Shut Up and Drive.
The Test Drive series is filled with up and downs. Some of the games have
while others have been very forgettable.
The latest, simply called Test Drive, makes it way from the PS2
to the Xbox, and though it looks a little better on Bill’s green machine, still
fails to prove its worth.
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 droppings who’s been hired by a rich, chatty weirdo named Donald Clark
to take his place in a high stakes tournament.
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
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
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.
They even toss it a few drag strips just for good measure. All of the tracks
are superb stretches of asphalt and a pleasure to drive, even with the brutal
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.
Not only are they dangerous, your competition is a chatty crowd. Taking full
advantage of the Xbox’s hardware capabilities, the developers have determined
that you should get to know your opponents on a personal level. Unlike the PS2
version where you only glimpsed your nemeses between races, here they contact
you by ‘VidiMail’ every time they come into proximity…and this will happen
often. Unfortunately, they aren’t a very glib crew. In fact, each of them can
only think of two phrases – one for when they pass you and another for when
you pass them. This can get on your nerves after a while as the races in
Test Drive are fairly long and there is no toggle control in the options
menu to turn your VidiMail off. It’s like being trapped in an elevator with
five loquacious, hyperactive parrots.
The collision physics in the Test Drive series has always been inconsistent
and generally weak. They fare a bit better in the Xbox version. Although struck
cars still tend to go weightless and airborne or have the give of dry-docked
aircraft carriers, vehicles generally have more weight here than in the PS2
version. Collisions in this game tend towards the calamitous, as accidents seem
to have a more pronounced chain effect. There is no damage modeling, however
(although some civilian vehicles can be knocked out of commission), and cars
will not accrue damage during a race…though that might be a good thing considering
how much crashing you will be doing.
The graphics are fairly decent; textures are crisp and the cars look good.
This game seems about 10 times clearer and cleaner than the PS2 Test Drive.
This version even makes attempts at weather effects like water trails coming
off car tires in the rain. While smoke effects are present and accounted for,
spark effects are noticeably absent. Overall, Test Drive is a good-looking
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 sensation
of flying down the road fast enough to rip the paint from the car. It can be
quite exhilarating, adds vastly to the challenge and is easily one of the highlights
of the game.
The police in the Test Drive series have always been thrown in as an
afterthought, and that tradition continues here. Although you will occasionally
see an opponent sail past you with a complement of police escorts, they seem
to be merely pointing out your location to the cops. And if the cops are interested
in anyone other than you, they certainly aren’t obvious about it. Five of your
opponents could barrel past a black and white at 200 mph and they won’t flip
on their siren until you limp by at 50 mph. Even if you are “Busted,” the usual
result is simply losing a few seconds of race time – a penalty to the checkpoint
timers only, as a plainly evident catch-up feature makes it impossible for your
challengers to get too far ahead of you. All of this only serves to remind you
that you’re playing a game.
Considering the mayhem of the race, the replay feature is disappointing. You
will not be able to control any particulars of the replay beyond Start and Stop.
Camera angles here, though better than in the PS2 version, remove much of the
illusion of speed you may have experienced while playing and give little indication
of just how close you came to clipping other vehicles and objects.
In addition to Underground mode, Test Drive also has Quick Race, Single
Race, and a Two-Player Split-Screen mode. There is even a Cop Chase mode in
which you play as a cop out to tag cars. Since the catch-up feature is still
in effect here, this is about as challenging as shooting fish in a bath tub.
Ultimately, the Xbox version of Test Drive winds up being a mixed bag
of intense and exciting racing just like the PS2 version. The vast and various
stretches of road suffer from a total lack of extras and are beset by unimpressive
collision physics and limited camera angles. Still, there is enough fun in this
game to recommend it for a quick spin around the block.