Test Drive Unlimited Xbox 360 Review

The aspect of playing with thousands of other people online is always an interesting proposition. First there was the Massively Multiplayer Online RPG genre. It arrived on the scene to much praise from video game players. It allowed users to work together in masses to complete missions and create clans; it enabled people to just have a jolly good time with new friends. It’s been a while but finally there is another genre coming to join the popular craze, this time it’s known as M.O.O.R.

Atari and Eden Games have invented this term for their new game Test Drive Unlimited. M.O.O.R (No it has nothing to do with marshes). It stands for Massively Open Online Racing. What this basically translates to is that when you are playing the game online, the island of Oahu, which is one of the huge Hawaiian Islands that the game is based around, is populated with other Test Drive players. The game has the ability to have up to 1000 other players on the same island at any one time. It’s an extremely awesome idea but it certainly isn’t as unlimited as the game makes it out to be. The reason for that is because of the large number of users online, the game users a filter system to find seven players closest to you that fit the criteria. This can sometimes make it hard work to meet up with fellow friends to hang around together in the game’s world. You can get past this however by inviting your friends into a multiplayer race, but then it loses out on it’s free roam ability, which is what the game is trying to promote.

There is one thing that you’ve got to understand is that to get the most out of Test Drive you are going to need a Xbox Live Gold account. The second O in M.O.O.R really means something here. The free roam multiplayer is the best aspect of the game and you will be absolutely missing out if you plan to get it without the ability of the online mode. One thing you will notice is that there is no separate multiplayer, this means you can’t actually have multiplayer on the same console, everything has got do be done online, so no online means no hanky panky with friends and you are left with just “another” racer.

The M in M.O.O.R stands for massively and that certainly isn’t an overstatement. Test Drive contains the entire island of Oahu, all fully mapped with roads, and a lot of roads that is, with over 1,000 miles of tarmac to burn rubber on. There’s also a tonne of vegetation and mountainous areas, thus allowing for some really great race courses to be created. It can however sometimes feel a little repetitive and for whatever reason there are some buildings and landmarks missing, like government buildings and commercial buildings (Hey it’s fun to drive cars into government property!) which is kind of what you’d expect on something of this scale, so it doesn’t really bring down the amazing job the guys at Eden Games have done to match it to the real life counterpart. The whole of Oahu is beautifully displayed to the point where it’s almost like you are taking a virtual driving tour of the island. It really is gorgeous and you can sometimes end up just driving around for a while looking at locations.

The open (That’s one of letters coming into play again) aspect of the game is what really makes this stand out from every other racing game. The island is a gateway to everything you require. This includes single player races, multiplayer races, clubs, car shops, clothes shops, car upgrades and garages. (Very important, you need a place to stock all those cars.) There’s a lot to do and it’s all scattered across the island, you don’t have to panic about travelling crazy distances to get to a location though. If you have already driven down the road, the game notes all the roads you have travelled with a blue line and consequently will allow you to be transported to that location in an instance.

When you first get into Test Drive you have to acquire a house and car. Once you’ve created your avatar and settled down it’s time to earn money by doing selected tasks that open up as you progress throughout the game. There’s a mixture of assignments available to choose. You can do racing tasks which include checkpoint racing, A to B location and laps, these usually consist of a random number of generic A.I opponents taking you on. Time trial style racers are also included, of which a few stretch some fanatical distances around the island, they might not be as long as some of Gran Turismo’s endurance races but they are certainly more interesting, you aren’t going around a racing track here. Speaking of racing games, the speed camera challenges that have appeared in games like Need for Speed: Most Wanted are also featured in here as well. The free roaming ability does add a little spin; you can freely take on the cameras in any order, just as long as you pass them all in the given time limit.

It isn’t all about racing though. Test Drive is filled up with female models and hitchhikers, who are all too willingly to get into your car and asked to be driven to a destination in a required time. It’s a good job that there are no pedestrians, or it would look like my video game character was trying to pick up a prostitute. It is kind of weird that there are no pedestrians walking around the island. It’s a babe filled hot popular holiday destination, and it seems everyone would rather drive around than walk. The traffic can become a pain in the challenges that have a limit on how many collisions you can have. There are some challenges that require you to take a car to a place without getting it “damaged” (There’s actually no physical damage to be seen in the game.) So if you crash you lose some points. The game isn’t fair though as sometimes you might clip a passing car with the tiniest of margins and it will still take off the same points you get for hitting one at 180 mph straight on. It can really annoy you when it’s the final one to make you fail the mission. It’s too strict Eden games… Waay too strict. Police are also on the look out for any road rule breakers, but they are so damn stupid it’s not even worth mentioning them. If you were expecting Most Wanted style police chases you will be sorely disappointed. You can just drive past them, even when you are apparently wanted by them. Eight out of ten times they just won’t even take a second look at you. I guess you must have paid them off before you arrived on the island.

Multiplayer racers also have icons set around the island. To start a multiplayer session you travel to the destination and when you arrive you jump into a hub. The hub lists all the games that have been created on that race track. There are loads to choose from but it seems from the online experience that most players really only choose a selected few. A lot of the tracks were always empty. While travelling around the island you will no doubt encounter other players and you can initiate a one-on-one race by flashing your lights at the user and betting some money. If the user agrees you will enter the map mode and you have to plot the track and then you will race for the amount of money betted. This is only scratching the service of the multiplayer as well. You can join clubs and have club races and even set your own map challenges for other online users to pay the fees to enter, hoping they will get the fastest time to win the prize money you put down for the champion. It’s all well thought out and Test Drive has certainly laid down the boundaries for other companies that will no doubt try to bring this sort of experience to their games in the future.

As you can guess the game is about cars, well cars and bikes too. There’s a selection of over 100 vehicles to choose from, but there are some major companies missing. It seems Eden Games wasn’t interested in the Japanese car manufactures, so the game only features Nissan and Kawasaki for that area. The models for the cars look excellence and are nearly as detailed as the car models featured in Project Gotham Racing 3. A cockpit camera is available, which flashes off the beautifully rendered interior of the cars, from the steering wheels to the automatic windows. It’s all a perfect copy of the product it’s trying to represent. This view also gives an awesome sense of speed as the game features some cool motion blur effect. There is no damage modelling, well not for the player’s licensed cars anyway, only the traffic show damage. Another let down is just how poor the customization of cars is. After you bought your car with that “freshly opened smell” and take it to the tuner shop, you can only upgrade its performance. There’s a choice of three kits, each one making the car faster. That’s all there is, you can paint it a little and then you’re done. The game really could have done with the Need for Speed Underground customization. It would have made everyone’s cars all unique online. It’s something that should have been featured and hopefully will be included next time.

It’s nice to hear the sounds of real cars when playing Test Drive. The car audio is superb, especially when you hear it from in the driver’s seat, the roar of a jet plane sounding TVR or the turbo kicking in for a Skyline R34. It will make motor freaks wet themselves with glee. Music-wise the game features some radio stations, but it wasn’t till about five hours into the game that I actually realised that the cars had a radio. Pressing the d-pad left will open up the radio option and then you’ve got to turn up the volume to turn the radio on. The songs featured are pretty forgettable, apart from the classical music that everyone knows. No doubt most people will opt for their own soundtrack.

What Test Drive Unlimited brings is a very distinguished and unique game. It’s the first of its kind and undoubtedly won’t be the last. It manages to bring single and multiplayer components together without many hiccups. There’s bound to be some small problems on your first attempt on something this diverse, but these are usually improved in the sequels that come. Customization of some sort is certainly needed to be included in the next game to give the player that “my things are different than everyone else’s on here” feeling. Overall it has its limits but the idea is solid and there’s nothing on the market like it. Racing fans will be enlightened that something like this has finally come their way.

Test Drive Unlimited is a good racing game that will give fans of the genre something different to test out.

8 out of 10
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