home > review > Test Drive Unlimited Review
GamesFirst! Online since 1995
ups: Cool online multiplayer, lots to do, loads of licensed vehicles, innovative achievements system.
downs: Wonky physics, graphical glitches, similar play modes, ugly character models.

View Image Gallery || Get Prices

Test Drive Unlimited Review
game: Test Drive Unlimited
three star
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Atari
developer: Eden Games
ESRB rating: E10+ (Everyone 10 and Older)
date posted: 09:35 AM Sat Sep 30th, 2006
last revision: 01:17 PM Sat Sep 30th, 2006

Click to read.Test Drive Unlimited is an enjoyable, if lopsided game. On one hand the massively open online racer (M.O.O.R., as they gracefully dubbed it) innovates in ways like no other racing game in history; all the while providing an experience that is, to put it simply, one of a kind. On the other hand the core gameplay of the Test Drive Unlimited suffers from an awkward driving and physics engine, no automobile damage, and ho-hum race variety. So I\'m torn as to if it\'s a good racer. It is, I think, fun, for lack of a complicated term. But the fun is limited by the myriad of things the game tries to accomplish; everything, it seems, is not done completely well.

Still, let\'s analyze the successful parts first because these are the parts that really make Test Drive Unlimited for me, as a gamer, as a car lover. First, the massive scope of Test Drive Unlimited is simply one of a kind. O\'ahu means \"the gathering place\" and what a fitting place to gather. The island is painstakingly recreated in its entirety, from the Kauai Channel to Mamala Bay and into Pearl Harbor. It\'s lush, tropical, and green, with cities connected together by sinuous freeways. What strikes the gamer first is how freaking massive Test Drive Unlimited is. It\'s just mind-blowing. There are over 1000 miles of road on Oahu and you can burst a blood vessel trying to drive it all.

Second, with 90 cars and motorcycles all meticulously detailed inside and out, Test Drive Unlimited truly feels like a dreamy microcosm of pistons and spark plugs. While you will only get to buy a few cars at the start, winning races doesn\'t take that long and buying new and better cars will become a hobby in itself. There are many dealers spread out over Oahu from European manufacturers Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo, American dealers like Ford and Dodge, and Asian manufacturers like Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Kawasaki. Of course, it\'s the European supercars that steal the show in Test Drive Unlimited. Names like Noble, McLaren, Maserati, Lotus, Koenigsegg, Jaguar, and Aston Martin among others are the stars of TDU. Go into a dealership and you can take a look at the cars inside and out. Go sit in it, honk the horn, roll down the windows (though honking the horn and rolling down the windows is merely aesthetic). TDU really does get you to fall in love with the car you buy. And since the fanciest cars cost the most, you\'ll spend quite a bit of time racing each and every car you buy, to the point that you\'ll start calling each\"baby\"; \"come-on baby, just one more lap!\"

Next, TDU manages achievement points like no other game on the Xbox 360. When you complete a task like, let\'s say, buying 2 cars, you\'ll be awarded with achievement points. Normal stuff right? Well, this game sends you virtual emails (to your character) and lets you look in graphical detail everything you\'ve completed or have yet to complete in the game. You can see your progress on buying cars, for instance, and houses, how many races you\'ve won in each of the categories. It\'s a great way to get you further immersed in the world of Test Drive.

There are also lots of things to do in Oahu, you can buy cars of course, but you can buy houses to hold the cars, start clubs, arrange intra-club events, make virtually any road in Oahu into a racetrack, take pictures of your car, dress your character in chic clothing, participate in races, or just drive around and have a good time. The many varieties of things to do in TDU are overwhelming.

I\'ve been working over and over the cars, trying to buy different ones so I can see how they control. I\'ve been tooling them through hairpins, banks, sweeps, elbows-even so far as to try driving over the mountains (which I still believe is possible)-brutally abusing the cars to try to get the hang of the driving physics, but I still don\'t completely agree it was the way to go. Eden Games worked hard to make Test Drive Unlimited a \"car collector\'s dream.\" In other words, it\'s a game car collectors would like to buy so they can pretend to own the most dreamy, fastest, ahem, sexiest cars on the planet. They succeed insofar as to bring together 90 of the worlds most sought after automobiles (and motorcycles!) and allow gamers to virtually tool them around the entire island of Oahu (more on that later). But it\'s the \"tooling around\" where Test Drive Unlimited makes it\'s first misstep.

The physics engine just doesn\'t feel right to me. Usually the single most important part of any racing game is the physics engine, but it seems it\'s been given a back-seat ride in favor of the cars themselves. The game\'s physics engine tries to be as much a sim as it can. But the problem is that it\'s so very not a racing simulator. TOCA, Forza, and, most effectively, GTR 1 & 2 (and GT Legends) are simulators. Even to a lesser extent the Gran Turismo series (which is severely lacking in my opinion). The difference is that these games simulate the look and feel of driving right down to the camber, toe, caster, etc., (TDU\'s tweaking options are severely limited to buying kits that upgrade your car altogether). TDU\'s cars don\'t really react to the road in the way I would expect. Actually almost all cars react the same. And the motorcycles, which one would expect to have their own driving physics, drive almost identically to the cars.

TDU\'s physics engine seems to fit somewhere between Project Gotham Racing 3 and Need for Speed Most Wanted. The cars are heavy and like to slide out of control, but also can slide through many 150+ mph turns. Taking hairpins, making clean lines, drifting, hand-breaking, are awkward overall, not so awkward as to ruin the racing experience altogether, but a little more balance and tweaking could have made the driving even more exhilarating. Though that\'s not to knock what TDU does have. It\'s pretty great driving around, and most of the races in the game are rewarding in their own right.

While the island is amazingly detailed, there are graphical problems here and there including pop-up and clipping. Also, I noticed that the building\'s reflections were poorly detailed. One expects that a reflection actually represent what is being reflected, but here they looks like a wonky world within the glass--when you get closer, the world gets bigger. In other words, it\'s odd and distracting. The character models too are fairly ugly. I\'m sad to say, I don\'t think there\'s one good looking character model in the game. They\'re all blocky and shiny, like they were made out of plastic. Not to mention they move like tin-men (or women) in search of oil.

The artificial intelligence also leaves something to be desired. When we approach a turn the computer slows down by maybe forty miles per hour when I\'m well and good to just power through it at full speed. More often than not I\'ll be able to win a race simply because I took a shortcut or underestimated a corner. Most of the races in the game are easy to win because of the AI. That leaves the timed races, the escort missions (hitchhiker, top model, and courier), the vehicle transport missions, speed missions, and time attacks. And the differences rest solely in minor variation on rules and the range of reward.

The above mentioned missions are pretty fun. Hitchhiker has you driving someone to a distant location before time expires. In Top Model you\'re doing the same thing, only it\'s a hot girl model. The only catch is that these people don\'t really like to be bumped around. You have Driving Points. You lose them by bumping or ramming other cars, buildings, or just by going off the road. If you keep the max Driving Points you\'ll get bonuses added to the reward when you arrive at your destination. Courier is similar to hitchhiker and top model but are one-shot missions. You drive a package to the destination and park in the designated area. It\'s not important to worry about bumps in these missions, but fail to transport the package in the allotted time and you have to pay a penalty. I found that you could always hit start and \"restart mission\" if you mess up, so as to avoid the penalty. Vehicle Transport missions are my favorite. Herein you get to drive one of the fastest cars in the game from one point to another (they are very long drives). Luckily there is not time limit, only damage accrued to the car. Damage the car too much and you won\'t be getting much of a reward.

Only complaint I have about these modes is that, while they look different in writing, they\'re so very similar in execution that it\'s shocking. I mean Hitchhiker and Top Model are pretty much the same thing. And Courier is a timed transport, like Hitchhiker and Top Model, but there\'s no Driving Points. Transport Missions are untimed but have driving points of a sort. That leaves Speed Missions, where you\'re trying to race to a top speed in the allotted time and Time Attack missions where you, you guessed it, do laps to try to beat the best time. After a while (there are 220 challenges) the missions all seem so similar that they run together. I was hoping for more of a variety when it came to offline missions.

Online races are great, that is, if you can find someone to race with. Usually friend lists and/or car clubs are the way to go, although buying a car club can put you in the red real quick.

I have many problems with Test Drive Unlimited overall, but even with a quirky physics engine, some graphical glitches, too similar missions, and some ugly character models, the game still remains a joy to play. Maybe it\'s the amount of cars available or the entire rendered island of Oahu (or maybe it\'s a combination of things) but I really like this game. TDU reinvigorates the Test Drive series in bold, new, mostly good, areas. This is not to mention that the game seamlessly blends, better than any other game I\'ve yet seen, the offline and the online modes. I hope that other racing game developers follow in the footsteps of TDU, because it is more than the sum of it\'s parts. TDU creates a virtual racing world that, more than anything else, is tough to stop living in.

Click images for larger version

Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger.