Why the Test Drive brand name is still considered a positive label for Infogrames' line of racing titles is probably a question that is best answered by Infogrames itself. It's certainly not because of the series' unparalleled racing quality - the last few Test Drive titles have been nothing more than visually average racers with unremarkable control. Yet, the Test Drive series not only perseveres, but also finds itself becoming Infogrames' flagship racing brand - its name is now being placed on racing titles that bear no relation to the previous installments in the series. At least this is the case with Test Drive: Le Mans, a racing title that concerns itself with professional grand prix racers and their Formula 1 autos - cars that, as you may recall, wouldn't have even been allowed on the streets that the Test Drive series used to call home.
Granted, it's almost superfluous to argue whether or not Test Drive: Le Mans deserves the burden of being associated with a rather mediocre racing lineage, but there is a method to this rambling. For all intents and purposes, TD:LM is a Test Drive game in name only. At least for the Dreamcast version, the development team is composed of members who have, for the most part, worked outside the Test Drive series. Furthermore, TD:LM isn't anything like previous Test Drives. Chiefly, high-performance Formula 1-type cars race around a track, which directly conflicts with previous Test Drives that typically involved road-worthy but exorbitantly expensive autos racing in rural (and later urban) locales.
Differences from its lineage aside, Test Drive: Le Mans is still a racer - though the type of race it features may be something new altogether. TD:LM is the first racer to accurately represent all 24 hours of the Formula 1 race that is held every year in the otherwise unremarkable town of Sarthe, France. Many racing fans may already know the drill (the game is already available for the PC and the PlayStation), but Infogrames has promised that the Dreamcast version of TD:LM will be a new experience. The development team is an all-new squad from Australia. First on the list of additions is an entirely new graphics engine built to specifically take advantage of the DC's abilities. The new development team is also looking to improve the game's sloppy and unresponsive control for the Dreamcast version. There is reason to believe that this goal may be accomplished - the team has been granted a decent development timetable by Infogrames.
Though Test Drive: Le Mans promises to be a more refined experience than what was found on either the PC or PlayStation, the gameplay will likely remain relatively unchanged. That means you can have your 24-hour continuous races served in the 12-minute, 24-minute, one-hour, or six-hour varieties. Of course, fanatics will probably be stocking up on comestibles and placing preorders on steering peripherals to really experience continuous 24-hour racing (which is also possible) on the six unique tracks and several variations of those courses. Thankfully, you don't have to be an extremist to try 24-hour racing yourself; the game allows you to save your progress whenever you and your mean machine need a pit - whether it be to refit your racer or just rest your thumbs.
What car to pit, though? Classes dictate the types of autos you can field, but rest assured, there are still plenty of options. Porsche, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, Chrysler, and BMW are all represented in some regard. There should be about 50 cars total to choose from. Of these, 16 can be on a track at a single time.
Infogrames claims that the graphics engine is capable of pushing in excess of three million polygons at a time. Visually, the game appears to have already received a lot of attention. Pictures of the game illustrate cars that shimmer with reflective textures, and the lighting looks more realistic than in many of the other Dreamcast racers out there. The build on display at E3 was only 50 percent complete, but the graphics appeared to already be running very smoothly. Terrain, signs, and other general architecture can be clearly seen at almost any distance, and fog is nearly nonexistent. Many of the game's graphical effects are also already in place, including the very subtle transitions from day, to night, and back to day. In addition to very sleek reflective textures on car chassises, TD:LM's engine boasts some good-looking tread effects, dust clouds, car emissions, and lens flares.
The prospect of going up against a deluge of quality next-generation competition, ranging from Yu Suzuki's Ferrari F355 to Metropolis Street Racer and Sega GT, may sound a bit intimidating, but Infogrames feels that the Dreamcast's TD:LM should be a marked improvement over the lukewarm PC and PlayStation versions of the title by the time it's on store shelves. Whether or not that'll be good enough for TD:LM to vie for the Dreamcast's racing crown later this year remains to be seen. Test Drive: Le Mans should be released by the holidays this year.