are is never made clear...since you never actually win anything. And because these illegal races take place on city streets, you are not only racing your opponents, you are dodging varying levels of traffic while trying to outmaneuver the cops through 45 Underground events (polluted by cut scenes of go-nowhere animated chit-chat starring a horrible cast of freaky-weird, masked Puppetoon people).
You will quickly amass a garage full of cool muscle cars and choice exotics like the Chevelle SS 454, the Jaguar XJ220, Ford SVT Mustang Cobra R and the Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda. The cars handle very well - even the Dodge Charger (which is about as long as a sperm whale) proves itself capable of maneuvering through traffic.
Test Drive presents you with three types of tracks: Navigation Challenge, Linear, and Circuit. There are various routes for each track, forwards and backwards, through four different cities - San Francisco, Tokyo, London and Monte Carlo. All of the tracks are well-designed and a pleasure to drive, even with the cutthroat competition.
Your opponents drive like the criminally insane; in this case, that's a good thing. They all race as if they want to place first and are extremely aggressive. They won't hesitate for a second to come alongside and herd you into oncoming traffic or ram your rear bumper to cause you to lose control. Their specialty, however, is to plow into the civilian vehicles at high speed, leaving whoever happens to be behind them to surf their wake of debris.
Too bad the collision physics in Test Drive are inconsistent and generally weak. This has never been a strong point for the series as a whole and fares only little better here than with its predecessors. When struck, cars still either go weightless and airborne or have the give of a dry-docked aircraft carrier. There is also no damage modeling at all, nor will cars take damage during the race...though that might be a good thing considering how much crashing you will be doing.
The camera angles are great for people like Mr. Magoo who don't need to see where they're going, but for the rest of us, they stink. Aside from the obligatory first-person perspective, the other angles will have you looking up your own tailpipe whenever you approach an incline. This will force you into navigating the steeper streets of San Francisco from the perspective of some poor unfortunate who happens to be clutching for dear life onto the trunk of a car.
You could say this adds to the challenge. You could also say it sucks. In either event, it certainly adds to your close encounter ratio.
Despite the crummy camera, Test Drive honestly gives you the feeling that you are flying down the road fast enough to rip the paint off the car. It can be quite exhilarating, adds vastly to the challenge and is easily one of the highlights of the game.
The police have generally been a poorly implemented feature of the Test Drive series, and that tradition continues here. They aren't interested in anything other than you and what you're doing. Five of your challengers could barrel past a black and white at 200 mph and they won't flip their siren on until you limp by at 50 mph. This is the type of thing that only serves to remind you that you're playing a game.
If the cops manage to tap your car four times you are "Busted!"...for a second or two, and then you're on your merry way. Then again, the police have a knack for "tapping" you, causing your car to spin into oncoming traffic or some other disaster that will leave your ride facing a brick wall or other immovable object.
If your car happens to end up on its side or upside down, it will be "reset" by the computer. After a few interminable seconds of consideration, your car will be placed back on its wheels. Although the game is very arcadey, you won't be "reset" on the road - don't expect that kind of love. The result is a half-assed reset in which your car will invariably be facing the object that had sealed your doom when you crashed. You might be reset, for instance, trapped between a wall and a parked semi-truck. How helpful.
Considering the mayhem of the race, the replay feature is truly disappointing. You will not be able to control any features of the replay beyond Start and Stop. Camera angles here remove any illusion of speed you might have experienced while playing and give no indication of just how close you came to clipping other vehicles and objects.
Load screens plague Test Drive; there are even load screens leading up to other load screens. To ease your pain and suffering, they've thrown in a Pong game that can be played during the loads. How much you like Pong will definitely color how you feel about this game (i.e. you will be seeing a hell of a lot of Pong).
In addition to Underground Mode, Test Drive also has Quick Race, Single Race, and Two-Player Split-Screen and a Cop Chase mode, which is simply lousy.
Ultimately, Test Drive winds up a mixed bag of intense and exciting racing action which suffers terribly from a total lack of extras and is beset by weak collision physics, bad camera angles and crappy load times. Still, there's enough fun in this game to recommend it for a quick spin around the block.