Test Drive Unlimited
6th Jul 2006 | 14:48
Shamefacedly, we'll admit to not having played the original Test Drive much, way back in 1987. Although looking back - with its choice of five cars, a few limited tracks and a simple scrolling highway - it isn't exactly thrilling by modern standards.
Thankfully, Atari hasn't gone for the retro option. Test Drive Unlimited is inventive, handsome and incredibly fun to play. Getting hands-on with it, the game has an ambitious premise: you're a playboy (or girl) who moves to Hawaii, not for the beach but for the driving. Your ultimate aim is to own every car, motorbike, house and piece of designer clothing on the island of Honolulu.
You start off with a measly $200,000 at Hawaii airport. After renting a car and buying your first house, you can buy your first car. You get a choice of three of the many licensed makes (everything in the game is licensed, including clothing brands Ecko and Ben Sherman) which you can admire from every angle, and then you can start racing.
Playing the game online or offline, the mechanic is the same. Either you roam around the island until you see a fellow hothead (which can be AI or a real person, depending on whether or not you're online) and flash your lights at them to challenge them to a free-roam race or you hop into a clubhouse and set up a race proper, with several players and a proper choice of cars.
Next you choose a start and stop point on the game's amazingly accurate GPS map and set up any handicaps. Finally, you set up the stakes (money, houses or cars) and dive into the ostentatiously accurate race - where even opening the window alters the sound your car engine makes.
The handling's clean and rational, and each car moves and sounds just like you'd expect it to, from the overpowered roar of the McClaren F1 to the, um, overpowered roar of the Ducati motorbikes. There aren't exactly many boring, slow cars in Test Drive Unlimited, though we ached for a 2CV6 as we whipped around Pearl Harbor and through the urbanised highlands of Honolulu.
When everything's working and so long as the multiplayer isn't laggy, TDU should be a fast and furious driving game centred around a weird online racing world full to the brim with admiring tyreheads.