|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Melbourne House||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atari||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 20, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
You're relaxing somewhere in a Hawaiian paradise, sipping away on mixed drinks. No stress, no bosses breathing down your neck, just feeling peaceful. That's the vibe you get from Test-Drive Unlimited. Although there are some pretty good facets to the game, and it certainly delivers on its "massively open online racing" scheme, overall, I have to say that I'm mostly unimpressed with the newest Test Drive game.
The game starts with you needing to buy a car. You'll have the choice of a few mid-grade dealerships like Ford and Saturn, and eventually you can purchase your very first car. Then you'll have to buy a house. It feels a little weird looking at real estate while expecting to race cars, but the idea is that eventually you'll have to make money racing to upgrade your house to one with a bigger garage.
After you're done with your shopping spree. It's time to go exploring. Your GPS system will guide you to several challenges that will help you earn money so you can buy more cars. It's vital in this game to have several classes of cars because later challenges may require certain classes, so don't go wasting all your money on that one car you've had your eye on. Make sure to spend wisely.
Now, if you have your online function enabled, you'll see a whole bunch of other players from the world over sharing the road with you. This is where the "massively open online racing" comes in to play. The central idea here is that while everyone's doing their own individual one-player challenges, they can randomly decide to race someone else. This is a pretty neat concept, but doesn't work as well as you might hope. Because the online structure is relatively new, you may have to stalk other players and literally tailgate them for awhile to effectively challenge them. Also, your freedom in designing the track and setting the race rules is considerably limited.
And that's about all there is to it. It's not a very complex game, and I suppose that will appeal to some, but the whole thing feels a little monotonous to me. All the challenges are set up the same way; the only thing that changes is where you go. You also don't have a lot of freedom in most of the challenges, and the game penalizes you for doing things like going off-road (something that I do quite often in racing games).
This would be alright however, if the game were aiming for realism. But there's one big facet of the game that negates any and all traces of realism. Your car, no matter what make or model, behaves like a tank. Even if you're a slim Saturn Sky Roadster and you encounter a bulbous SUV on the road, if you hit it, it'll just pop off the road like it was made of plastic. This really adds a level of simplicity to the game that makes races almost too-easy to win. If you don't have to worry about on-coming traffic getting in your way, what do you have to worry about?
The game's controls are pretty standard racing fare, with X being your acceleration, and your brake and reverse occupying the square and circle buttons. You also have a button to change views. Nothing too complicated. The game doesn't even give you a tutorial; that's how easy these controls are.
The graphics are very good for a PlayStation 2 game and use the dying consoles graphical capabilities to its limits. The cars are all beautifully shiny, and Hawaii just looks gorgeous. There's sometimes a question as to depth in the game, and this makes judging turns a little more difficult than it should be, but that's the only thing I would really complain about visually.
The sound, however, is something I can complain about. The sound when you're just driving around looking for challenges is barely more than a drum beat with some adjoining synthesizer noises. In my quest to fully explore the game's sound capabilities, I found an area where you can "change" the sound. I put "change" because, although it gives you selections like "rock" and "groove," all the tunes sound remarkably the same And they're all terribly boring and monotonous. In a racing game, it is vital to have some really invigorating tunes to go along with the high-adrenaline racing experience, and I'm sorry to say that this game just doesn't deliver.
Another really annoying thing about this game is the GPS system. In a game that promises such "unlimited" freedom, the dictatorial GPS system really makes it hard for you to go anywhere without it chiming in. Of course, I find constantly jabbering GPS systems annoying anyway, so maybe I'm a little too harsh, but hearing "turn left" and "make a slight right" every 2-3 seconds in that terribly mechanical voice just wears on my nerves.
On the positive side however, Test Drive Unlimited gives you a massive amount of cars to choose from. Everything is here, from Aston Martin to Volkswagen, and all the cars look great. Each car has its own distinctive characteristics, and you're sure to find a car that'll suit your tastes.
On the whole, however, I find this game to be a little underwhelming. Although I do enjoy the occasional escape from the daily grind, I have to say such a mellow atmosphere kinda makes me want to hit the off button. Not that I have anything against the zen and peace facilitated by Test Drive Unlimited, but I feel that it's not what racing games should be. If it was aiming for something a little more intense or even more realistic, I would like it better, but the weird mash-up between the two just doesn't make for wholly entertaining gameplay.
Amanda L. Kondolojy
CCC Freelance Writer