Test Drive UnlimitedESRB:
Developer – Melbourne House
Publisher – Atari
With so many racing games around I was quite surprised to learn that the Test Drive franchise is the longest running series of them all. Granted it does not have the reputation of being the premiere racing video game but it does have the reputation of being the grandfather in its' class. And like a fine wine it seemingly gets better with age. Over the years the Test Drive series has certainly had some highs and lows. And being that here is a huge number of racing games out on the various platforms; the bar has been raised in the racing department with so many other great tittles available. Fortunately, Test Drive Unlimited for the PSP makes a turn for the better as it returns to the style of gaming which made it one of the world’s formidable racers. Set on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Test Drive Unlimited for the PSP returns with a mix of simulation and arcade-style racing and a garage that features over 125 licensed sports cars and motorcycles.
As far as the visuals are concerned Test Drive Unlimited looks really good. Granted it barely holds a candle to the current next generation racing games on home consoles, however when you take into consideration the limitations of the PSP it's a great looking game. The following really stood out for me:
- Outstanding looking environments with lush surroundings;
- The draw distance is surprisingly good for a PSP title; and
- Car models are detailed to near perfection.
When I first gave the game a spin, I could not believe how good the game looks and I found myself starring at the screen in amazement. It's arguably the best looking racer on the PSP and it will only take you minutes to realize why. With that being said, there are some issues which need to be addressed. Given the speed, pace of the game and limitations of the PSP, there is some occasional texture warping and some 'jaggies' are apparent. In my view much of this is to be expected as it appears the developers graphically wanted to push the game and the hardware to its limits.
The environments truly do look outstanding though and the developers did do an outstanding job recreating the Hawaiian Island. Granted it becomes repetitive at times and there are often moments I wish there could have been more cities with skyscrapers featured in the game. Nonetheless, the beaches, water, trees, roads, hills, grass, mountains, and the rest of the tropical paradise all look impressive. The draw distance is also noticeably long. Compared to other racers, land marks do not just magically appear on the screen. Test Drive Unlimited also runs at smooth and consistent frame rate which only further gives you a realistic feel to the game.
The cars found in game also look stellar and the roster of vehicles features more than 125 licensed vehicles from exclusive manufacturers such as Lamborghini, Ducati, Aston Martin, Mercedes, Saleen, Shelby, and Jaguar. All are well represented and look very close to their real life counterparts. Throughout the game there are several different AI cars that appear as traffic and unlike some racing games Test Drive Unlimited does not feature the same AI cars repeatedly throughout. Overall, there is a nice mix and once again it only adds to the visuals and gameplay of this title.
Overall the sound delivers in Test Drive Unlimited. You are not going to get booming 5.1 surround sound as you do with any home console version; however the game sounds pretty good coming out of those tiny PSP speakers and even better through a good pair of headphones. The following sound aspects really stood out for me:
- The sounds of the cars are very realistic;
- Large selection of music from different genre's; and
- Sound effects of cars crashing into one another is bang-on.
In terms of the cars themselves, the sounds are very accurate. Everything from the wind passing over the aerodynamic bodies to the sound of the vehicles engines revving at high speeds is very good. On a bit of a negative note, although all the different vehicles appear to have slightly different sounds many of them do sound the quite similar. As for the rest of the sound effects, they too are also noticeably good. For instance, screeching tires and banging into other cars during a mad race all sound pretty convincing. Overall the whole package of sound effects is spectacular and it gets the job done quite well.
On the topic of the soundtrack, Test Drive Unlimited offers lots of selection and diversity. You can listen to music on the different radio stations presented in the game. This is very similar to some of those sandbox games like Crackown and Saints Row. Much of the music is techno-like and some of isn't too bad. At the end of the day, I do miss not having any recognizable artists included in the soundtrack as there is only so many "Phat Grooves" I can get into.
As indicated earlier, Test Drive Unlimited is set on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The game starts out where you have a sum of monies and your initial object is to purchase a house and car. From there your goal is to win races and challenges which allow you to start building your cash flow. Once you get the cash you can buy the cars, upgrades and other items. We have been down this road before and there is nothing original about the basic concept of Test Drive Unlimited. That being said, what makes this game so good is the fact it has a bit of everything. It's almost like part Forza with a little bit of Need for Speed and Project Gotham Racing all rolled into one.
The Hawaiian setting is truly magnificent and incredibly large. You can literally spend all day driving around the island. You don't have to stay on the roads as you can go off-road too, and in many instances I found I had no choice but to go off-roading in order to avoid police. After the first few chases, avoiding police does not become too difficult. The chases are nowhere near to the extent as they are in Need for Speed so don't expect any spike belts or choppers following you in Test Drive Unlimited. If the police do catch you expect your cash flow to take a hit.
The driving in the game is a nice blend of realism and arcadey. Controlling the vehicle isn't as hard as it is in games like Forza or PGR but it's not as easy as it is in games like Burnout or Need for Speed. Some will find feeling of the driving speed somewhat slow. I first did and I figure this was because I recently played the heck out of NFS Carbon. After awhile however you get used to the speed and the on-screen action seems pretty accurate in Test Drive Unlimited as you will get these cars going quite fast. Similar to other arcade racers, there is no damage to your vehicle when you slam into another car or object, and I think that this should have been different given the nature of the game and some of the realistic visuals that the game presents.
In Test Drive Unlimited there are essentially three types of races: beat the clock, speed trap and traditional races. Again, nothing particularly original, however all three modes are very entertaining and offer up enough of a challenge to keep you coming back for more. There are penalties for going off the road during a race and the race route is largely determined by transparent gates which appear at checkpoints. Your GPS system is also used here as well. During my race time I found that the computer opponent A.I. was a challenge for me, however I consider myself a relative rookie at racing games. If you have any significant level of experience with racers you should be able to cruise through the game and build up a library of vehicles in no time.
The list of cars is impressive in Test Drive Unlimited. All the high end performance vehicles in the game and will surely please any gearhead out there. There are also some 'lower' end cars available such as the Mustang, Camaro, Skyline, and 350Z. The only two noticeable absentee's from the list is Porsche and Ferrari. In any event the car list is lengthy and simply an outstanding variety for a portable racing game. You can modify your rides as well. Sure it is nowhere to the extent of some diehard home console racing sims (e.g. Gran Turismo or Forza) but there are a few levels of performance upgrades and you can also customize the color of your car. Races are divided into categories A through E (A being the best) and some cars are restricted of certain categories.
One last thing I should comment in terms of the gameplay is the surprisingly quick loading times. I have become so accustomed to the PSP's slow loading times that I rarely comment on them during my reviews. Fact of the matter remains the load times in Test Drive Unlimited are minimal and it was pleasant surprise to only wait a few seconds to start a race.
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