The Xbox 360 is all about expanding on the sense of a gaming community by bringing players together through Xbox Live, and it was inevitable that somewhere along the way a seamless integration of single player and multiplayer aspects would be blended into one. With that being said, Test Drive Unlimited on the Xbox 360 is a massively open online racing (MOOR) racing game that brings a whole slew of new concepts to the racing genre. Taking place across the picturesque island of Oahu, TDU delivers an addicting racing experience that can keep gamers busy for hours on end.
What’s so special about Test Drive: Unlimited?
Above everything else, TDU’s most defining features are its persistent online world and its open-ended career style of gameplay. Right from the start, if you have an internet connection and an Xbox Live Gold Account you’ll immediately be placed in a world that allows you to cruise with a select set of gamers without having to trifle through any menus. You can engage in street races on custom courses by simply flashing your headlights at a rival racer, and if they decline your challenge you can always ram them until they give in. Official races can also be setup at designated orange locations across the map if you’re serious about competing against a group of challengers to boost your reputation.
The overall sense of a career coaxes gamers to improve on their car collection. Starting off with a small house and a relatively low-end car, winning races and completing special objectives will earn you money and coupons that can be used to purchase rides, mansions, and even a new wardrobe for your character. Cars range from so of your basic models like Saturns and Chevrolets to exotics like Ferraris and Lamborghinis and even street bikes like Suzukis and Ducatis make appearances. Houses can be purchased to increase the number of cars you can own, but it’s also nice to show of your two million dollar house to your buddies.
Oahu at its Finest
Test Drive: Unlimited not only does a great job at delivering a sharp looking racer, but the overall sense of scale on the island of Oahu is unlike no other. TDU’s texture quality isn’t all that impressive and there are a few rough edges present from time to time, but experiencing the rush of crusing on the coastline at 200MPH is breathtaking. The sense of speed is incredible thanks to a well implemented motion blur system, and it really does feel as if even the slightest error could send you to your doom. Unfortunately, there’s no damage system at all, making it very easy to plow through the computer AI traffic at high speeds without receiving much of a penalty.
The car models rival those found in PGR3 when comparing showrooms, but the actual in-game rides don’t look quite as sharp. In the dealership every last curve shimmers underneath the Hawaiian sun, but some of the effects are lost in translation when racing. The cars don’t reflect light as well as the ones in PGR3, and as a result they look somewhat dull in comparison. Still, it’s clear that the developers went out of their way to make the models as accurate as possible, which is very evident when viewing the replica interior designs.
The soundtrack in TDU is setup to imitate radio channels, but unless you really love the thirty or so songs included you’re probably better off using your custom tunes. Some of the later challenges can last for almost an hour so it can really make you appreciate the original soundtrack feature with the Xbox 360. The car sound effects vary significantly when comparing different classes, but it’s hard to compare the engine sounds with a top-tier title like Gran Turismo 4. The voice actors, which only occasionally show up during cutscenes, are fairly awkward but manage to get the job done. All of this equates to an above average presentation, but TDU does have a few minor hitches as well.
Drive to your Heart’s Content
Like your typical rags-to-riches story, Test Drive: Unlimited hooks you from the start and never lets go. Whether you’ve got your eye on the new customized 350Z at the Nissan dealership or if you just want a new crib to chill in, there’s always some goal in sight while still offering an unparalleled amount of freedom.
If you don’t have Xbox Live Gold or if you just want to refine your skills before challenging other races across the globe, the single player portion of TDU features plenty of diversified game modes and race types to keep you on the edge of your seat. As expected, basic race types against AI opponents utilize a checkpoint system to make the Oahu streets more navigable. Lap and point-to-point races can be found almost anywhere on the island, and there are also time trial modes in which it’s just you against the clock. Similar to NFS: MW, TDU also includes speed missions that require you to either hit a certain speed within a given time limit or to pass a series of checkpoints at or above a predetermined velocity. These are all basic race mode that fit nicely into this game’s environment.
Other mission types include a variety of slightly differentiated escort missions. Whether you have to deliver a top secret package to an unknown man or if you need to take somebody’s Saleen to be repaired, all of these missions reward you based upon how safe of a driver you are. As long as you reach the checkpoint within the set amount of time, you’ll receive extra money for not crashing. Each crash can deduct thousands of dollars off of your reward, while completing the mission perfect can earn you a much needed bonus. Hitchhiker missions are a little different because you receive a reward in coupons that can be used towards new clothes instead of receiving money, and even if you don’t care about your outfit it can be a good ego booster to hear kind words from the models.
Some events have restrictions based on car class and type, and it can make your life a lot easier if you’re aware of this. For example, one particular escort missions requires you to be in a car with at least two doors, and for some reason the time limit is the same regardless if you have a stock Mustang or a highly tuned Aston Martin. It’s in your best interest to wait until you have a nice ride to complete such challenges, otherwise you can be extremely frustrated when you miss your goal by a matter of seconds. In competitive races, car class is the only advantage the computer AI can possess due to their timid driving approach. Computers tend to brake early and excessively for turns, making it easy to overcome them regardless if the track takes place on highways or back roads.
The driving physics offer a blend of arcade and simulation aspects that take a bit of getting used to, but once you take the time to learn how each car feels it can be quite rewarding. Generally, every car has a high tendency to spin out in circles if you give it too much gas while turning or if you drift on to unpaved terrain. A significant amount of braking is required to make sharp turns, and in this respect you can see how this game isn’t just about pushing the pedal to the metal. The most intense and nerve-wracking part of the entire game revolves around long straightaways at breakneck speeds. Once your tachometer maxes out, it’s common to be overcome with a sense that one false move will leave you in the dust. At times like these, you can either choose to keep speeding to further your lead or to ease of the gas and hope to win by precision turning. Naturally, when you decide to push your ride to its absolute limits there’s never a dull moment. Having to constantly scan the road for traffic changing lanes, cops on your tail, and even other racers will surely get the adrenaline pumping, and in the end this is all that really matters.
Test Drive: Unlimited in the Long Run
The single player career boasts a seemingly endless campaign that will constantly have you on the move, but the essence of TDU can only be found online. The persistent online world constantly places other human racers on the streets of Oahu to create a depiction of an underground racing scene. Typical race modes are available as one would expect, but plenty of other features make the online portion worthwhile.
The community itself is loaded with user generated content including a used car marketplace and custom challenges. If you’re in need some extra space in the garage or just need to pick up a few extra bucks, you can opt to put any of your rides up for sale. By examining the market you can choose an appropriate price for your whip, and if you’re lucky somebody will come through with the money. Likewise, you can hope to score a sweet deal on high end exotic cars if you’re lucky enough to find a sucker in need of quick cash. Furthermore, scattered diner locations host challenges created by users. Anybody can setup a course with specific goals and restrictions, and then they can reward winners with money from their own bank if they win. As an incentive for creators, they can charge entry fees to compete, which will allow them to make bank off of inexperienced drivers.
The inclusion of car clubs, which are similar to clans in MMORPGs, allow friends to unite under one team. Clubs not only allow you to easily find and challenge your buddies, but they also allow you to participate in races against other groups. Reputation and cash can be earned when clubs battle it out in bumper-to-bumper, and it’s nice to see that Atari really played on the whole sense of community. If you don’t have a Gold Account, TDU does come with a trial that’s good for a couple of days which should certainly be enough to convince you to further a subscription.
While it’s not without its flaws, Test Drive: Unlimited is ultimately a solid racer that definitely offers a whole lot of game for your money. At the meager price of $40 USD in the States, it’s mind-boggling to see how such a huge title can be offered at such a low price. Sure some of the race modes can get repetitive after a while and sometimes the true sense of scale can get make long journeys a tad boring, but overall TDU brings a whole lot of welcome innovations to a relatively static genre. While you’ll certainly be missing out if you don’t have Xbox Live, Test Drive: Unlimited is simply a must play title for any true racing fan.