Test Drive Unlimited – 360 – Review

The original
Xbox is home to many an amazing racing game whether you like a straightforward
racing simulator of the ToCA variety or an arcade-like racer of the
Midnight Club
family and so far the Xbox 360 is off to a good start. With
Project Gotham Racing
and a Ridge Racer game already available, it
was only a matter of time before Atari’s Test Drive series made it to our
new console. Yet Test Drive Unlimited just didn’t aim to bring the same
old racing experience but put us in an open world where the lines between
offline and online have merged into an experience that makes this a racer fans
will certainly enjoy.


Test Drive

begins in an airport where you are given the choice of picking your avatar from
a small list of nameless characters. It should be noted that no other modes, at
this point, are available to you including the online multiplayer. After you
made your choice your avatar reaches his or her destination of Oahu, a tropical
Hawaiian paradise with impressive buildings as well as miles of beautiful green
scenery that makes up the other of half of the island. Your first stop, aside
from a car rental place, is the offices of a real estate agent where you will
get to purchase (from a small selection) your home and then off to buy your
first vehicle. Now it’s time for you to make a name for yourself in the Oahu’s
racing circuit as well as unlock the online multiplayer portion as well as a few
extra features.

From the very
start, Oahu is open for you to explore and believe me when I say that there is a
lot to explore seeing as the game managed to cram as much of the place as
possible into the map. While you won’t see pedestrians taking a stroll or
crossing the street, there is traffic that makes the place feel alive. Oahu’s
various locales are well represented in the game, changing the scenery
dramatically as you move from the airport district to the city and finally off
into the green fields. You’ll be thankful for your GPS that is good at pointing
out stores and other notable places like a dealership, detail shop and car
rental lot (why buy an expensive car to beat a race that requires a specific car
when you can rent it instead?).

The good news is
that you will never be forced to follow a certain career path by going from
major race to major race. You are given the freedom to take on any regulation
race at any time and in any level as long as you meet the race’s requirements.
Some races require you to go behind the wheel of a different class of vehicle
and meet certain conditions during a race. Aside from the major qualifying
races, there are extra racing challenges that earn you rewards after completing
them successfully. For example, the Top Model challenges have you picking up
pretty girls that ask you for a ride home in return for some valuable shopping
coupons you can use to purchase new clothes and accessories (cute sunglasses and
shoes) for your avatar. The catch is that you have to get from Point A to Point
B before the timer runs out and without scaring your passenger.


The racing
challenges are composed of official trophy races to Speed challenges that have
you racing through the map past some stationary radar detectors in order to
attain the highest possible average speed. Then there’s Time Attack where you
try to race to the finish line in the shortest time possible. The racing
challenges are actually fun but when it comes to short but enjoyable thrills the
Top Model, Courier (deliver a package to a far off destination) and Hitchhiker
(like Top Model, you take your hitchhiker from Point A to Point B) are fun
distractions that will have you ignoring the main races for awhile. You’ll even
encounter other racers just zipping through traffic, oftentimes slowing down
when they reach you as if to taunt you into a quick race. You can drive up to a
street racer and challenge them to a race where you decide where the race will
start and where it will end on the map.  This is great stuff, indeed.

Test Drive
includes loads of hot cars and even some motorcycles. You can jump into a Dodge
Viper SRT 10 as well as a Chevy Camaro Z-28. Fans of the Pierce Brosnan Bond
films will like the fact that you can slip into an Aston Martin Vanquish while
bike fans will have a blast riding on a Triumph Speed Triple or even a Ducati
999 R. Atari took the “test drive” aspect of the title literally since you can
walk into a dealership, get into a car and open or close windows and doors, honk
the horn and then take a test drive with the car salesman in the passenger seat.

The problem,
unfortunately, is that the cars themselves just don’t drive as smoothly or
realistically for that matter. Slam into oncoming traffic (and you will do this
a lot and not on purpose) and your car will not even suffer a single dent so go
ahead and ram a rival car all you want. The controls aren’t horrible and they
certainly are responsive enough, but they lack enough polish that would have
made this an amazing racing game that can rival the likes of the Project
Gotham Racing 3
. Driving a motorcycle shouldn’t be the same as driving a
car, after all. Secondly, Oahu seems to swarm with cops when you break a few
rules when oftentimes you’ll find it hard to spot at least one squad car. While
racing from the cops would have been cool, it just becomes tedious here. Expect
to be caught and pay a hefty fine each time you come under the police radar
(which only seems to happen if you ram one too many cars).

While we’re
concentrating on the negative, I should add that the game borders between
beautiful to somewhat disappointing. Sure the game is about the hot cars that do
look good and Oahu is just as beautiful in the game as it is in the real world
but when it comes to displaying your avatar during cutscenes, the game just
falls flat. In fact, the characters feel like they would feel right at home on
the original Xbox and the same can be said about the lighting and smoke effects.

The game’s sound
is also something of a letdown since the car engines really start sounding the
same no matter when car you’re driving. Car enthusiasts will find it hard to
believe that a Ducati engine sounds exactly like the rumble of a Pontiac
Firebird. That’s like saying Rod Stewart sounds like Frank Sinatra. Your car
comes with a radio filled with different stations that play decent rock tunes
and some from the likes of Queens of the Stone Age. While the variety isn’t
great (there is a good classical station) you can always use your own tunes.

While these
things hold the game back from being true classic, it’s the game’s online
component that makes up for some of the game’s shortcomings. Hoping online
basically changes your rivals and that’s about it. You will almost seamlessly
jump back into the same map only instead of finding AI racers zooming past you
or waiting for you in a trophy race, you will find actual gamers in their place.
It’s almost like a racing MMO game where you’ll be able to challenge anyone you
come across on the streets. The other good news is that you can challenge others
to accept a racing challenge of your own creation. You can unlock an editor that
allows you to decide on the rules (motorcycles only or Class A vehicles only, if
you wish) and where the race starts and finishes. Really, this is the reason you
will still be playing this game long after you finish the single-player mode.

While it might
not be the perfecting driving game or a strict racing game for the Xbox 360,
Test Drive Unlimited
is certainly a better alternative to the Ridge Racer
series if you’re looking for a game that blends offline and online play
almost seamlessly. It’s hard to dislike a game that tries to bring something
different to the table and succeeds in putting gamers into an open world filled
with plenty to do and the freedom to take on any race at any time. If you’re a
true racing fan or just a casual one you might want to seriously consider buying
this game.

Review Scoring Details for Test Drive Unlimited

Gameplay: 8.2
Oahu is
certainly a great place to explore behind the wheel of the automotive world’s
hottest vehicles and it is certainly a great place to race through the winding
streets offline or online. The racing challenges are fun as are the little side
races (picking up girls and hitchhikers) but the controls lack some polish.

Graphics: 7.2
Hawaii is a
gorgeous place and Test Drive Unlimited certainly captures the scenery
perfectly down to its lush flora and fauna. The characters look like they would
feel more comfortable on the original Xbox and we’ve seen better lighting and
smoke effects in other games. Really, this is a 360 game that could have looked

Sound: 7.2
The engine
sounds don’t drive home the feeling that you’re behind the wheel of a classic
muscle car or a trendy new sports machine and that hurts. The radio stations
don’t offer too much of a variety but what is there isn’t bad at all.

The game’s
offline Challenges and Time Attack modes will keep you busy but it’s the
Courier, Hitchhiker and Top Model challenges that will have you retrying the
race again and again. Online you’ll just have a blast taking on multiple racers
in ranked races.

Concept: 8.5

While the
options aren’t “unlimited” there are enough extras to will set your avatar apart
from other gamers. The open-world environment is not bad at all but the real
treat is in the collection of vehicles you can drive. You can shop for
everything from cars to clothes to apartments.

Easily one of
the most creative introductions to what could be the start of a racing MMO, the
online multiplayer aspect simply replaces AI with real players in the massive
gaming world. You can challenge other gamers or compete in a ranked match. You
can even host your own unique multiplayer challenge edited and created by you.
In short, this is the reason you’ll start dreaming about burning rubber.

Overall: 8.8
Test Drive

manages to deliver a fun racing game that combines a worthwhile single-player
experience with an even better online multiplayer mode. While the cars don’t
control realistically and motorcycles feel slightly awkward, the wonderful
terrain and the entertaining racing challenges make this an Xbox 360 game racing
enthusiasts will definitely enjoy.