Test Drive Unlimited review


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Buy your copy from Amazon.com Test Drive Unlimited (2006) starstarstarstarno star Publisher: Atari
Category: Racing
Available for: Xbox 360, PC
Buy from Amazon.com

I remember buying the very first “Test Drive” game for my Commodore 64 way back when. The back of the box featured dazzling screen shots of blue skies and lush, green rolling hill environments. However, the actual game featured nothing but a windy drive up the side of a mountain, with lots of brown colors and a semi-impressive dashboard point of view. Still, you got to choose between a couple cars and had to watch out for the cops and all sorts of other challenges, so it was a decent, if not awesome game.

Through the years, “Test Drive” has remained a constant franchise in the world of video game racing. And now with “Test Drive Unlimited,” all of its previous boundaries have been stripped away. The entire island of Oahu and its 1000 miles of drivable roadways have been placed smack dab in the middle of this game. That in itself is a nice little feat and is also a welcome break from other locations that have been done to death in countless other racing games.

Of course, what this really means is that there’s a big ass world out there to explore online with the game. “Test Drive Unlimited” seamlessly blends the single player experience with the multiplayer. Accessing the game’s map will bring up plenty of solo and online challenges to compete in. Granted, you’ll probably want a pretty good car to go up against a lot of the players, but acquiring cars through cash earned in single player games is very easy to do. Those single player missions include everything from races to speed tests, driving fashion models around, delivering high priced cars to other destinations on the island, and much more.

The driving is ticked away in real miles and time, and each car handles differently enough but not so much that the novice will be out of place. Players can also trade and sell cars to each other online, which is a nice addition as well. They can also upgrade their clothing as well as buy new property to expand their garages and car collections. The former is more superfluous than the latter, but hey, some people really want to get into buying Ecko clothing.

For even more racing thrills, there are drive-in restaurants dotted around the map in which players can create new challenges and offer up cash rewards for successful completions. Again, this is a cool feature that will invariably extend the life of this game. And while the online challenges are a lot of fun, the single player action is nothing to sneeze at here, either. The game’s AI gets plenty good when it needs to, and unpredictability and constantly changing traffic patterns are also a factor. What’s especially nice is that the traffic patterns are indeed different when players restart a challenge or attempt to work through it again. Too often racing games’ traffic content is pre-mapped and easy to figure out after a few runs. Not so here.

If there is a downside to “Test Drive Unlimited,” it’s in the graphics and sound. This game isn’t quite as sharp as “Project Gotham Racing 3” or “Full Auto,” though it does look nice overall. It just isn’t as crisp and eye-catching as those other titles. Then there’s the in-game soundtrack. Once again, this is a title with an in-car radio, but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of songs packed in, and you’ll soon be hearing the same stuff all too often. Considering a game like “Amped 3” is jam packed with tracks, it’s a shame that more songs couldn’t have been thrown in here.

Overall, though, “Test Drive Unlimited” is the best entry in the series to date. Lots of great online and single player challenges are here, giving the most devoted racing freak plenty of bang for his buck. Sure, there are other racing titles out there that are faster and flashier, but this game has certainly set a new bar for the online racing experience. It’s nice to see an open environment used in something besides a gangster shoot-‘em-up game. Other developers will certainly have to take notice of the great work implemented here and adjust their own wheels accordingly.

~Jason Thompson