Review by Off_da_border
Reviewed: 03/21/07 | Updated: 05/08/07
More than just a Test Drive?
So you've got 1000+ miles of Hawaiian roads to drive on and 100+ cars to get in. Sounds like any video gamer's dream when it comes to the Racing genre, don't you agree? Well I've seen lots of people praising this game as the long lost old school NFS, bringing back the Exotic cars in Exotic locations, and I've also seen a few avid haters roaming around the boards. But can mere numbers push this game up against the fierce competition in the Racing games' community? Find out in this review by Yours Truly. :P
Environments? Excellent. Water? Amazing. Buildings and Roads? Fantastic. If there's one thing that will turn you away from the game, it most certainly won't be the Graphics. Everything looks as it should. When it comes to the cars though, the details aren't as good as NFS Carbon, and even at the settings above you can sometimes see the low polygon rate on the wheels and other curves. It is still satisfactory though, so no biggie there.
Like most other games, there are usually a few Graphics glitches here and there. Sometimes, the game runs abnormally slow or the environments don't load properly (they flash or even completely disappear). Alt+Tabbing solves the problem... sometimes though you'll have to restart the entire game. It can be overlooked, but sometimes it gets annoying.
When it comes to Sound Effects, they never fail to impress me. All cars sound great, though the tires' screech doesn't sound THAT realistic. It gives you the impression you're driving a plastic car. Everything else sounds fantastic though, whether it's the soothing water, nearby cars, voices, or the Cops. Hell, in Dashboard view you'll notice a difference in the engine sound if you roll down the car windows. The Menu music is... not sure how to describe it but isn't that great. It makes you feel you're playing The Sims or something, not fitting in a racing game. Note that if you want music while driving, you'll have to use your own tracks. Cheap eh?
However, there's a glaring glitch that seems to come in randomly, where EVERYTHING gets muted in the game for no apparent reason. Usually Alt+Tabbing will solve the problem, but still, that should've been ironed out of the original Beta. Not a big deal though.
Features and Gameplay 8.9/10
The game starts with a little cinematic of a bunch of passengers in an unknown airport, heading to Hawaii. You get to choose your character from a bunch of 10 or so as they wait in the Passport line. After another bunch of cinematics, you end up in the dream island of Oahu and you choose a temporary car from the Rental Agency. After some driving around, you buy your own house in the island and soon after, your own car from an initial few. After testing it in a quick race, you are finally left to cruise the entire island on your own.
The island I'm talking about isn't your traditional Liberty City from GTA, it's an entire real life island with over one thousand miles of roads (not counting the surrounding areas). It has a great mix of urban neighborhoods and countryside areas, very well done. I'm not sure if it EXACTLY portrays the real life Oahu though, since I've never been there anyway. All I know is, without a Map you'll be scratching your head for the entire week you spend in there. Does the XXL size tip the scale in Test Drive Unlimited's favor? Not as much as you think. The massive size makes the game VERY VERY boring at sometimes, even though you won't even know where you're going. Imagine driving for a Real Time of 20 minutes just to get from one part of the island to another. Maybe the first few times it'll feel great, but soon after you'll be cursing the game for its stupidity.
As you progress through the game, you buy a few more houses to store your neat car collection in, ranging from traditional cabins to villas on mountain cliffs and even skyscrapers. You get to choose your own clothing too, whether it's Motorcycle gear or your traditional T-shirt and Jeans combo, hell even flip flops are in there. I myself feel this is unnecessary, since this is a RACING game not a fashion show, however, thankfully you can really ignore the clothes part if you want to (but not the houses since you need more garage space). Besides, some houses look really luxurious. :P
The meat of the game is (obviously) the cars. You have over a hundred vehicles (cars and motorcycles) to drive around in. Their prices range from your everyday change up to a whooping $1,500,000. There are even a bunch of concepts in the game if you feel like driving one of those off-the-streets cars. You can see them from the Driver's Position (the dashboard), the hood, 1st person, and three types of 3rd person. Unfortunately, if you're a big customization fan you will be disappointed, as signs of customization are merely the ability to choose from stock rims and colors, and a few performance stuff here and there.
If you break the not-so-strict law, like slamming into two trailers simultaneously to block the street, you'll be chased by a few cops in Crown Victorias (or whatever the hell these cars are). As you slam more and more cars, or perhaps take out a few road signs here and there, the cops become more eager to get you, and will deploy roadblocks to stop your Koenigsegg CCX from getting out of their Speedometer capabilities. If you do get caught, you pay a fine depending on how many cars you slammed, how many signs you took off, and your rank. And in the unwanted event of having insufficient $$$, you'll be thown into jail for 30 seconds. The Cops aren't exactly the most enjoyable part of the game, and they DO get very frustrating at sometimes especially due to the enormous fines you get by the end of the game. Yeah, a chick in a Cop suit holding a long piece of paper by your favorite car isn't always a good thing.
The driving engine is some kind of a cross between Gran Turismo and Need for Speed, with about 70% Simulation feel and 30% Arcade feel. There are some interesting tidbits here and there, such as the ability to turn off your engine, and if you don't press the clutch while in 1st with Auto Clutch off, you'll stall the car. Don't worry, there's no kind of Performance (nor Visual for that matter) damage in the game whatsoever. No damage slightly takes away from the game score, since it has really become almost a requirement in any racing game these days. I mean, IMO it would've been better if you had to repair your car every now and then, adds more to the "realism".
The forces of gravity in TDU seem to be hyperactive though. Sometimes, if you drive off a cliff, the car literally STICKS to the cliffside as it hits rocks here and there. The strange thing is, the car acts normal in standard jumps... apparently you cannot flip your car or incline it past 40 degrees. Not a big deal unless you plan on acting like James Bond and fly off the numerous mountains scattered in Oahu. Overall though the driving engine needs a bit of practice, but soon enough you should grasp it with not much problems. You can change the physics a bit in the options, that is if you want to.
Single player Events include traditional Races, Hitchhiker missions, where you transport some random tourist from one place to another within a Time and Damage limit, Vehicle Transport, where you drive vehicle X from A to B within a Damage limit, Package missions, where you drive a package from A to B within a Time limit, and a few others like Speed missions, Time attacks, etc. Races are pretty nice, but they get boring and even annoying as they increase in length. The odd thing is, even though there is no damage in the game driving off road or hitting cars WILL count as "damage" in missions with Damage Limits.
You have the (by today's standards) rare Replay mode, in case you wanted to check out that amazing clean race you just did. Unfortunately you cannot save the videos to the hard drive as far as I know. There's also the Photo Mode, where you get to take photos of your sleek new vehicle on the cliff top. You can still use the trusty Print Screen key on your keyboard for screens though if you want. IMO they're all neat additions, they help in boosting TDU's replay value as time passes.
Not exactly the greatest, but it isn't that bad. Everything seems obvious if you're using the Keyboard, such as "M" for opening the Map, and "W" for rolling up/down the Windows. The game has support for Joysticks and Wheels, though I'm not sure which ones, as well as Force Feedback. Force Feedback seems screwed though, since I never feel the joypad rumble except if the car is losing traction. And yes, the rumble works fine with other games, so it's not the joypad. The game does support analogue controls, that means that you CAN apply varying degrees of, say, throttle or brakes.
Online and Multiplayer 7/10
Yes, I've finally set up the connection and created an online profile, so here goes.
The meat of the game... at least that's what Atari claims. And yes, I'd have to agree. Online gives the game a whole new dimension ---you feel like you're in a REAL community where anything could happen. You know you're interacting with real people in the open world of TDU. It basically gives you a whole new feel.
First of all, setting up online mode can be a real pain. You have to create an online profile in the game, register at GameSpy with your desired nickname and poof, you're up and racing. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. To help you realise how bad setting up online is, it took me THREE HOURS straight. I created three different GameSpy accounts, reinstalled the game well over 5 times, restarted the computer well over 10 times, disconnected and reconnected the router quite a lot and opened over 5000 ports in my firewall in an attempt to make this game start in online mode, but for nothing. After hours of trial, and after changing the username from Off_da_border to Off da border to ODB, the game finally settled down on odb8492. So yeah guys, my tip is to add a bunch of useless numbers after your username and it should work fine! Couldn't have been smarter of you Atari.
Once you're past this obstacle though, the game is pretty smooth. Online mode unlocks a whole bunch of stuff, such as online races (DUH), clubs to join in, free roam challenges against real life people, and the ability to enter the Trading showroom. Now that I've brought it up, the Trading showroom is the easiest way to get ripped off. It's basically a place where people get to sell their cars online for a price they specify. Yes, you'll probably try to find a bargain, but the sad thing is, there are none. Everyone sells their cars for about 1.5x up to 10x the original price of the vehicle. I won't blame the players, but I'd rather blame Atari. The cars don't acquire damage, so the users won't be forced whatsoever to reduce the prices of their cars.
Oh, and like all online games there are cheaters. I've seen 10 mile challenges finished in ONE SECOND, ONE DAMN SECOND. I mean, if you strap yourself to a Space Shuttle you won't be doing those speeds. And there are the traditional noobs ---not newbies, noobs. You find a Rookie level player rolling down the streets in a Zonda or something, only to crash in the oncoming Firetruck.
So is online really bad? No. I can pretty much say it's a decent addition to the game. Basically as you drive your 8C Competitzione in third gear, you'll find someone doing 360s in a Murcielago, and another dude showing off the sound of his Shelby GT500's powerhouse. It's a dynamic community, it feels alive and if you look past its flaws Online mode is a serious reason why you'd want to buy the game.
Average Score: 8.6/10
My Score: 8/10
The game is a must buy for most racing fans. Sure, it isn't THAT fancy, and it has flaws here and there, but it is pretty decent. You will want to check it out first at a friend's house or something, because even though the game is great, I've seen a few disappointments. And if you've got a fast connection, you've got a whole new reason to get this game. Or perhaps to sum it up, take this for a Test Drive first, then buy as you please, because it isn't just a Test Drive, it's Test Drive Unlimited.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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