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 series 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.
Having been already released on the Xbox 360, Unlimited has garnered some pretty positive attention from both gamers and critics alike. The game's biggest attraction is that it features 1000 miles of Hawaiian pavement, making TDU arguably the largest scoped racing game to date. The action all takes place on the island of Oahu, which is home to Hawaiian capital Honolulu. In addition to 1000 miles of road, the game features a cast of vehicles that no Need for Speed game has ever had -- 125 different vehicles, including bikes. Vehicles include muscle, exotic, and tuner rides, so there's a bit of everything for everyone. And incase you're wondering, yes, the game does have Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, and Aston Martins. Additionally, the game also has everyday brands like Nissan, Mercedes, Ford, and so forth. Bike manufacturers include Suzuki and Ducati.
Single-player mode is the standard affair offering you the ability to make money from races, tune your car, customize, look for challenges, and explore your given 1000 miles of terrain. Some of the events have a different take, such as getting someone to an airport, picking up hitchhikers, chasing down car thieves, and even out-chasing a psychotic driver. But the quirky thing about TDU is that it actually doesn't have a story of any sort, which is weird for a game of this sort. Still, the game attempts to encompass you into this world of extravagance, by giving you a lavish house and garage to store your vehicles in.
Regardless, when you're not playing the single-player mode, there is a whole other experience awaiting you online. Think of Test Drive Unlimited as a Massively Multi-Player Online Racing game. Once you enter a specific server, you will run across a plethora of gamers just like you, driving around the streets of Oahu. Challenge them to a multitude of different races and even put stakes on the line.
TDU's visuals were a showcase on the Xbox 360. Though don't expect the same from the approaching PS2 release. Car detail in the screenshots is good, but nowhere near the caliber of Gran Turismo 4. Some of the cars demonstrate iffy low-polygon spots, and each vehicles rims are two-dimensional with paper like quality. The interiors of each car are nice to have, but I'd prefer saving those polygons for a detailed vehicle, overall. Either way, as long as the game can maintain a polished look and a smooth framerate that doesn't hiccup every time something loads in the background, TDU should be an enjoyable title. Likewise, based on the screenshots, the PSP version seems to look pretty decent for its less powerful platform. But don't expect to see many of the visual features found in the PS2 version on the PSP.
Both versions of TDU, including the PC release, will be available on February 20th. As far as a PlayStation 3 version that had appeared on EBGames'/GameStop's listings a number of times, well it seems to have disappeared. Hopefully Atari's still got plans to bring this over to the PS3.
1/21/2007 Arnold Katayev