previews\ Aug 22, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Test Drive Unlimited - 360 - Preview 3

The flight to Oahu in the Hawaiian island chain was without incident, but now the adventure really begins. With a limited pocketful of cash, and the chance to buy one house and one car, you must parlay driving skills into wealth, glamour and faster cars.

Welcome to the world of Test Drive Unlimited, a title that will be released on several different platforms but jumped into the eager hands of this reviewer on the 360. The game is being referred to as an M.O.O.R. – massively open online racing. It basically has a single-player module and online module. The latter was not available for this review, but the former was robust and rather a lot of fun.

The game features 1,600 miles of Oahu roads, all exactly laid out as they are on the island. During a pre-E3 event, developers were asked if someone played the game but had never driven on the Hawaiian island, would they then – if they visited Oahu – be familiar with the roads. The answer was yes.

Navigating the island can be done in a couple of ways. You can, obviously, drive in that ‘hunt and try to remember where it is’ mode, but once you have ‘unlocked’ areas and locations, you can open up the map and click on a spot to get there much quicker. The game’s interface contains a GPS tracking system with a map that will point the way. There is also a narrative-style voice that will tell you when to turn. The only problem with it, though, is that if you are motoring along at a high rate of speed, but the time you are told to turn, you are past the road. Time to handbrake, slide and reverse and head in the other direction. Who knew there were so many one-way roads? Oh well, just don’t attract the attention of the law enforcement officials and you should be fine. And if you do get the attention of the black and whites, you can pull off some high-speed maneuvers and leave them scratching their heads in wonder where you went.

But back to the beginning …

Once you land on Oahu, you buy a starter car and a house. The house is important because it can hold up to four cars, and allow you to view your accomplishments, read up on news, and customize your character.

The idea here is to run your car on the roads, take on challenges and missions and accrue more money and a fair amount of prestige. You even can get recognition for driving so many miles on the highways and byways of the island.

The first car you can buy is not all that hot. Each of the cars is broken down into classifications and rated in several areas, such as handling, top speed and acceleration.

Because this is a driving game, it seems obvious that for the game to work, the cars have to be a big draw. And in that regard, Test Drive Unlimited succeeds. There are the cars you wish you could own and there are the cars that you might be able to, from Ferraris to Corvettes, Saturns to Audis. Each car seems to have individual feel, not just the look, that makes each a different challenge. The first car you get may be slow, but it handles pretty good. The next step up – say a Vette – takes more finesse in the controls and handling.

As for the controls, they seem to be very well designed and fit this game well. Intuitive is the key here and Test Drive Unlimited hits the mark.

When you undertake a mission, you can – sometimes – get a preview of the road course, and should you fail, you can re-race or retry the mission.

Test Drive Unlimited Xbox 360 screenshots

The graphics of the game are first rate. There is some redundancy in the character models (clones) but you can customize the look of your rides with limited options to give it your own style. There are a variety of views you can use when driving your car, and even when you make a mistake, and make a mess of the attempt, you do not mangle your car. The sound of the game is also very well done. The version of the game received did contain a few graphical glitches, but nothing worth dwelling upon at this stage, and what was there occurred only on rare occasions.

Test Drive Unlimited is shaping up to be one of those kinds of racing vehicles that will entreat and entrance video-game auto aficionados. It has some redundancy, but the game also is a ton of fun to play – whether it is undertaking the driving challenges or simply shopping and test driving other cars. Look for it to accelerate into stores in September.

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