Test Drive: Unlimited Review
If you think the Need for Speed series is long-running, there
is a racing franchise that has been around way before EA's
creation landed on the 3DO -- and that would be Test Drive. If
you remember playing Test Drive back on the Atari or Commodore
64, then I applaud you. In fact, if you even remember publisher
Accolade (before they got acquired by Infogrames), I still
applaud you. Things went downhill for the series after Test Drive
5 as Infogrames rushed to release new entries. The franchise
would be resurrected in 2002 as simply Test Drive. It was a
decent title, back then and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it was
completely basic and rudimentary racing. So nearly 20 years after
the first Test Drive, the franchise is now up to its most
ambitious entry to date: Test Drive: Unlimited.
It's been out on the Xbox 360 for nearly a year now, and there's no doubt about it that the game is one of its kind. Sure it's a racing game with money to earn and cars to enhance, but when was the last time you played a massively multiplayer racer that featured 1000 real-life, Hawaiian, miles on a frigin handheld? Never. Although, make note that the game doesn't force you to play online, so if you're PSP isn't connected, you can still play the entire game normally. But when you're online, you'll be able to join online races called drive-ins, and accept challenges from nearby opponents -- think of it like one virtual game lobby.
When the game begins, you're given a choice between four rental cars. But your rental will run you a fee, so it's best to choose the cheapest car (SLK 55AMG). You'll have to run a race, after which you'll be able to buy a car. Then you'll be given a budget to buy your first house with. You will be able to buy many different kids of houses, all with varying car storage capacity. Essentially, your house acts as your main hub. From here on, the game begins. You can set your car's GPS to guide you from event-to-event, or you can manually select which destination you'd like to be guided to. The events aren't just races, they'll also be challenges. So for instance, one event will require that you get to the airport in time, and another will have you chase down a car thief - so the game offers a good deal of variation.
There's no story to the game, so it's unlike the most recent Need for Speed games. Instead, TDU simply concentrates on its gameplay. During your progress, you'll be asked to join specific car clubs. In these clubs you'll be able to move up. Likewise, just like every racing game, TDU features performance upgrades in order to ensure that the game is as fast as can be. But aside from paint jobs, it doesn't have any aesthetic shops, so dont expect car customization like NFS. There's over 100 cars to choose from, and also an assortment of bikes. It's pretty astounding just how well done the PSP port of Test Drive Unlimited is. While it is missing some features (nothing important), it's easily the largest racing title on the PSP.
Warning, major rant and anal bitching ahead:
But while there's a lot to do and see in TDU, the game isn't without its faults. Car purists will likely find themselves upset with the poor attention to detail for each car's written specifications. It's painfully obvious that whoever worked on entering the statistics of each car (weight, top speed, horsepower, 0-60 times), did not even bother to research carefully. The game is absolutely riddled with a boat load of wrong information. In TDU, a Lamborghini Miura is listed with a time of 6.7 seconds 0-60, when in reality the car accelerates to 60 in less than 5 seconds. You may be thinking that it doesn't sound like a big deal, but 2 seconds of time is an enormous difference in speed, were talking a 2007 Saturn Aura and a 2003 BMW M3 -- bus lengths.
The Miura isn't the only car with these errors, the 350Z is listed with a wrong 0-60 time and an incorrect power rating. The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am has the wrong weight, wrong horsepower rating, and wrong 0-60. The Pontiac GTO is just an all around wrong car. The specifications for the in-game Pontiac GTO state 400HP which describes a 2005-06 model, yet the 0-60 is that of the 2004. Worst of all, the car modeled is a 2004 -- they used specs from two different cars with two different engines. Here's a quick list of some of the cars and their wrong stats:
Nissan 350Z - In-game specs: 0-60 @ 5.9 seconds. 280 Horsepower.
Nissan 350Z - Real specs: 0-60 5.4 seconds. 287 Horsepower, 298HP w/ Manual
Pontiac GTO - In-game specs: 0-60 @ 5.4 seconds, 400HP 6.0L spec, with 2004 model
Pontiac GTO - Real specs: 4.8 seconds with 400HP 6.0L V8, 5.4 seconds with 350HP 5.7L V8
Pontiac Firebird - In-game specs: Weight 3196lbs, 300 Horsepower, 0-60 7.1 seconds
Pontiac Firebird - Real specs: Weigh ~3700lbs, 440 Horsepower (advertised as 300HP), 0-60 4.9 seconds
Lamborghini Miura - In game specs: 0-60 6.7 seconds.
Lamborghini Miura - Real specs: ~5 seconds
There are probably plenty of other examples, but I simply can't look through all 100+ vehicles in the game and analyze them. Strangely enough, when you're actually driving the cars, they accelerate as they should - rendering the written specs absolutely untrue. Still, this is a pretty big error, and whoever was responsible for car specs clearly didn't do their job. Regardless, while Test Drive's core structure isn't revolutionary, the game's size and scope is certainly a huge plus.
As concerned as I was about the PS2 version and it's framerate, I was even more concerned about the PSP port and how it would turn out. Visually, with a game world as large as this, on a system as small as the PSP, you'd expect some sort of framerate issues. But TDU is quite a good looking title. The aspect I was most concerned with was how stable they'd get the framerate, and I was very happy to see the game run at a consistently smooth 30 frames per second. For the most part, TDU is a solid looking handheld game. There's a bit of very minor pop-up here and there, but when you're dealing with a game this large, it's forgettable. The car detail is pretty sharp, especially because Melbourne didn't render the interior for each car on the PSP version, and used those saved polygons on the cars. Surprisingly, the cars in the PSP version look almost as good as the PS2's version. Test Drive Unlimited is a decent looking PS2 game, but a very good looking PSP game. The fact that it renders 1000 miles of road is an achievement on its own.
The audio is composed of the rudimentary tire squeals, engine roars, and crashes. Then there's the in-game soundtrack, which isn't very good with the exception of the classic station. The soundtrack is put together like Grand Theft Autos, in that categories are broken up by radio station. I didn't like any of the music offered, with the exception of the classical music station, which features Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky), Four Seasons - Summer (Vivaldi), Uranus the Magician (Holst), Symphony No.5 (Mozart), and others. Okay, so I'm a bit off a snob when it comes down to classical music, but I was really able to appreciate driving with the given songs. Eerily enough, I was stunned at just how close the classical soundtrack of the game was to a personal mix of mine. In any case, it's hard to appreciate most of the soundtrack, but the classic stuff stands out.
Test Drive Unlimited is most certainly one of the most ambitious racing games of all time, and it is the most ambitious of the entire series. It has some pretty obscure problems, like incorrect specifications for cars, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table. On top of that, only one fifth of the soundtrack is worth listening to. But the overall game is a pretty enjoyable experience from start to finish, as long as you dont expect an immense amount of depth. 1000 miles of Hawaiian road is unprecedented. Additionally, being able to integrate your single-player experience with a massively multiplayer online experience is terrific. It's visually impressive for the PSP, with a smooth framerate, so it shouldn't bother anyone looking for a nice picture. All in all, Test Drive Unlimited is a good arcade racer that'll keep you busy for a very long time.
4/23/2007 Arnold Katayev