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Test Drive Unlimited

The Good

    * Being able to encounter other online drivers at any given time is extremely cool 
    * single-player and multiplayer components are blended nicely into one cohesive package 
    * a huge, picturesque island with seemingly endless roads 
    * lots of available races.

The Bad

    * Online game isn't quite as "unlimited" as it initially seems 
    * no real thread to tie together any of what you're doing on the island 
    * some ugly issues diminish the overall graphical quality.

Reviewed by: Alex Navarro

Test Drive Unlimited Racing Game

If you prefer simply driving the open roads to sticking to predetermined courses, you also have the option of tracking down other players free riding around the city. This is where the whole MMOG comparison comes in (or as the game refers to it, MOOR, or massively open online racing), as players driving around the city are very visible to you while you're not engaged in a race or mission, and if you happen upon any rival online drivers, you can challenge them to a quick race for cash and ranking points. All you have to do is flash your headlights at them, and they can choose to accept or decline the challenge; if they accept, you just pick a finish line somewhere away from where you're currently situated, and race to the end.
The whole system of being able to find other, random players while simply driving around the island sounds brilliant on paper, but it doesn't offer quite as much freedom as you might hope for. For one thing, you can't just run into every single driver that happens to be in your vicinity. Though you'll certainly find plenty of other players driving around, there seems to be a limit on exactly how many can appear to you while you're in a specific zone of the island, and getting specific players into your zone can be kind of a pain if they aren't already on your friends list. It's not a bad system in theory, since it does prevent the streets from getting overcrowded with rival racers, and to its credit, the switches between instances as you drive around are completely seamless, but if you want to find someone specific that isn't automatically appearing on your list, it's a rather clunky process.

Still, caveats aside, the multiplayer is where it's at, both because of the variety of ways to compete and because the online competition is just better than the offline. When you're racing offline, the opponent artificial intelligence is, in a word, limited. Opponents wreck and end up in the dirt more than you will, and the only advantage they'll ever have is if they have a markedly faster ride than you do. You'll also notice that if you end up having to redo races a few times, the opponents will follow the exact same AI routines every time, braking at the same points, veering around other drivers at the same times, and things like that. The only thing that can seem to throw them off this is you wrecking into them, but after a while, the routine resumes.

Test Drive Unlimited Racing Game 

That's about the worst thing you can say for the in-car action, however; the core driving mechanics are quite solid. The handling of the various cars can take some getting used to, as almost every car is a bit squirrelly and prone to random spinouts. But once you get a handle on things, you can pretty easily master the controls and take to the roads with minimal issue. Of course, you'll still have to navigate around AI-controlled traffic and, occasionally, cops. But it's more the random traffic that poses an issue than the cops. Whereas AI cars will sometimes veer into you at random or bunch up at intersections, cops rarely seem to care terribly much what you do. Scraping or crashing into other cars alerts them, but you have to do it a bunch of times in a short period before they'll really start coming after you. Typically, all you have to do is avoid wrecking for around 10 seconds after alerting them, and your alert level will just drop right back to nothing.

Test Drive Unlimited Racing Game 

Obviously, the lack of cop interaction prevents them from getting in the way of your enjoyment of driving around the island. In fact, with the exception of the AI traffic and largely immovable scenery, everything about Test Drive's design seems built with the expressed purpose of making Oahu as leisurely a place to drive around as humanly possible. Sure, the racing can get intense at times, and there are few things more frustrating than taking on a timed car-delivery mission and inadvertently wrecking into another car while trying to take a blind corner as quickly as possible, but for the most part, driving around Oahu is a relaxing experience. The game's mileage counts for each point-to-point drive are completely accurate, and unlike most games that tell you that you'll be going 15 miles to your destination, you feel like you're driving a realistic 15 miles. For some, the pacing of the island's travels might feel kind of sluggish, but for those who just like the idea of driving a hot car against a striking backdrop, Test Drive provides precisely that.

And it is quite a striking backdrop. Oahu is rendered with a high level of detail, and it looks extremely pretty as you're driving from place to place. Of course, most of the island's highways stick to the shorelines and heavily populated areas, but there's plenty of windy mountain roads and backcountry areas to explore, too. If you've got a high-end PC, you're going to see crisper in-game visuals, especially if you run it in HD mode. It doesn't look perfect, mind you. When you aren't speeding along, some of the more obvious texture seams and lower-resolution set pieces tend to stick out, and the fact that there's absolutely no people at all wandering around a bustling beach community is altogether weird; but at high speeds, the environments look great, especially with the attractive motion-blur effect the game uses. Unfortunately, high speeds also sometimes cause some problems for the game. Specifically, texture pop-in and frame rate hiccups tend to occur at frequent rates. The actual frame rate never seems to drop below 30, but you'll see these quick hitches from time to time that can be a little off-putting. The environmental streaming also tends to chug a bit no matter how powerful your system is, and we did run into some occasional graphical glitches specific to the PC version, like extreme amounts of flickering from the textures and lighting.

Test Drive Unlimited Racing Game

The cars in the game are modeled beautifully, looking like pristine, out-of-the-factory renditions of their real-life counterparts. There's no damage modeling to any of the licensed vehicles, though you can damage the generic AI traffic. Collisions look strange, though, as the physics of you smashing into another car at a 150 miles per hour just don't look right. It's also bizarre when you go head-on into a lamppost or fence or something equally unassuming, and get stopped on a dime by it. There's also no car-customization element to speak of. There are some basic performance upgrades you can buy that sometimes do involve some visual upgrades, but there's no way to trick out your ride to make it look like your ride beyond basic paint jobs and some rim upgrades you can grab at the time you purchase a car. It's just strange that a racing game involving such a community-driven design would go to the trouble of letting you play dress-up with your character that is barely visible outside of cutscenes (and also doesn't look particularly good, dressed-up or not), but wouldn't let you give your various cars more unique identities. Each car also has its own unique cockpit view that's accurate to the real car; a feature sure to please the kinds of car fanatics that love this level of detail. It's especially cool if you've got a driving wheel hooked up.
The in-game audio is reasonably enjoyable though not nearly as in-depth as many of the other racers on the 360. The game has good car sound effects but a fairly forgettable soundtrack consisting largely of songs from relatively unkown bands. There are a few notable tracks by artists like Queens of the Stone Age, Metric, and the James Gang, but you're more likely to want to get your custom soundtrack on while playing this one. There's not a hefty amount of voice acting in the game, save for a few awkward (and abysmally lip-synced) lines during mission set-ups, but what's there is serviceable.

While Test Drive Unlimited blurs the line between single-player and multiplayer racing better than anything that's ever tried it before, it's not quite a slam dunk. The game's open-ended mission design belies its purposeless nature, and the whole massively open online racing thing isn't quite as massive as one might be led to believe. But even with its limitations, Test Drive Unlimited's concept is executed well enough to make it an addictive and interesting racing experience. Of course, if you already played this game on the Xbox 360, the PC version isn't different enough to make it worth looking at. But for PC players who didn't try this on the 360 and are interested in something new and unique in the driving-game genre, there's nothing quite like Test Drive Unlimited on the market right now. Though you're undoubtedly going to take issue with a few of the game's peculiarities, there's enough here to make it a racer worth checking out.

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