Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Currently Playing...

Test Drive Unlimited (2007)
By: Eden Games / Atari Genre: Driving Players: 1-Lots (online only) Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PC
Also Available For: PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox 360

My apparent ambivalence towards the 'current' generations of gaming systems since the turn of the century (ish) has caused me to miss out on several 'new' subgenres of games, and one that I really shouldn't have neglected for so long is that of 'open world' driving games. Whilst perhaps not just mere driving games, strictly-speaking, I suppose it was the Grand Theft Auto series that popularised the style, but the first and (so far) only example I've played properly is Eden Games' evolution of the long-running Test Drive series.

I therefore wasn't sure how I would be 'thrust' into the action but the game actually starts at an airport. Here, you can select your character from a queue of people waiting to board a flight to Hawaii, and it is here that the game is based. On the island of O'ahu to be precise, which is where your plane lands. From the airport you'll need to hire a car (I went for a nippy Lotus Exige), then find some more permanent wheels as well as somewhere to live by driving to the nearby car dealer and estate agent respectively. Fortunately you start with a reasonable sum in the bank - just enough to buy a cheap car and basic place - and then you have the whole island to explore at your own pace, and it's a pretty big place...

In fact, it's supposedly an accurate representation of the whole island with a some-what bewildering 1,000 miles of road to drive around on. Simply pootling along busy highways and coastal country roads is all well and good, though, but it's likely to get a bit boring without some kind of structure or game objective. Fortunately there is plenty to be getting on with including several types of driving challenges.

Stuff of potential interest is indicated as you drive along and includes six types of challenge, all of which are purely optional - Races, Time Trials, Speed Challenge, Courier, Hitchhikers, and Top Models. The first three are fairly self-explanatory and involve racing either some other cars, the clock, or your speedo around certain sections of public highway. Success generally results in a monetary reward while failure merely means you have the option of trying again or moving on.

The hitchhiking challenges involve ferrying some bunghole from one point to another as quickly - but also as safely - as possible. If you drive too recklessly or smack the car about too much, your passenger will leave (while conveying their disdain at your performance) but if you get them to their destination in sufficient time you'll receive some shopping coupons. The Top Model challenges are pretty much the same but you have the added bonus of your passenger being a leggy, flirty girly!

These coupons can then be spent in one of the many outlet clothing shops that are dotted around the map to tart up your character. The most potentially profitable types of challenge, however, are the courier ones. For some of these you need to transport some suspicious-looking boxes for one of several shady characters who are keen to avoid police involvement, and for others you must transport a car - usually some crazy supercar - from one point to another for some big-shot. Large sums of cash can be earned doing this but any damage to the car comes out of your cut and the routes are usually very long, winding through city and country areas alike, so your reward here depends entirely on consistently high driving skills, as well as resisting the temptation of dropping the hammer, obviously!

Care should probably be taken while driving around anyway though, as hitting other cars brings you to the attention of the police. The more trouble you cause the more effort they'll put into finding and stopping you and this can range from a sole prowler half-heartedly chasing you for a while right up to the entire force bearing down on you and setting up road blocks. While attempting to evade them can be great fun as you might imagine, it's not so much fun if you get caught as you'll be facing a hefty fine, so skylarkings are best kept to a minimum if you want to keep your cash.

The fines can be huge if you cause too much mayhem too, but if you do run out of cash you'll be sent to jail instead. This merely means waiting around for a minute or two as your sentence passes in accelerated form though, so it's actually much more preferable to paying the fines. The only trouble is, it's only an option when you have already run out of money, but this shouldn't happen unless you're just messing around (which none of us would ever do, surely?). It's actually not too hard to stay out of trouble usually, as the police don't seem bothered by you doing anything else wrong, so feel free to speed and run red lights as much as you want.

If you manage to steadily increase your cash reserves, the two main things to spend it on are houses and more vehicles. As far as I'm aware you can have as many of either as you want, providing you can afford it, but there are limited options to start with, particularly with the cars. When you begin, for example, the only showrooms you can access are those of Audi, Alfa Romeo, and Chevrolet. As you spend more time playing the game and complete more challenges, however, more houses and car dealerships become available (including the ones you've been waiting for like Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, etc), and you can even buy motorcycles as well.

I'm still a bit undecided about the actual car handling and driving mechanics though, to be honest. At times it feels more akin to a driving section of a non-driving game, but usually it's okay and I can't deny how addictive it is looking for and completing the various challenges or simply driving around exploring the island. Indeed, all the challenges are optional, so you can just drive around doing whatever you want if it takes your fancy, and doing so is surprisingly enjoyable.

You can go anywhere on the map instantly by clicking on it (as long it's unlocked) or you can drive there yourself. The latter option can take a while - even driving some-where relatively nearby involves a good few miles and different types of road. Just driving from my apartment to the Lamborghini dealership, for example (which I did only yesterday to get my first supercar - hooray!) was about 15 miles, so travelling across the whole island takes bloody ages! Luckily the game includes a helpful GPS option - just click on something on the map and you'll be guided there.

One thing that makes driving around this bustling island so enjoyable is the graphics. I have alas not yet been to Hawaii myself so the accuracy of what is where and all that stuff is not really something I can comment on, but I can say that everything looks gorgeous. Every area is filled with stuff, whether it's office blocks, trees, a car park, grassy embankments, or even the sea, and the detail on it all is fantastic. The character models are pretty good for their day too, although they have limited movement and don't really say much.

The cars are all superb as well. They can be driven using a variety of 'cameras' and there is a great range of models, from older classics like the Jaguar E-Type right up to crazy spaceship things like the Maserati MC12 and even some concept cars too. All of them handle differently, of course, with the rear wheel drive cars being a particular pain around the city with all the 90° turns, but they look great. There's not much damage modelling - you can't even dent your own cars so you can smack them about all you want, but everyone else's cars can be damaged a little - watch the bumpers fly down the street when you hit someone at speed!

The attention to detail is really nice too. The other drivers obey all the traffic laws (and accordingly, many of my crashes so far have been at junctions where cars are queued at the traffic lights) and they'll also honk and try to swerve out of your way when you're on the wrong side of the road, but it's the things that make this a living, breathing world that most impress. Just little things like birds flying around, trees swaying and rustling in the wind, and airliners passing overhead (and you can even take a drive down to the airport and watch them taking off and landing).

The weather varies a little too. There's no rain or tropical storms or anything (as far as I've seen, at least) but clouds come and go and things can get very gloomy at times. In fact, the game isn't as bright and sunny as you might expect something set in Hawaii to be - most of the time it seems like you're playing in somewhat overcast conditions, but it brightens up now and then, especially outside the cities.

Of course, it's not perfect. There aren't any pedestrians - besides your character and the smiling sales assistants in the shops, there aren't any people at all - and it's always daytime, both of which take away from the atmosphere a little, and there are a few bugs too (I keep getting my car stuck on the scenery, for example), but the biggest problem with this game nowadays is a sizeable one - like other open-world driving games, Test Drive Unlimited is intended to be played online by lots of people simultaneously, but sadly the servers are no longer running so it's strictly a single player experience these days; all I can do now is imagine how cool it must've been to have spontaneous races with random strangers I bumped into. I suspect this will become a familiar problem with games in the future too, no doubt.

Even by myself I've still had a great laugh playing this game though, and I'm still discovering new things even now. It wasn't so long ago that I got lost and couldn't find my way back home, and only a couple of days ago I found that I can turn my car radio on and listen to some chillin' choons while cruising the (mostly) sunny streets of Honolulu and the rest of O'ahu. How could I not enjoy myself? Even for one player there's a crap-load of stuff to see and do and a crap-load of cars (and bikes) to do it in, so I think it's safe to say I'll be occupied for a good while. I've got the second game to try yet too! If other open-world driving games are as good as this (or even better), they could well be my new favourite type of game.

RKS Score: 9/10

Gameplay Video: Here is the intro and the first ten minutes or so of the game, as played by someone else (not much point me making me own video if there are already loads around):



  1. There are so many titles in the Test Drive family now, it would be great to see a "best of" in someday :) Did you get this PC version via Steam Sale?

  2. No, I bought it from CEX for £1 actually! :P Thanks for introducing me to at your place that time (PS2 version), I had been meaning to play it properly ever since. It's such a addictive game, perhaps the most addictive racing game I've ever played. It would've gotten a 9/10 if the online stuff was still available :)