Test Drive: Eve of Destruction Review
After a brief period out of the spotlight, it looks like demolition racers are en vogue again. Games like Burnout, Destruction Derby, and now Test Drive: Eve of Destruction have taken the simulation racer with licensed damage-free cars, given it the finger and put the focus on driving as fast as you can while hitting whatever you can. Test Drive actually combines typical destruction derby with various off the wall races, and it's a formula that works -almost. The game's not very deep, the story mode is uninteresting and a lack of online support keep it from being a must-own game.
Eve of Destruction focuses on all aspects of small-time, Friday night racing. Sure there are destruction derbies, but there are also several other competitions and races, so you've got to be well rounded before you're crowned king of all rednecks. There are two main gameplay modes, a career mode, where you literally take a guy living in a trailer park from rags to kind-of riches, and there's an action mode, where you can just race individual events and unlock extra cars and tracks. If you're all about smashing cars, racing and unlocking everything you possibly can, the action mode will be your cup of tea, just be forewarned - you can beat and unlock everything in under ten hours very easily.
If you're looking for a little more depth and want to pace yourself, the career mode adds a basic story and some new, albeit minor gameplay elements to the fold. You start off in a small dirt town, in front of your trailer home with your grandma's clunker of a car and nothing to do but go racing. The town consists of a junkyard, where you can pick up a "new" ride and trade in your old wreck, a shop where you can paint your car and purchase upgrades, and a diner, where you can challenge a local racer to a race with a monetary bet. For the most part, you'll just find yourself driving from your house to the junkyard to the racetrack, not paying much attention to the other parts of town, and desperately trying to up the game's mundane pace. The town is quite large as far as actual land mass goes, though there are only a handful of buildings and it takes a good 30-45 seconds of boring driving to go from place to place. Fortunately you can just pause the game and pick where you want to go, which is what they should have done to start with, either that or make the town 75% smaller.
Once you near the racetrack there will be a fellow driver sitting on the side of the road waiting to challenge you to a pre-race sprint to the track. If you beat him, you'll earn some points towards a better reputation (if only it was that easy in real life), and if you lose, nothing happens. You've got to be careful when racing to the track however, as any damage your vehicle incurs will carry over to the "eve" of racing. Once you get to the track, there's a long winded intro where the cars drive into the track and get up to speed. This is probably to disguise the load times, but perhaps a more thorough description of what each race is about, or in the case of racing with a car chained to you, why it exists, would have been better. The race types include a figure-eight race, a "no rules" race on a larger track, destruction derby, a race where you do a lap and then turn around and drive it backwards, an event where you race with a trailer, and yet another where you race with another car chained to the back of you. One of the best races is the "suicide race" where half of the cars start around an oval track in one direction, and the other half takes off the other way. Needless to say, when the two groups meet, cars are flying everywhere and the challenge is to find a clear path through to keep racing. Generally, there's not so much of a need to race fast here; just focus on staying alive as most of the other vehicles won't finish. The wide variety of race types is nice, especially when compared with the lack of variety in Destruction Derby: Arenas, but some of the races aren't that much fun and you'll find yourself either skipping them to get to the more fun stuff, or bored as you go through them. This is why the action mode is such a temptation - you can unlock everything and you do nothing but race.
While most everything to this point has been positive, there are several things that keep the game from being as enjoyable as it could be. First and foremost are the physics. The game doesn't do a great job of conveying any sense of speed, so while your speedometer may read 85mph, it feels closer to 50. Sure you're driving clunkers, but if the game says I'm doing 85 down a bumpy dirt road, it should feel like I'm doing 85 down a bumpy dirt road. The driving physics are also out of whack when it comes to the way the cars handle in turns. They feel heavy and they spin out far too easily. Once you have spun out, it's so difficult to turn your car back around that you'll likely just end up abusing the "hit select to get back on track" feature and not even bother trying to turn around on your own. The game also gets very tedious when you are just trying to unlock stuff, as points are tough to come by. To make matters worse, after an hour of accumulating points, you'll only get something lame like a station wagon or a new area to do the same races over and over.
Eve of Destruction's graphics are middle of the road, and it does nothing particularly well, nor does it do anything poorly. There's an option for 16x9 support, though when you first activate it, black borders are put on the sides of the screen until you race. The cars aren't licensed, but they are modeled after real vehicles, one of which, a Gremlin, is named "Algar" after Garth from the Wayne's World flicks. Each vehicle is nicely rendered, though there isn't enough visual damage, which means that the best way to check the condition of your car is to look at the damage meter. The framerate is steady most of the time, but it can get a little choppy in some of the demolition arenas. The tracks are well-designed and filled with items to crash into, but for some reason, there's no map, so it can be difficult to win some races on the first try, since you're probably going to smash into a wall after a tricky turn at some point.
PS2 owners get the short end of the stick when it comes to the game's audio, since the game only features seven songs. Sure, they're pretty good, and artists like Rob Zombie and Hoobastank contribute tunes, but really, seven songs is pathetic. Xbox owners can enjoy their own custom soundtracks, which, as usual is the way to go. The sounds of cars smashing into one another sound like they should, tires squeal loudly, and of course, there's an annoying announcer that screams out the same sayings over and over.
Eve of Destruction is close to being a ton of fun, but instead it's a case of missed potential. The career mode while a nice idea, is boring, the physics are questionable, and while there is multi-player, the lack of online support is sorely missed. If you can pick it up for a good price, and you know what you're getting into, then it could be worth a purchase. For anyone else that just wants to kill a rainy weekend, it's worth a rental.
9/15/2004 Aaron Thomas