Recently the gaming world got a chance to get their grubby mitts on Test Drive Unlimited (TDU). Ok, it came in the form of a 15 minute, buggy demo but at least we got a chance to have a go. Some people liked it, some people hated it, and some sat on the fence. Even more recently we got our chance to give Test Drive Unlimited a proper spin, and it’s coming along rather nicely.
To kick off the day (or afternoon to be more anal), we got a presentation from the PR guy at Atari to show us the intro of the game. The game opens up as you see a couple of people stood in an airplane boarding queue, which is where you pick your character. It’s a neat little trick that doesn’t add much to the game, but makes you feel like you’re never removed from it even when choosing your character. Then you get to see the plane take off to your future destination and game setting — Oahu. We were kindly advised that the intro clip was all in real time too, which after seeing how impressive the in game graphics are, just raised the game up another level on our impressed-o-meter.
Then when you arrive at the Oahu airport you have to rent a car — another of TDU’s innovations. The way this works is that you pick a car to rent from one of the many rental shops (or in this case the airport), and then you will have a set time limit in the car, which after that expires the car is taken back off you. A time trial if you will, only in reverse. Which leads us on to TDU’s second trick — Real Estate. You have to drive your rented car to your first purchase of a house which is done at the Real Estate office. Once there you get to pick your house, which acts as your central hub to the game. Naturally you start off with a hefty lump sum to buy yourself a nice little house, and once you’ve bought that you’ll have to go pick your first car.
The choice of cars at the beginning of the game isn’t overly impressive, and the majority of the list is made up of hot hatchbacks like Golfs.. The game does wean you in gently though, giving you the smaller nippier cars first before letting you in the big beefier cars. Then once you’ve picked your car you’re unleashed into the game and get your first taste of freedom. And what a ridiculously nice taste it is.
The whole of Oahu Island has been lovingly created to an inch of reality; you’ll find every bench, tree, and house in the exact same place as you would on the real island. This also means that you get a lot of ground to play with — over 4000 miles of it we were told (we didn’t measure). Due to the awesome look of the game it’s easy to just get lost in the landscape driving about looking for that one true stunning sight in the game. There’s many of them to see too, one we found was a gorgeous waterfall that looking good enough to dribble over in the afternoon Hawaiian sun. The photo mode takes advantage of the game’s gorgeous visuals, seemingly lifting the photo mode straight out of PGR3 and slapping it into here.
Of course this preview would be nothing without the discussion of the meat to the game’s potatoes — the cars. What a beautiful bunch they are. You’ve got everything from the extremely manly Shelby GT (as seen in the demo) to the extremely fast McLaren F1, to the extremely desirable Enzo Ferrari. Each four-wheeled monstrosity handles considerably different to the last, so you’ll find that you can skid around corners in the Firebird (for the Dukes of Hazzard fans out there), but have to slow down to take corners in the Enzo. It adds a whole other dimension of longevity to the game; because once you’ve mastered one car you’ll be moving onto the next.
The handling of the cars can be initially frustrating, especially if you’ve just jumped from a slow car to a fast car. The handling can seem extremely twitchy (sometimes unfairly so) to begin with, but as you slowly become accustomed to it the frustration will alleviate. After all the beautifully crafted handling of the cars however, the bikes seem like nothing more than a needless add-on. After letting go of the stick to turn a corner the rider seems to spring back up onto the back, much the same way as the analogue stick does. It seems unnatural, and severely affects your ability to handle the back. They don’t seem to handle like bikes, rather like a car that has been chopped down the middle. The range of bikes is also limited, which leaves us thinking what the point was of even adding bikes to the game in the first place. At least they look pretty.
When it comes to progression though, the way forward is much simpler. It’s all about the money, and then using said money to buy bigger cars. And then the odd house. Making money comes in the form of four ways — races, speed challenges (think speed camera mode on PGR3 and you’re almost there), time trials and challenges. Challenges come in the form of tasks like carting your mates around the island, helping the damsel with the shopping bags, and taking some random bloke’s car to be cleaned. The people of Oahu sure are very trusting. Their trusting nature creates a real bulge in your wallet, with an average challenge usually netting you about $20,000. Compared to the beginning race’s payouts of $3000, these are obviously a very attractive offer. It’s also possible to challenge drivers to random races to earn a bit of money by betting things such as your money, your car or even your house. Don’t worry if you’re not online though, as NPCs play the role of online players that you can challenge. Other than that, there’s no other way to gain money. Test Drive cleverly disguises it’s limited options through wide open spaces, and easily pulls it off. The point of this game isn’t to have millions of options, it’s about the lifestyle. The freedom. The glamour.
It seems as though Atari have done it again.