Test Drive Hands-On

Pitbull Syndicate, the development studio responsible for Test Drive 6 and Demolition Racer, is hard at work on the first PS2 game in the Test Drive series. We took a trip to Infogrames to see what Pitbull was cooking.

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Infogrames' Test Drive series is arguably the longest-running car racing series in video game history. Spanning more than five consoles over more than 10 years, the Test Drive franchise has not only produced several Test Drive games, but it has also spawned several spin-off series in the Test Drive universe. Infogrames is gearing up to take the franchise to the PS2 with the latest game in the series. Simply titled Test Drive, the game is being developed by UK-based studio Pitbull Syndicate, the development house responsible for Test Drive 6 and Demolition Racer. We recently had the chance to sit down with an early build of the game to see how it's coming along.

Pitbull admits that the premise behind Test Drive is pretty simple--get a bunch of somewhat exotic cars and have them race through four realistically modeled cities. The game's producer explained that the team wanted to pick cars that were fast and had excellent statistics but also wanted to focus on cars that were considered true street machines. As such, the game will boast at least 25 cars ranging from the prototype concept Dodge Viper to the Nissan Skyline GT-R to the classic 1965 Shelby Cobra 427. Additionally, the team wanted to take the cars through four very distinct real-life cities, and it has chosen San Francisco, London, Monaco, and Tokyo for the final game. Each city will be completely modeled in the game, and according to Pitbull, the in-game cities will cover approximately 17 miles. Pitbull currently plans on having each city host at least 10 races, each one taking place in a different part of the huge city map. The game will have at least three different race types--a standard race, a checkpoint race, and [fill here].

Test Drive is going to retain the arcade feel of Test Drive 6. The game will have fairly realistic physics and some simulation elements, but it won't be as demanding or unforgiving as some more simulation-style racing games. At this point, the game controls very well, and the physics seem tight and responsive. Pitbull built the engine for Test Drive from the ground up, and the engine feels noticeably different from the studio's Dreamcast development efforts. The suspension on all the cars seems much tighter in Test Drive than in Test Drive 6, and the cars don't seem to float back and forth at the slightest command anymore.

The build we played was very early in the development process, but we were still able to see all the work the team has put into designing the levels and car models. The city we spent the most time in was San Francisco, which was amazingly well represented in the game. Pitbull admits that the team has taken some liberties when designing the levels, but aside from a few minor tweaks, the maps look and play exactly like they should. The San Francisco level was simply stunning to look at, and it featured easily the best-looking bridge we've ever seen in a video game. The producer explained that the team put as many polygons into building the Golden Gate as they did into designing a whole level in Test Drive 6. The car models also look very good and feature plenty of high-resolution detail. Unfortunately, the early build we played wasn't optimized and slowed down a good bit, but Pitbull assured us that the code isn't anywhere near its alpha stage and the team has a good bit of tweaking to do to ensure that the final game will run at a silky smooth 60fps.

Even at this point in the development cycle, Test Drive has some very nice sound effects. Though the music and most of the actual sound effects haven't been put in the game yet, Pitbull did show us a demo the team put together for display at the GDC to give us an idea about what the final audio elements will be like. Pitbull is working directly with Staccato Systems to create real-time engine noises for the game, and the audio studio's influence can really be heard. The engine noises sound great at this point, with the appropriate roar and growl of the Ford Mustang's beefy engine. The engine noises are all generated in real time, and they aren't simply prerecorded samples. This system really sounds great, and it has to be heard in person to be fully enjoyed.

Though Pitbull Studios is still nailing down the details of the game, Test Drive already looks like it could be one of the best-looking and best-sounding racers on the PS2. With Pitbull Studio's track record and the Test Drive name, Infogrames could be sitting on a good thing. Test Drive hits store shelves this fall.

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