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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Test Drive Unlimited (Atari for Xbox 360)


By Michael Palisano

By implementing a richly immersive recreation of Oahu , Atari’s Test Drive Unlimited strives to create one of the most ambitious racing titles to date through the sheer size and scope of its world. The game takes place in a massive recreation of the Hawaiian island that seems incredibly realistic in terms of scale and layout. Players have access to numerous race types, dozens of high-end exotic vehicles and uncountable miles racing. A non-linear structure allows you plenty of freedom and room for exploration, though the rewards system keeps you consistently motivated to keep playing. Add in an extensive online mode, hundreds of upgrades and incredibly realistic graphics and you have one of the most-polished Xbox 360 racers yet.  

For nearly two decades, through various publishers and iterations, Test Drive has almost always stood for certain things. One of these is realism and the other is an affinity for high-end exotic sportscars. The current iteration, on Xbox 360 definitely stays true to the basic formula, but expands and extends the series ambition on a number of fronts. As you’d expect, the game’s garage is stocked with a number of premium cars including the usual Ferraris, Corvettes and Aston Martins, along with more mundane production vehicles from the likes of Audi, Ford and Toyota. Setting the action on a large island might seem a bit limiting, but the entire island has been faitfully recreated, allowing you to drive along hundreds of miles of roads. TD: Unlimited's structure is fairly open, and lets you explore the various areas of the island with little restriction. If you want to compete in challenges, you can usually select which one you want to use from the menu. Depending on your location, you’ll either end up their automatically or use the GPS to target this section. The system also works as a navigation between different races, challenges and stores, works quite intuitive and, doesn’t get in the way of the action. The vehicles’ controls are quite good and offer a range of both auto and stick driving. Players can select from multiple viewpoints including behind the wheel, outside the car and bumper camera angles. In addition, you can change the radio, set up a photo shoot and use the ghost system to compare your different vehicles’ performance on the same stretch of road. These are just a few of the many options at your disposal.

You’d expect there to be the usual point-to-point races, but Test Drive Unlimited also includes a number of innovative ideas that help it stand out from the pack.There are several types of missions available, ranging from standard lapped races to acceleration challenges where you have to pass checkpoints at a certain ratio to win rewards. More interesting modes of play are the shopping bag missions, where you have to deliver a passenger to their destination before the clock runs out. These are a lot more challenging than you’d expect because you have little room for error. The most innovative mission types are vehicle delivery where you have to drive a vehicle to a destination without taking too much damage or going off the road. These missions aren’t timed, and you can earn a lot of money by doing these, though the routes can be quite long. They give you the opportunity to drive an exotic vehicle, but the thing here is self-restraint, since taking damage significantly reduces your reward. Once you have successfully completed these missions, you can use your cash to purchase additional vehicles in the many stores, change the paint color of your vehicles, add upgrades and more. As you earn and unlock additional items, more challenge types and races open up. In addition to these bonuses, you can use your money to purchase clothing and other items to change your character’s appearance. This is a cool system that allows you to become further immersed into the action, it doesn’t play as well in the single player game, but is definitely more interesting once you get online and want additional customization.

While the vast size of the game makes it hard to memorize all the roads, you can use your on-board GPS for assistance. You can set this to choose where you want to go, and then the system will guide you using onscreen arrows and audio prompts that tell you when to turn. Test Drive Unlimited’s GPS system is both easy to use and extremely useful if you want to get somewhere, and allows you to seamlessly plan your route without too much effort. One of the best features is that this shows the length and distance, so you know exactly how long you need to go, this is especially important during the long delivery missions. This allows you to feel a great sense of freedom throughout the game. You can choose which order to compete in challenges and races, but aren’t obligated to do so. There are some vehicle requirements as to class and type with some of the challenges, but there is always something you can do and you never feel hemmed in by the design of the races. You can race freeform and explore the roads without any real objective or you can focus your play and try to build up you garage and items by playing a lot of races quickly. The extensive color and vehicle customization is impressive with many different types and manufacturers to choose from. All of this takes place inside a massive game world, where you have loads of different challenges to choose from.

Once you hit the road, you’ll find that the traffic patterns and vehicular AI is remarkably smart. Driving the vehicle around the streets effectively mimics the feel of real-world driving, and you have to be careful to look out for vehicles going horizontally when you reach some of the more crowded intersections. When you’re driving in the crowded city streets, you’ll have to be very careful how fast you drive. Things open up when you hit the highways and back roads, but even here you need to avoid other vehicles and stay on the right side of the dividers. If you crash the car or drive too recklessly, you’ll incur the wrath of the local police department, who will chase after your vehicle and even set up road-blocks if you aren’t careful. While its possible to evade capture by pushing down on the acceleration, you can’t always get away and might face steep fines or jail time depending on how severe the infraction and how many times you’ve been ticketed previously.

The game’s production values are impressive by Xbox 360 standards and TDU’s visuals are truly what’s expected from a next generation title. It’s flashy and stylish, but also quite believable as well. The flashy setting adds to the excitement, but gear heads will probably be most excited by the selection of vehicles offered. The game’s realism extends to each vehicle, which looks and feels just as it would in the real world. They have been rendered with a great attention to detail as well, and this extends to the interior viewpoints as well. One of the game’s more impressive effects allows you to see small specs of dust and dirt on the windshield while driving, which is really cool. The environments are also stunningly lifelike and feature all the roadside objects you’d expect such as stop signs, street lights and pedestrians all rendered with a great attention to detail. The island comes to life with excellent light sourcing, detailed polygons and extensive reflections used. Most of the action takes place in the daylight, so there’s no night action, which does tend to make the game feel somewhat boring after awhile. While the earlier stages chug along, once you acquire the faster, more powerful vehicles, Test Drive Unlimited’s impressive graphics engine really comes out. The game offers an impressive and silky smooth frame rate throughout and this makes the action really come to life.

You’ll look hard to find any and the game’s flaws and problems are few and far between. While it could have been tedious to drive from location to location, the ability to instantly move from one area to another using the map mitigates this. The AI is fairly strong and puts up quite a challenge, but Test Drive Unlimited is never really cheap or excessively difficult. The game’s controls are excellent and make maneuvering and driving the vehicles a joy. Some of the camera angles seem to block too much of the action, but these can be ignored if you want them to. Many other driving games in the simulation genre tend to ramp up slowly, but TDU gets to the good stuff surprisingly quickly, after a few short missions you’ll be able to upgrade your clunky starter vehicle to something flashier and more fun to drive. The game’s production values are superb and the in-game visuals achieve an excellent balance between speed and realism. Add in an extensive online mode and you have a cohesive, deep driving package that should appeal to driving fans of all stripes. While some recent installments seem to have taken the series off-track, Test Drive Unlimited successfully reimagines the series in terms of scope and style but keeps the essence of its long-standing appeal: driving fast, exotic sports cars and realism. This installment is successful at taking the series forward without losing what made it so appealing in the first place.

Grade: B+

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