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Test Drive Unlimited Review

Duke_Ferris By:
Duke_Ferris
09/14/06
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE Racing 
PLAYERS 1- 8 
PUBLISHER Atari 
DEVELOPER Eden Studios 
RELEASE DATE Out Now
E10+ Contains Language, Mild Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Because your other car is not a Lamborghini.

My car is ugly. It’s old, it’s rusted, the hatch doesn’t close properly, and there’s damage in the back where I got rear-ended a few years ago. One of the fenders has actually started to grow moss.  So here’s the problem - it runs great. Still fast and super-reliable after all these years, it has never needed a major repair.

So I have no excuse (other than my own vanity) to replace it with something cooler. And now I don’t have to, because with ninety different real-world cars and motorcycles to drive (most of which I couldn’t afford even if I really was car shopping), Atari’s new Test Drive Unlimited fulfils some of my desire for a hot new ride.
 
click to enlargeAnd at forty dollars, this is a luxury car with an economy price tag, possibly the best gaming bargain on the 360 today. Even better, it’s a wide-open, free roaming, massively multiplayer racing experience like nothing else. If only I could drive it to work.
 
It seems the island of Oahu has become infested with zombie alien robot ninjas. Wait, no it hasn’t. The island of Oahu is a wonderful place to drive, with scenic roads, lush landscape and endless perfect weather. Paradise. Damn you Hawaii! And Atari has recreated the entire beautiful island, street for street from Waikiki Beach to Waimea Bay, with Honolulu in between. If you live in North Dakota, this game is going to really piss you off.
 
It’ll also piss you off if you don’t have an Xbox Live! account. Though it features the best online racing content we’ve ever seen, it’s hardly the single player ride of a lifetime. With no plot or purpose, this game is far more limited offline than its title would have you believe.
 
Still, it’s a lot of fun to play. Test Drive has always emphasized realism, so expect the cars to behave accordingly. It’s easy to lose control and spin out, and although your car is indestructible, telephone poles, trees, and lamp posts will stop you cold. Don’t expect to just barrel your way through everything like you can in Need for Speed: Most Wanted or Saint’s Row. Also, quite a few types of races and missions penalize you for crashing or leaving the road.
 
click to enlargeAlthough the game is always online, you’ll spend a lot of time in offline races to gain ranks and earn money for cars and houses. There’s a fairly wide variety of standard races, time trials, and speed challenges, most of which are restricted to a particular class of vehicle. There are also hitchhiker missions where you take some guy or gal to a destination (they’ll get out if you drive badly), and are rewarded with clothing coupons instead.
 
These can be redeemed at any of Oahu’s real-life fashion designer outlets. It’s a nice attempt at some character depth, but it ends up being pretty lame because it never goes anywhere. You mostly just see your cars, and you can never control your human avatar no matter how snazzy his threads. Similarly, the housing system falls flat because you never really need to go home, and the only reason to buy fancy Hawaiian houses is so that you have a place to park more cars. They aren’t even really homes, just nice garages.
 
However, you’ll never lack for depth once you start taking on other players. Technically, there are never more than seven other drivers on your private island, but since they cycle in and out depending on what they are doing and how close they are to your proximity, it actually feels like there are a ton of people and it’s no problem finding races. Sure, there are the occasional ping glitches like any online game, but for the most part it works great. I thought Project Gotham Racing 3 really had incredible Xbox Live integration, but it’s nothing compared with Test Drive Unlimited.
 
The island is full of pre-set multiplayer races where you can challenge up to seven other drivers, or you can create your own single player challenges and then upload them to the server for others to try. Especially cool is the fact that you can set a buy-in price for almost any custom race, then compete against other players for virtual cash. My favorite part is that you can just drive up to anyone, flash your lights and challenge them to a race for cash on your terms. If they accept, you pick the destination on the Google Earth-like map, and you’re off. To the victor go the spoils.
 
click to enlargeAnd you couldn’t ask for a nicer place to race all these fancy cars. There’s some popup in the distance, but both the cars and the scenery look very good. The cars might be even better, with great attention to detail and accuracy, both on the exterior and interior, whether you’re driving a Ford Mustang or a Ferrari Enzo. Plus, you can circle the whole island along the coast highway, which probably takes over an hour at unsafe speeds, with roads full of both random traffic and other online players, and never have a single load time or framerate problem. That’s damn impressive.
 
It sounds good too, with all the tire squeals, engine whines, and whipping wind you’d expect. The now-obligatory car radio has some good old funk tunes and some classic R&B thanks to Jr. Walker & The All Stars, but most of the tunes are B-list at best and the song list is tiny compared to that of Grand Theft Auto or even Saint’s Row. But that’s what windows media connect is for, so just feed your own mp3’s into the radio and you’re good to go.
 
Unless you already happen to live in a beautiful tropical paradise with your mansion and fancy cars, take my advice: put on a bathing suit, crank up the heat, pour yourself a frosty rum drink with a little umbrella, queue up some Dick Dale and meet me on the road.
B+ Revolution report card
  • Beautiful island graphics
  • Open world racing
  • Cool cars I can’t afford
  • Massively multiplayer
  • Only $40
  • Pointless houses and clothing
  • Doesn’t hold up offline
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