Infogrames and developer Pitbull Syndicate showed off the latest build of their upcoming Test Drive game for the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Simply called Test Drive, the game has been in development for roughly two years now, although coding for the Xbox version of the game hasn't gone on quite as long. Pitbull and publisher Infogrames' determination to reinvigorate the franchise has resulted in the game's release being delayed.
In a nice nod to the Atari legacy, we noticed a game of Pong in the game's load screens, which was actually playable with the D-pad. Once we had a sufficient fill of nostalgia, our first step was to explore the game's story mode, which is presented in a conventional mission-based structure. Each mission is preceded by short story sequences that depict your character interacting with your competitors, who speak via animated portraits onscreen. The sequences inform you of any special objectives you'll have to complete, above and beyond actually winning the race and avoiding the police.
The story mode offers quite a challenge, with 45 missions to work through. It also introduces you to the other modes you can unlock: cop chase, drag race, navigator challenge, and two-player variations of each of these. You can also unlock new cars in the game's story mode if you defeat certain characters in races, which makes their cars selectable. In terms of the vehicles, Test Drive will remain faithful to the previous entries in the series. It'll offer players a wide selection of sports cars, such as the Dodge Viper GTS, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Jaguar XK-R, Aston Martin DB7 Vantage, Lotus Esprit V8, and Nissan Skyline, and muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Plymouth 'Cuda, and Dodge '69 Charger. In addition, there are unlockable, souped-up variations of the cars in the main roster of vehicles. And in a nice touch, you'll find that the cop chase mode will offer police-style variations of some of the cars.
Graphically, the game has come quite a ways from the last build we played, featuring huge environments, high poly counts, and special effects. The frame rate, although more stable, still hitched a bit. Pitbull's custom graphics engine is performing well on both the Xbox and the PlayStation 2. The game's huge environments are populated with traffic and pedestrians, who react to your presence by moving out of your way, though some of the pedestrian AI still seems in need of fine-tuning. The environments--based throughout London, San Francisco, Monaco, and Tokyo--have some impressive detail and a solid draw distance. The game also has some nice special effects at this stage. Environment mapping on the cars is currently being implemented into the game, but the effect is already noticeable. Weather effects such as fog and rain were also being implemented as well. The game's frame rate was high, although it bogged down in places when the action became hectic. Pitbull intends to have the game run at a constant 60fps for both versions.
Though the PS2 and Xbox versions of Test Drive are quite similar, the Xbox version does contain an exclusive feature that makes use of the Xbox's ability to play custom music tracks. You will be able to create your own custom soundtracks in the game by ripping and importing CDs to the Xbox's hard drive.
Control in the game was solid, though still a little problematic in places. The car physics also seem to need a little more tweaking, so Pitbull intends to spend the bulk of its time fine-tuning the gameplay and tweaking the graphics until the game's release.
From what we've seen so far, Test Drive is coming together quite well and should offer a refreshing change of direction for the series. The PlayStation 2 version of Test Drive is due out in May. Screenshots are from the PlayStation 2 version of the game.