by William Thompson
previewed on PC
Ever wanted to drive a Ferrari, Lamborghini or a Porsche? As a kid growing up I most definitely wanted to, as did most of my friends. When a game came out for the Commodore 64 titled Test Drive, it gave us all a chance to do so. At the time, it was amazing, even if the thrill was virtual. The graphics were great and the gameplay was fantastic, albeit a little repetitive. Cruising around a mountain highway in one of the classic sports cars, dodging the 'slow' cars and police until you reached your destination... Our dreams came through. But that was then...
When I heard that a new Test Drive game was being developed, I got pretty excited. It had been awhile since I had played any of the games in the Test Drive series and I was looking forward to giving the newest version a test drive (pardon the pun). With the excitement still pumping through my vains, I learned that the game was only being developed for the Xbox 360. You can imagine my disappointment and my relief when, not long after, came news that Test Drive Unlimited would ported to the PC afterall. Time to put on my driving gloves, polish my sunglasses, put the top down on the car of my choice and go on a journey to wherever I wanted.
When I say that I could go anywhere I wanted, Test Drive Unlimited actually only lets you drive on the roads of Hawaii. In fact, there is over 1600 kilometres (1000 miles for you imperial folks) of road to travel. This means there is a huge amount of track to discover as you race around the landscape.
By now you are probably thinking 'That sounds like a hoot, but what do I get to drive? I am in it for the cars!'. Well, let me tell you that there is no shortage to choose from. Many of the major sports car brands including Lamborghini, Jaguar, Mercedes and -for those with a James Bond fetish- the Aston Martin, are included in the game. Not only can you race with cars though. Motorcycle enthusiasts should be thrilled to hear that bikes can also be purchased and used to race with. All told, there are more than 125 licensed vehicles to choose from. Vehicle interiors are also accurately modelled and have such functions as car radios, electric windows, horn and windscreen wipers. Vehicles can be upgraded with high performance parts purchased from the actual manufacturers and be tuned to your specifications. Customised paint jobs can also be obtained and all vehicles can be test driven before you make your purchase so that you can test the feel before spending your hard earned cash.
As mentioned before, racing is done on the roads of the tropical setting of lovely Hawaii, and in particular Oahu Island. There are a large number of races to take part in and it is possible to create your own race or challenge. If you prefer playing against other gamers, you can seek out other players online for a head-to-head race in a bid to prove who is the better driver. The player matching mechanic is set up in such a way that players of similar skill compete against each other. This way driving against human opponents will be fair and challenging rather than frustrating.
Once a race has been won or challenge has been completed, gamers earn credits that can be used to purchase new cars or bikes or upgrade existing vehicles. Interestingly enough Test Drive Unlimited is not just about driving and racing cars. To drive one of these classy cars, gamers must look and act the part. There are all sorts of character customisations available ranging from hair colour, eyes and skin tone to clothing and accessories to match your in-game lifestyle. Players can, with their race or challenge winnings, buy homes to live in and garages in which to place their most prized possessions. Clubs can be joined in which competitions and special tournaments can be entered.
The view through the windscreen
Graphically, Test Drive Unlimited is stunning. Car details are superb and looking around a showroom full of high priced vehicles is a joy to behold. Cars look astoundingly authentic and the attention to detail is awe inspiring. Car interiors are almost as good and the fact that touching certain buttons on the interior panels results in functions such as the windscreen wipers turning on, just makes the cars feel that much more real. The landscapes are amazingly rendered as well and give the surroundings a truly tropical feel. Palm trees sway, water glistens and the sun shines off the bonnet of the cars in a true-to-life manner, further enhancing the driving experience. Indeed, the whole island was mapped using GPS technology, so gamers can see all the aspects of the island in great detail, including mountains, beaches, forest areas and highways. Audibly, this latest incarnation in the Test Drive series is up to par with any other driving game. In-game voices are clear and easy to understand and the vehicles have their usual revving sounds.
Should I take it for a spin?
From what we have seen of Test Drive Unlimited so far, there are plenty of positives to this game. The graphics are top notch (we have not been informed of the system specs required for best quality), the sound is standard driving fare which is nothing to complain at, and the gameplay is enjoyable. The ability to create your own races and challenges and race against other online gamers certainly gives this game a boost. The 'The Sims' element of being able to customise your online persona and purchase items for your house, improvements for your vehicles and clothing and accessories for your character, will certainly help to secure large numbers of fans. Test Drive Unlimited hits the shelves for PC in February this year. We look forward to seeing the finished product when it arrives.