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Test Drive
Graphics: 8.6
Gameplay: 8.7
Sound: 8.6
Control: 9
Replay Value: 8.9
Rating: 8.8

  Those who keep up with my writing know by now that the racing genre is my most prized genre in videogaming. I was never quite sure whether I preferred RPGs over racers, but not until recently I had an epiphany...I guess. Ever since we first broke news of Test Drive for the PS2, with a pretty little video demo, I have been on my toes waiting anxiously to wrap my hands around the game. It looked very ambitious, and on top of that I loved the previous TD titles, yes even the sixth. Pitbull Syndicate has been working on the game since the launch of the PS2, and originally it looked as if the game would be just an ordinary off the wall arcade racer. But believe it or not, somewhere along the lines, Pitbull decided to give this game a heart. So come the delays of Test Drive. Once slated for November 2001, Pitbull needed more time so they got a Spring release date to meet. As crushing as this was for me (remember, I've been anticipating this for a while now), I just had to sit back and wait. Well, my wait is over. The time has come. Test Drive has arrived, and I love every second of it.

   Test Drive's visuals strengths lie in its car models. None of them look plain or simplistic, and in fact do a wonderful job of portraying their actual counterparts. The cars feature subtle details like three-dimensional hub caps, legible logos on the back and front of the cars, tire treads, see through interiors and etc. Every vehicle is superbly detailed, with absolutely no noticeable errors in modeling. The environments too are fantastic, and are modeled after actual locations. So if you're a resident of San Francisco, or you've visited Monte Carlo, London and/or Tokyo, and some of the scenery seems familiar, don't be surprised. Pitbull has always modeled their tracks after actual environments. The texture detail in every stage is very sharp and quite pleasant to look at. There are tons of buildings and other imagery to look at, not to mention every stage features dozens of interactive objects that can be run over or broken. Pedestrians will also be around, but they're too quick so don't bother aiming for them. Pitbull has added some pretty lighting effects to the whole game; not only to the cars, but some nice halo glares from the sun, and shiny chroming on vehicles. The chroming, while noticeably textured, still reflects other objects, so it doesn't look too obvious. The game runs at a very breezy 60 frames per second, but on occasion the action does slow down. It's nothing too drastic, but when it happens it becomes apparent and noticeable. It doesn't occur for a long time, maybe just a second or two, and it isn't constant, so no need to worry. As far as the draw-in distance goes, Test Drive is pretty much fine in that category. You will spot some environmental pop-up in the very distant background, but it's certainly not something that will affect your race performance. The draw-in distance shouldn't be worried about. Overall, Test Drive boasts very acceptable visuals. This is next-gen caliber.

   Now before I began writing this review, I came across people who didn't enjoy Test Drive. I ask why, and they tell me that it doesn't live up to Gran Turismo. Now let me make one thing clear, if you're looking for a sim title that plays like GT3, you sure as hell won't get it. Turn away and look elsewhere. Test Drive plays very similarly to Burnout and Project Gotham Racing. If you dreaded the last PSX TD titles, I'd still recommend giving this game a whirl. Pitbull built and all new game engine for the PS2 'rebirth' title, so don't expect to play the same game over again. The sense of speed is absolutely fantastic, and arguably the best in a racer for a while now. Now while the game is sorely lacking actual car physics (remember, this game is very arcade influenced) that's where the game's fun factor comes in. First, to prove how off the physics are; despite what the spec sheet of your selected car says, your 0-60 will not be 4.2 seconds, in fact you'll most likely reach 80 or 90MPH in that time period. That just goes to show you that this game is all about fun, and for those who disliked GT because of its lack of sense of speed and uber realism, will most likely love Test Drive.

   Now, remember the mention of giving Test Drive a heart? Well, what Pitbull did was incorporate an RPG facet into the game, and devoted the core mode to it. Underground is the game's story mode, where you take on the role of Dennis Black, hired by a man named Clark. Dennis is a mysterious character, and you don't see his face or know anything about him. He's just set out to do the job Clark asked him to do. Clark was recently paralyzed in an accident during a race, so he hired Dennis to race for him and win under his name. The story mode is tough. Each venue (San Francisco, Tokyo, Monte Carlo and London) has 10 separate races to be dealt with. All races have a specific winning requirement. Some may require you to finish in 1st only, while another 3rd and better. The ones that require 1st place finishes are usually one-on-one dual matches: drag race or pink slip race. Every venue will make you race at least one drag race event and one pink slip event. For those who don't know, a pink slip is a race for the opponent's car. The loser of the race has to turn over ownership rights to the winner of the race, by handing him the 'pink slip' of his vehicle. Thankfully, a drag race mode actually makes it into a racing game, and even more so, it makes it into a good game. Now, I will make note that the A.I. in Test Drive is some of the most gruesome in a racer to date, yet at the same time very fair. Now that does sound contradictory, but here's how it works. The A.I. adjusts to how you play, so if you're doing great during a race, the opposition will not be afraid to smash into you, and set you up so that you collide with other traffic vehicles. I emphasize their ruthlessness, but at the same time the little computer controller punks can be fair. If you crash and lose your spot in the race, instead of the cars just speeding past you, continuing to race on the track as fast as possible, and pretty much diminishing your chances of actually getting back into the race, they will slow down to let you catch up a little. Once you are in sight of them, they will speed up and you're on your own from there. I found that to be a very smart move, as many racing titles can be too unforgiving when it comes down to crashing and reclaiming your spot with the rest of the pack. Lastly, the pack of cars does not travel together or even in a similar line, and yes they do crash frequently - so it does feel like they're more human than A.I.

   I can't help but enjoy Test Drive. Frankly, I'm addicted to the game altogether. It doesn't play like two-dimensional racing title with uninspired and lacking gameplay modes. Instead, the game has a very wholesome amount of things to choose from. Underground mode aside, the game's Cop Chase mode is worth mentioning as a fantastic single player and especially two-player mode. Playing Cop-chase is an absolutely blast to say the least. Some of the cop vehicles at your disposal include a Ford SVT Mustang Cobra-R, Dodge Viper GTS and a Dodge Charger. Drag racing is my personal favorite. There's just nothing like pitting a 1968 Ford Mustang against a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette L-88 on a 1/4-mile strip of asphalt. The navigation challenge is something straight out of Burnout. This is where you get put on a linear track, and you race against the clock, striving to reach checkpoint after checkpoint, upon finally making it to the finish. As far as racetracks are concerned, you've got a wide choice. Spread through the 4 cities are linear and circuit based tracks, so you have a choice of either one. I prefer the linear tracks, and have always admired TD titles for their linear tracks. The courses also feature jump ramps that can be used to gain extra time. If you take off on a ramp you'll gain either 2 or 5 seconds, depending on the size of the ramp. Lastly, during the loading sessions, Infogrames did a brilliant thing by allowing gamers to play Pong while waiting for a race to load (which doesn't take that long). The game doesn't get abruptly interrupted when the game finishes loading, which is great, because you can finish your match. The car roster is sweet; half of it is made up of muscle cars, while the other exotic modern ones. All in all, if you want fun, addictive, and great arcade racing this game is for you.

   Ever since Test Drive 4 for the PSX, Pitbull has been tossing in a licensed soundtrack mostly done by Gravity Kills, Junkie XL, and Fear Factory. With the rebirth title, Pitbull has put together a diverse soundtrack made up of rock, rap and techno. DMX ("We Right Here",), Ja Rule ("Furious", "Livin' it Up") and Bubba Sparxxx ("Ugly") make up a part of the rap soundtrack. Acts such as Saliva ("Lackluster", "Click Click Boom") and Crud ("All Used Up", "This is Not Reality") make up the rock portion. Junkie XL ("Future in Computer Hell pt.2", "Synasthesia", "Dance U.S.A.") Moby ("Oil I", "Bodyrock"), and Alice Deejay ("Got to Get Away") round out with the techno tracks. The engine noises from the vehicles are done great, as is the rest of the sound, all courtesy of of SoundMAX SPX technology. The soundtrack, while good for the most part has a song or two that just don't belong. One particular track is the absolutely piss-poor "Oil I" by Moby. It has absolutely lyrics, just the sound of a woman moaning, lame! DMX's "We Right Here" is a good song, but the "Ruff Ryders Anthem" would've done this game more justice.

   I'll keep the controls short, since they are incredibly flexible, as you are allowed to fully remap the layout. You can use both analog sticks to play the game, not to mention the Logitech GT Force/Driving Force wheels work superbly well with the game. The controls are not GT, so you have to keep that in mind, but they aren't out of whack and farfetched either. The controls are fine, altogether. It shouldn't take much to get a hang of them.

   In the end, after waiting for months and months in anticipation, Test Drive turned out to be a fantastic racing game filled with fun, fun, and fun! Visually, it's a great title to look at. The cars look nice, and the environments are flowing with nice details. The gameplay consists of excellent sense of speed, and the replay value is jammed with great modes, including the Underground story mode, Drag Race mode, Navigation Challenge mode, and Cop Chase mode. There are a slew of tracks and vehicles to choose from, and lastly the controls are wonderfully done. If you're strictly into simulation, avoid Test Drive. Otherwise, if you're as big a racing genre fan as I am, by all means go on and get this game, right away, you won't regret it.

6/4/2002   Arnold Katayev