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In Memory
Sean Pettibone



           

 



Building off the successful installments of the past while adding some new underground street-racing elements, Infogramesí reborn Test Drive is a solid and entertaining racer that offers some seriously fun, arcade-style racing. The gameís solid engine allows for both day and night racing through the streets of San Francisco, London and Tokyo. The titleís above average graphics, solid controls make for an enjoyable experience. A good selection of vehicles and some cool modes make this a solid package. The Laser takes a spin and discovers if the newest Test Drive has what it takes to hang with todayís biggest titles.

The long-running Test Drive series has been reborn once again after an extended hiatus. This time, Infogrames has revamped the game almost entirely and given it more of an edge seemingly taken from the movie The Fast and The Furious. Itís not a bad effort, but Test Drive seems a little rushed and lacks the polish of other Xbox racers. While in the past, the series has tried to be a simulator with arcade elements, now this has changed to emphasize the action with the sim elements and car-nerd aspect of the series nearly eliminated. Another major change is that the "Test Drive" is a codeword of an elite, underground street-racing adventure giving it a kind of "Fast and Furious" atmosphere. This new approach works well and helps to establish that this is going to be a wild ride, so donít expect a dry driving simulator. While itís not entirely original, it is a lot of fun. The game has dozens of courses and the action takes place in San Francisco, New York and Tokyo. Test Driveís overall feel is similar to Project Gotham Racing with a more arcade-style feel, though it doesnít have the same polish or realism as that impressive launch title did. This is pure racing in a stripped down form which makes for an action packed-racer. In addition to the rival drivers, players will also have to avoid oncoming traffic, which makes things even more exciting. Several modes are included in Test Drive, which allow you to play as either a street racer or even as one of the cops where you can chase down the racers and arrest them. There is also a navigation challenge offered, where you to follow the onscreen arrows on the courses, which is trickier than it sounds because when you miss a turn, the game automatically ends. However, the biggest new feature is the underground mode where you are put in the center of the action, at the behest of a mysterious English benefactor. This is pretty cool and gives Test Drive a contemporary edge, without becoming excessively violent or dark.

Even though the different play modes are seemingly standard on the surface, each race has unique objectives, some of which arenít as simple as they appear. Basically, you race for position and have to reach each checkpoint before the timer runs out. Along the way, there are ramps which have the dual benefit of allowing you to jump ahead of opponents while gaining a few seconds of bonus time. The courses can be difficult, with some sharp, unexpected turns. These can be hard to anticipate especially the first few times, but none of them seem excessively long or difficult, so they donít dissuade you from replaying them after failed attempts. The rival racers are fairly aggressive on the street, so donít expect to sit on a lead. Youíll have to battle for every position fiercely but the good news is that the AI controlled players occasionally mess up and smash into something, which is something you can easily use to you advantage.

In the underground mode, there are 10 races in each city and once you meet the requirements, you move on to the next one. However, in these levels youíll have to avoid the other cars, and the police. A collision with the police will cost you time but thereís an onscreen radar detector, which helps to let you anticipate where the police are. Another cool feature of the game is that itís not all street-to-street, standard racing. There are also some interesting Drag Race sequences where you can battle head-to-head with another racer. This is quite challenging because you have to you the manual transmission, which means one wrong move seals your doom. However, once you get the hang of it, the drag racing can be quite intense. The most singularly weird element of Test Drive isnít the actual game, but in its load screens. While itís being published by Infogrames, itís been labeled as an Atari product, which apparently has become that companyís brand label for its Ďextremeí sports titles. This leads to the oddity of being able to play Pong in between races. This just doesnít seem to fit the dark edge of the title at all. Since beating the computer apparently has no effect at unlocking anything, playing the first electronic game between rounds is disconcerting.

As youíd expect, Test Drive features a nice lineup of tricked-out sports cars from the state-of-the-art to vintage muscle cars to choose from. Thereís a decent selection at the beginning depending on which mode you choose but more become available as you progress with 16 available in all. However, those expecting a realistic simulation of these will be disappointed since Test Drive takes a distinctly arcade approach. This means that the physics are exaggerated with huge crashes, giant jumps and more. Luckily, the cars donít show damage which means you can mess up multiple times without fear. You can however, upgrade your cars to increase performance but donít expect anything too detailed.

Test Drive controls well and takes good advantage of the Xbox controller, with all operations easy to perform on either the standard controller or the new smaller one, though as a racer, it benefits immensely from the standard controllerís comfortable shift buttons. The responsiveness of the vehicles is tight and responsive with cornering and braking easy to perform, you can even perform the occasional power-slide if you have enough skill. The course designs are decent enough with plenty of jumps and turns to keep you challenged throughout. Crashes and getting turned around in the wrong direction arenít fatal because you can recover from them easily, and this forgiving nature makes the game more enjoyable. From a graphics standpoint, the game doesnít take advantage of the consoleís processing power, and it definitely looks a little rough around the edges. There were some disappointing technical flaws, such as occasional jaggies and some pop-up that made the fact that this game is coming out on multiple consoles all the more apparent. Additionally, the car models lacked in detail and paled in comparison to the beautiful vehicle designs seen in other Xbox racers. A high-octane soundtrack featuring aggressive hip-hop, metal and techno tracks set up an appropriately underground feel to the title, but none of the songs were really that memorable. The voice acting however, was another story entirely, with characters that espoused clichť upon clichť and were really grating, especially the obnoxious California surfer dude character. Developers should really come up with more original characters one of these days.

While there are some cool elements, there are also some bad moves mixed in, making Test Drive a mixed bag that will appeal to some gamers but will also turn off others. Its simplistic controls and exaggerated physics make for an enjoyable arcade-style racer that wonít tax your patience. While Infogrames has not aimed to make Test Drive the deepest racing experience ever made, the quick learning curve allows you to jump right in. Test Driveís attempts at catering to the contemporary edge gamers want these days seems half-hearted and is more annoying than anything else, more because it detracts from things. The graphics are decent but you canít help but to feel that youíre playing a quickie port of a PS2 game, not something optimized for the Xbox. The multiple styles play enhance the experience and make for a well-rounded package. Highlights, as mentioned earlier, are the challenging drag race and police chase modes. The deeper underground mode gives the game a little more depth, and increases the replay value somewhat. Despite all these missteps, this is a solid game for what it is, and if you donít expect that much beyond simple racing, youíll have fun.




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