Review by dancer62
Big island, fast cars!
Racing games are great! In the virtual world I can drive in banzai mode without risking my little classic Supra or my insurance rating. But Test Drive? The original Test Drive was amazing, real 3D graphics on the Commodore 64, even with pop-up and glitches, Test Drive: The Duel was more of the same. Test Drive 3 was even more amazing on the PC, the first free-roam driving game I remember, it was a blast to drive along railroad tracks and dodge the train. Unfortunately TD4 and TD6 were big disappointments, pointless, pretty graphics but the cars slid around like pats of butter in a hot frying pan, that's no fun! So, I didn't pay much attention to Test Drive Unlimited, oh, ho hum, another hokey Test Drive.. pah! Oops, I might have missed a good one! Test Drive Unlimited got it right, the fun is back!
The PS2 and PSP versions are very similar, but most of the FAQs you find will be for the Xbox 360. I haven't played the 360 version, but there is no selection of avatar, no mission modes, and no motorcycles in the PS2 or PSP versions. There are LOTS of races, the entire island of Oahu to explore, and lots of cars to collect. The free-roam mode from TD3 is back, you can drive cross-country, up mountains, across beaches, but not into the water: that just resets you to the road.
A side note: The crewcut and unshaven male avatar is sort of jarring. I know I played Driver 2 as Tanner, and the avatars in the GTA series are male, but recent games like Arctic Edge do recognize that there are female gamers. And the PS2 avatar does dumb things like jumping on the furniture. What a greeb, didn't his mother teach him anything? It must be a guy thing.
Other than the avatar, the graphics are pretty decent.. the buildings and scenery are on a par with the Midnight Club games, attractive, but not photorealistic. The cars are nicely detailed, and the PS2 version does not have the minor graphical glitches of the PSP version. The game runs smoothly with no pop-in or slowdowns. It's not going to be mistaken for Arctic Edge (my new graphics benchmark), but really good. The PS2 version has some extras that the PSP does not have, like animated birds flying overhead. No airplanes, animated waves (really just texture changes), no surf, no pedestrians, no cows. I wish they could have included the train from TD3. Viewpoint is selectable from two angles behind the car, bumper view, and an in-car view. The in-car view (not available in the PSP version) is really nice, different for each car, and the avatar partially redeems himself by modelling good driving practice, hands at 10 and 2, only moving his right hand from the wheel to change gears. An extra nice touch is that he doesn't move his hand off the wheel in cars that have paddle shifters like the Lambo Gallardo. The in-car view even has working tach and speedo, neat! It's really fun to watch the avatar saw away like Nuvolari at the big steering wheel in the Mercedes 300SL. Another nice feature is that you can inspect the interior of the cars in the garage. I can't vouch for a lot of the cars, but the 57 Vette is very similar to the 60 that I owned once, the steering wheel, dash, and speedo look right, it is missing the tiny tach pod inset below the speedo, but the seat shapes are right, as is the boot lid where the convertible top retracts. The GT500 looks right, with its skinny spoked steering wheel, as does the AC289, and the restricted Panzerwagen-like firing slit view from the Audi TT. Neat stuff!
Sound: there are selectible radio stations with a variety of music. As a dancer/choreographer, I'm always listening for new music I can use in a dance piece, and, although I wasn't initially impressed, there are a few nice songs that have sort of grown on me. The engine sounds are decent, an Audi TT sounds higher pitched than a Shelby GT500. Nothing nicely resonant like custom exhaust systems on real-world cars, but OK.
The gameplay is the thing. The map contains realtors to buy houses with garages to store cars, auto dealerships, auto tuning shops, auto rental agencies, auto clubs that support racing series, and racing challenges. Races pay off in money and experience points. Money is needed to buy houses, cars, and tuning packages. Mileage driven, jumps, and drifts, in races and in free-roam, also add to experience points, which unlock more levels of races.
Gameplay is very similar to the Midnight Club games, with a GPS map showing the route in an open environment. Some races have checkpoints that must be passed through, other races just have a finish point that must be reached. Some races have penalties for offroad driving, other races are open to cutting cross-country. Races are of three general varieties, conventional races against one or several opponents, time trials, and speed camera checkpoints. The difficulty level is nicely gauged, challenging enough to be rewarding but not discouraging. The AI opponents occasionally wreck, so, it's possible (but rare) to win a race in an inferior car. Phone poles next to the road, curbs, and trees lie in wait for the unwary, and suicidal traffic cars and trucks will ram headon, turn across your path, and generally make life difficult. The physics is arcade, there is no damage, cars and pickup trucks will bounce away when hit, while slowing you enough for an opponent to pass; while big trucks and school busses will stop you dead. Reversing after hitting an obstacle is time-consuming enough, that unless you have a substantial lead, it's time to hit the restart button. Trying to keep an eye on the GPS map to stay on-route, watching for traffic, and trying to identify turn-in points for corners is very challenging, similar to the Midnight Club games. Control is decent, a little twitchy, and there is a definite learning curve, but the cars handle predictably enough to be fun.
Car selection is heavy on exotics. There is a good selection of American and European cars from the fifties, sixties, and seventies, like the Mercedes 300SL, XKE Jaguar, Lamborghini Miura, Corvette Stingray, Camaro Z28. Unlike most recent racing games, there is a shortage of Japanese makes, with only the Nissan 350Z and Skyline represented. McLarens, Lotuses, Alfa Romeos, but no Toyotas (where's my Supra?), no Mazdas, no Mitsubishis. If you want a James Bond Aston Martin or Lotus Esprit, it's here. You want an eX'Driver Caterham? It's here. An Initial D Corolla or RX7? No. The cars do handle much differently. A skinny-tired AC427 is going to be a lot harder to control than a nicely balanced Alfa 8C. Mid vs. Front engine, RWD vs FWD vs 4WD makes a difference. The light and overpowered Lotus Exige is a real handful.
I count 225 challenge races, of which I've completed 97 after 19 hours, but I've spent little time exploring in free-roam because I'm already familiar with the PSP version. I've unlocked Expert level challenges, accumulated five houses and twenty cars, and won two car club presidencies. That places me at 39% completion, with, as I said, pretty focussed gameplay, having essentially completed the game before on the PSP. There is a lot of gameplay here! I think the PS2 version is a little more difficult in the time trial races, but that may be just me.
Replays? No. Movies? No, just the intro. Story? No. Just racing, lots and lots of racing, and car collecting to do more racing, and car tuning to do more racing, house buying to store cars to do more racing, and that's enough.
Bottom line: a really nice racer, one of the better ones on the PS2. If you like Midnight Club type free-roam exploration and challenges, and want more, here's the answer. The ability to explore the huge island of Oahu including the capability go offroad cross-country is unique. The police chases are fun, if sometimes annoying.. (honest, it wasn't my fault, officer, that truck ran into ME!) The gameplay is compelling. Not quite as pulse-pounding or beautiful as Arctic Edge, less addictive than Tokyo Xtreme Drift 2, but a very good game, worth every penny! And adding some nice refinements over the PSP version. I might wish for a little greater car selection, but there are some great ones here.
Pros: addictive gameplay
lots and lots of racing in an open Hawaiian setting
lots of cars and houses to collect
difficulty nicely gauged
great in-car views
Cons: mildly oversensitive controls
Rating: 8/10: a competent and fun racer with lots of content
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Test Drive Unlimited (US, 03/20/07)
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