I feel I have to start off this review with a disappointed attitude. Test Drive Unlimited hasn’t got the hype it deserves. I’m not talking about a small amount of hype like Rockstar Games: Table Tennis. I’m talking about massive hype like Gears of War. TDU has done something no other racing game has managed to pull off as it makes casual driving fun and a friendlier experience with other Xbox LIVE gamers. It’s no longer a chore to go from one place to another as seen in other driving games like the NFS series. You start the game up and you are brought to the start screen. You press start and you are brought to two options, New Game and Continue. That’s it! No other menus, no options, not even a credits screen. This is great because I can’t stand games where I have to go through menus to try to find what I am looking for. A good example of this is PGR3’s menus where Xbox Live play is not as obvious as it should be.
When you start a new game you watch an intro which lead’s to selecting a character. All available characters are situated in a boarding lounge queuing up to show their boarding passes and you just need to select which one you would like to use. Once you have chosen your character, they will board the plane to the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Once there you’re shown the island in all its beauty in real time. This may sound sad, but to see this in real time is quite extraordinary, it really does show you what the Xbox 360 is capable of.
Now that you’re on the ground you will need some wheels to get you round this tropical paradise, so your first port of call is a car rental firm, where you’re shown some available cars to rent. Mind you, these are not your average cars that you will find at any rental service; Audi Cabriolet, Mercedes-Benz, Lotus Elise (You won’t find any Peugeot 306’s here!). The rental service is always available throughout the game. The reason for this is that you may need a specific type of car, or class of car which you might not have in order to compete in an event. So if you head down to the nearest vehicle rental place you can rent a car for a period of 10 or 20 minutes.
So you have selected a car, now you’re going to need a house or more importantly a garage to keep it in. You begin your first drive in your selected rental car on route to a real estate agent. Your HUD is fitted with a satellite navigation system which will show you the way to go to your selected destination by highlighting the roads in green, while an American female voice produces accompanying audible directions. These audible directions can be turned off in the options menu, but when you’re driving at 160Mph you don’t really have time to look down at your HUD, so it is quite handy. Personally I would have preferred an English female voice or even a Master Chief voice telling me to ‘finish the fight!’ but the American voice works just fine. Once you have arrived at the real estate agency you can decided on what house you want to purchase. You only have enough money choose between two houses and they both offer the same space to hold four vehicles, but once you start to earn some money you will be looking for houses that can hold more.
It’s now time to ditch that rental and buy a suitable ride! A new screen will pop up and show you a map of the island. This is where you can find all your challenges and destinations. You can zoom in and out with the left and right triggers. If you zoom out too far out you will be shown the game credits (very annoying but a good way to make the gamers see them) and you can zoom so far in that if you zoom in to your current location you can see the AI cars driving by near you. For the time being the only items you can see on your map are three car dealerships with a total option of four different car manufacturers. You need to select a dealership you wish to look at and select a car. This will be the vehicle you are going to be using for a good amount of time until you have enough money to buy another one, so you are going to need to pick one that you feel most comfortable in. When you have selected a car you can choose what tyre rims you want, the colour of the car and the cars interior. These options are all limited to what the car manufacturer specifies.
So that’s it as far as introduction goes. Let’s take a more in-depth look at what the rest of the game offers. The map is an extremely powerful tool in the game, you will always use it because with over 1000 Miles of road it’s quite easy to just go “where the hell am I?” You can view online and offline challenges, key locations (Dealerships, clubs etc), Players and a feature called Bookmarks. A bookmark does exactly what it says, when you’re driving about and want to remember the location to come back to at a later time you can bookmark it. This will be pinned on the map and you can take a photo of the location as well!
TDU doesn’t offer that many different game types but then it’s not really needed. It really has stayed well clear from trying to be a racing game and more of a cruising game. You have your basic game types like Race, Timed Race and Speed but there are also four more game types, Top Model, Hitchhiker, Courier and Vehicle Transport.
In a Top Model game the object is to get a pretty pixel girl and her shopping bags from point A to point B. Complete that and you get some credits which you can use to buy cloths and accessories in stores. If you can manage to complete it by driving well without going off the road or hitting other cars you will be rewarded with a bonus credit. Hitchhiker is exactly the same as Top Model apart from you have to travel around 12 Miles rather than a much shorter distance and it’s a smartly dressed bloke who looks like he could afford a much better car than you. In a Courier mission you need to deliver a package with one of your two-seater vehicles. The reason being is the second seat if for a small parcel. You don’t know what it is but the guy who wants it delivered will tell you he doesn’t want any cops, so it’s best to do as the man says. The best game type is the Vehicle Transport missions, on these missions you need to drive a vehicle to its destination. These normally pay out about $90,000 and if you can manage to drive perfect you will get a 50% bonus. Unlike the other missions there is no time limit but this is how Atari tease you. They put you in a fast nice car which you can’t possibly drive at a slow speed in as it would be wrong. You have to squeeze all you can out of the vehicle, however, after restarting the mission 5 times because you hit a car and want to get a perfect run, you will start to learn that maybe you should just take it easy.
So it all seems quite easy doesn’t it? However there are a couple of features which try there best to stop you. In Top Model, Hitchhiker, Vehicle Transport and in some other races you will have a driving gauge pop up in the bottom left of the screen. Crash into a car or go off the road and this will completely start to deplete. If the gauge goes to zero it’s game over and you will have to start the race again.
The second “feature” and I use the term quite loosely is Police, this let’s the game down quite a bit. If you hit a car, a bar will pop up at the top of the screen with three faint icons of police badges. Every time you hit a citizen vehicle, one of these will flash. Hit a vehicle again and it will stay lit and so on. If you hit a Police car it’s a fully lit badge straight away. When one badge is fully lit the police will come after you and try to stop you by crashing into you. When 3 badges are lit they will start putting up road blocks and once they manage to stop you, be prepared to pay a big fine. Chases with the police have a very “rubber band effect” about them. A cop will be behind you and you will easily out run them, but as soon as you do that, another squad car will be directly in front of you. This can be very frustrating as the only way to get the cops off your back is to keep driving. If you stop and hide you will not loose your wanted level. These are not the smartest police though, I’m not clued up on Hawaiian laws but I am quite sure doing a 180Mph down a road isn’t legal. The Police seem to think that though and you can bet that when you are doing 180Mph down a straight road for five minutes you will pass about six Police vehicles who won’t even take any notice, they will even move over to another lane to let you pass!
Xbox Live plays a big part in TDU. You will always see about five other racers just driving around and cruising. There names will pop up along with the distance they are from you. It’s great fun to just randomly chase someone around and explore the island. If you want to challenge the racer you can tap “A” and it will flash your headlights and if they accept the race the map will pop up and you can select a road where the finish line will be.
Visually the island is amazing. Trees, water, cars, they’re all jaw dropping to look at. The amount of detail that’s been put into this island is phenomenal. For those of you who have played Far Cry (PC version) you will be quite surprised at TDU and how much more realistic it looks. There is some detail that has gone amiss however. Some trees are actually 2D and the paper like foliage will follow the camera around, and there has been not much of an effort in the modeling of characters. On top of this there are some slight draw distant issues, you can see everything but when things start to get closer the additional detail tends to quickly jump into place. There is no night time either which is very odd as every car in the game always has its lights on.
The cars however… well… they’re just the most beautiful things you have ever seen. On the outside you have the lights and reflections shining at you and this same standard is carried through to the inside to, every playable car in the game has an in-car view option. Each car has been completely modeled in pure detail with some car’s not having a rear window to look out of, some cars with paddle gear shifting and some with built in GPS. When your view is in-car it’s not just your view, TDU really makes you feel like you are ‘in’ the car, the sound will be muffled, yet you can still feel the engine through your speakers and sub.
Many of you will have a biased view on the game because of the first demo that came out on the Xbox Live Marketplace. The main reason was handling, the cars didn’t react as people were expecting. If you have downloaded the recent demo and still think the handling isn’t right I suggest trying an in-car view. This will allow you to not worry about the back of the car sliding out. If this doesn’t fix your handling problem, the only other option you have is changing the sensitivity in the menus. Failing that this might not be the game for you. Handling is something which is different for everyone. Motorbike handling is a little bit different from other bike games, most will expect a kind of Moto GP style handling but this is not the case. Handling is pretty much like Midnight Club 3 bikes, very sensitive, and you have to slow right down to take a corner. While this is realistic, most people want to go round a corner at a good 90Mph. All vehicles can be “tuned up” for faster acceleration and a higher top speed. You have to be careful though on what vehicles you tune because you will loose some handling which can lead to some bad results around corners.
TDU is by far the best racing game for the Xbox 360. It is going to change the way developers approach games in the future and start to think about the more relaxed player. With its amazing attention to detail, lush graphics and an extremely fun online aspect it’s a game you can truly immerse yourself in.
Originally Written By: Toby Bodman