Test Drive Unlimited
Massively Open Online Racing, or in short M.O.O.R., is how Eden Games and Atari describe their latest racing game Test Drive Unlimited. Ambitious in setup and a concept with some innovations is what we will at least agree on. Whether these goals actually were achieved, and more important whether they result in a fun gameplay experience, is on the other hand the ambition of this piece of text.
With TDU, Atari has taken the dust off a years old formula, taken it apart and back together. Although the bolts, pieces of chassis and the engine an sich haven’t changed much, the whole did become a totally new thing with a very far going integration of online and offline gameplay that makes the border between both extremely thin. It shakes from time to time and some parts could use a quick revision, but the feeling you already get from TDU, which in my opinion isn’t more than a prototype of a new generation of racing games, is a feeling of excitement!
The clearest and shallow is the excitement you get when driving your Ferrari, or motorcycle, on Oahu, the very realistically remade Hawaiian island. Over 1000 miles of tropical paradise awaits for you to explore it. Highways where you can drive for literally hours while evading other drivers and online players, chasing or challenging, litlle mountain roads curling through hills filled with palm trees, urban and very busy shopping streets and desert-like plains where you can see miles ahead of you: everything gives the impression as if you’re on vacation.
Graphically the game is nicely crafter, with subtle use of HDR, colorful landscapes, beautiful models and a lot of eye for detail like waving grass and passenger airplanes passing by. The level of PGR3 isn’t reached, and a pop-up or framedrop does occur, but we forgive that in exchange for that unknown feeling of freedom, exploration and pure driving fun. Only the short cutscenes now and then, and how the actual people look could have used some more attention. Auditively there’s also little bad to say (despite its soberness) seeing that the engine sounds are more than ok.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll quickly find out that the more than 100 singleplayer challenges are less innovative than the packaging. Racing against time or AI opponents and flash camera-challenges are all things we already know very well. More fun and original are the assignments where you need to get hitchhikers at their destination or where you need to get a supercar to its new owner. There’s no time limit but every crack on the car gets deducted from your paycheck so that it becomes a very frustrating but therefore also very interesting question between carefully navigating or just pushing the gas.
The assignments are spread out over the island so that you need to have passed it before you can start. Your handy GPS helps you find them, and once you’ve explored the region in question you can later on be immediately sent there without having to do the part in realtime. Perfect to let you enjoy the surroundings and vastness of the game, sometimes unhandy and unnecessary if you want to do a quick race but have to drive 13 kilometers before reaching the starting line.
Money is very necessary to buy houses with accompanying garages in which you can store your cars and bikes. With a choice of over 90 vehicles you won’t have a problem to get rid of your cash. You can also form your own character and dress it up including making shopping trips to the mall and upgrade your cars. These latter were given less attention which will most definitely need to looked at in the future! For now the option to buy and sell cars through XBox Live is still inaccessible.
Also unfortunate is the way you have to look for your friends. They’re often on other servers so they won’t be cruising the “same” island and there’s also no way to change server or even hang out with them. Sad as this is where the game gets a lot of its charm; suddenly seeing someone you know in your rear mirror, honk when he passes and start a wild chase that can last for dozens of kilometers.
Cruising and racing on the same island on your own tempo, between the singleplayer challenges, showrooms filled with cars, clothing and tuning stores and other stuff there are also other things to find like clubs and multiplayer challenges. Clubs are some sort of clans in which you and your friends can form your own gang and challenge others, while multiplayer challenges are races that are also available to other online drivers. That way you can start playing in multiplayer whenever yuo want! On top of that you can also just challenge someone you meet on the road by flashing your lights after which you can draw a start and finish line on the island chart. A few seconds later you’ll be racing with that person! The possibilities are vast and very refreshing.
The handling of the cars, something that bothered me in the demo and preview version, is a lot better worked in this final version. It needs some getting used to and make sure to turn off all driving aids (they make things more difficult instead of easy), but after a while my appreciation for the driving feel started to heighten. It doesnt come near Forza or Gran Turismo, but let’s put that on our wishlist for TDU 2.
And there’s more on that list: an even better worked out and more accessible world and possibilities of personalise stuff (both your car and character), more different types of original assignments, a working buy&sell system, a better way to meet your Friends and interact with them, and less complicated menus, houses, cards and navigation system.
However, there’s only one reason why we want to see so many improvements: Test Drive Unlimited has opened a new world of racing and we’re in love with it up to our ears. And as with all early loves we tend to look past the flaws of our new beloved to let us be indulged by the passion, beauty and excitement of a new discovery! Only the future will show whether this relationship will last, we already hope so!