Test Drive UnlimitedESRB:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Category: Driving Sims
Developer – Melbourne House
Publisher - Atari
1 player/ online play
Memory card 150KB
Dolby Pro Logic 2
Test Drive Unlimited for the PS2 comes 6 months after the Xbox 360 version. The long running series has seen many incarnations and appeared on almost every major console ever released. In fact I can remember the game on the Commodore 64 as just “Test Drive”. It may not be a Forza or Gran Turismo, but the series has had a fairly good run on its own. Test Drive Unlimited, the most recent release, is set on over a 1000 miles of roads around Oahu in Hawaii. It also boosts more than 90 vehicles from 30 car companies including Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Mercedes Benz and Jaguar. You also get to join clubs, rent cars, be part of an online community and even by new houses. Atari and Melbourne House have released Test Drive on the PS2, PSP, and the Xbox 360. I’ll focus on the PS2 offering in this review.
The graphics are very good for a game that is on what is seen an aging system, and the dev team must be commended on squeezing out every bit of juice from the PS2. The cars are all beautifully shiny against the Hawaiian backdrop. I was pleasantly surprised at car models in the game as the superb renderings and excellent interior and exterior details ensure that every vehicle looks accurate. Most race fans will be able to distinguish each car and model at a glance. Visually, with a game world as large as this, Test Drive Unlimited is quite an acceptable looking title. The game runs at a consistently smooth 30 frames per seconds for the most part. I found some slow down at all the usual graphic heavy situations and the odd bit of pop-up here and there. Set in Hawaii the lush greenery is represented very nicely. Overall the whole game felt easy on the eyes although nothing I hadn’t seen before.
The audio work in the game is composed of expected tire squeals, engine roars, and crashes (no breaking glass sounds though as the cars incur no damage). I found the sound quality very good as the Dolby Pro Logic2 created a pretty good enveloping sound field. Then there are the in-game musical selections. The soundtrack reminded me of Grand Theft Auto’s system, in that categories are broken up by radio station selections. I really didn't like any of the music offered though, with the exception of the classical music station, which features tracks by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Holst, Mozart, and others. This was a personal preference though and the rest of the music might just be your thing. Other stations of note are a classic rock station and a techno-rock station among a few more. Overall the sound gets the job done, but with the advent of Dolby Digital 5.1 on the 360 version, there just seemed to be the overall lack of oomph. It is not bad though and I am sure you won’t disappointed.
The game's controls are pretty standard racing fare, in fact I thought it was very easy to just pick up and play. The learning curve has to be one of the easiest in any racing title I’ve ever played. The X button is your acceleration, and your brake and reverse is the square and circle buttons. You also have a button to change views. Test Drive has a massive amount of cars to choose from. Everything is here, from Aston Martin to Volkswagen, although Ferrari was sadly absent. Each car has its own distinctive characteristics, and handling abilities.
The game also seems to move faster than the previous Test Drive games and is more expansive than any other third-party racer. Test Drive Unlimited is so enormous gamers can drive for miles and miles for hours and still not have cruised every road or shortcut so replay value is huge here. The developers took an extra six months on the PS2 version to add something that couldn’t be found in the 360 edition. Racing game fans are no strangers to the concept of scoring points for reckless driving, kudos for the PGR series comes to mind. Master Points work the same way; drift, slipstream, score airtime, or just cruise the island for some kind of point growth. You’ll earn the most points for winning race competitions, or challenges that don’t require dangerous manoeuvres but the game doesn’t discourage them either. There is one exception; some races do not allow you to drive off the road. Doing so for very long will penalize you as an off-road meter starts to fill the second you disobey the rule. Once full, the race ends abruptly.
When the game begins, you're given a choice between four rental cars which will help you win races or challenges, eventually earning enough cash for a house. You will be able to buy many different kinds of houses depending on the amount of cash you have to spend. This in itself acts as your hub of operations. You’ll be able to house all your cars as you collect them.
During gameplay 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 idea is cool, but somewhat wonky. I found my car would sometimes be on the wrong side of the road, or take shortcuts that did not exist. It was kind of funny when I was very close to a location only to have to go around a mountain to get there. As you progress through the game, you'll be asked to join specific car clubs. In these clubs you'll be able to move up in the ranks.
The computer AI is somewhat formidable too, if not somewhat predictable. I found that races were beatable, as were the opponents I faced. If was to lose any races a lot of it was due to my own mistakes. I was able to make a race out of it even if I messed up. Bottomline, the computer was a good opponent and I enjoyed my races against it.
This game also has a similar online racing component that is new to the series. MOOR as it is known, Massive Open Online Racing. You will have to log in to the online servers every time you boot up the game (and scroll through the exceedingly lengthy online agreement every time), but that's it. Every designated multiplayer race appears as an icon on the map just like the offline races, and at each race you'll find the option to jump into a match with any other players hanging out at that race. This is a great concept and works relatively well too. It adds to the racing as you can now race against other human opponents. I didn’t play this aspect nearly as much as I would have liked too, but what I did play I found intriguing as I was doing this on the PS2, and not the Xbox 360.
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