Test Drive Updated Preview Xbox

The latest in the Test Drive series lets you compete in several different driving modes.

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Test Drive will take you to four major cities around the world.
Test Drive will take you to four major cities around the world.

The Test Drive series is one the longest-running series on consoles to date, with more than six games branded with the Test Drive name. Like any other series, Test Drive has seen its share of success and failure, though a few of the more recent installments, such as Test Drive 6, were not as well received as their respective publishers would've liked. The latest game in the Test Drive series, simply called Test Drive (which may or may not reveal Infogrames' desire to give the series a rebirth of sorts), doesn't make any attempt at being a hard-core driving simulation, because you won't have to pay incredibly close attention to the performance levels of individual vehicles. Instead, Test Drive focuses directly on the thrill of driving at high speeds through the streets of various cities around the world.

There are a number of different race modes to choose from in the game.
There are a number of different race modes to choose from in the game.

There are a surprising number of modes to choose from in Test Drive, some of which have served as the basis for entire games in other entries in the racing genre. The first of these modes that you'll come across in Test Drive is the quick race mode, which essentially serves as Test Drive's practice area. In quick race, you can select from one of six cars and several tracks--there are approximately three tracks from each of the four cities (San Francisco, Tokyo, Monte Carlo, and London) in the game--all from the same menu. But in the initial stages of the game, you'll probably spend most of your time in the single race mode, where you'll get the opportunity to try out a number of the different types of racing that Test Drive has to offer.

There are five types of racing to select from in the single race mode--linear, circuit, navigation, drag, and cop chase. The linear option is the most straightforward of the five because you only have to take one lap around the track to complete the race, but it's still relatively helpful in teaching you how to drive against computer opponents. Circuit takes the game one step above linear by forcing you to take multiple laps around the track. Navigation offers a much different take on the typical race. When you're out on the track, arrows will appear near turns or branching streets, telling you which direction to take--the only catch is that the arrows appear only a few seconds before you reach the turn so you have to be on your toes and demonstrate your ability to react at the last second. What makes navigation even more difficult is that there are regular drivers moving along the course, some of which happen to get right in your way before an important turn or in an intersection, making it even harder to maneuver. The drag racing option is probably the least challenging, but still, it offers a break from traditional racing, as you'll go up against one computer opponent in a race to see who can reach the end of the warehouse first. The last option in single race, and perhaps the best, is the cop chase, where you assume the role of an officer assigned to arrest a group of speeders. You only need to tap each car three times to pull them over, but you have to do that before they reach the end of the course.

You'll immediately recognize some of the landmarks in each city.
You'll immediately recognize some of the landmarks in each city.

If none of the single race modes are enough to get you excited, Test Drive also offers a mode called underground, in which you'll take on the identity of a driver who's asked to participate in a series of races by a rather wealthy individual who has access to a warehouse filled with cars. But before you get to hit the streets with one of his cars, he'll ask you to take a brief trip through a navigation race--if you perform well, he'll let you race, but if you perform badly, then the game is over. Fortunately, the first race is incredibly easy to get through--partly due to the fact that you're racing alone--but in the next series of races, you'll have to take on other drivers, each of which has a unique personality.

While the other drivers you'll encounter do have unique personalities, they all have one thing in common: You'll quickly notice that every computer-controlled opponent in Test Drive is incredibly aggressive. In fact, they're so aggressive that you'll spend most of the race looking at the back of their cars, waiting for them to make a mistake as opposed to just beating them with speed. Unfortunately, if you do manage to get out in front, it usually doesn't take much time before a computer opponent gets back in the pack and tries to push you off the main strip and into one of the objects in the environment. And there are plenty of objects to collide with in Test Drive. Everything from light poles to fire hydrants can be destroyed as you're speeding along the track, and while most of these objects won't knock you out of a race completely, they can have a slight effect on the control of your car, causing you to collide with bigger objects such as buildings or other cars.

It takes a little while to get used to the controls.
It takes a little while to get used to the controls.

Unfortunately, collisions tend to happen quite often in this build of Test Drive, and it appears largely due to two reasons--awkward collision detection and the learning curve for control. When you're in the first-person camera perspective (there are two other behind-the-car views), you'll drive by an object thinking that you have enough clearance, when all of a sudden your car will smash into it. This is especially apparent in the San Francisco level, which has a series of small pylons that can be very difficult to navigate through because of this particular issue, but hopefully it will be fixed before the game's final release.

The control can take a little time to get used to, simply because Test Drive's controls are more arcadelike than those in a game like Gran Turismo, but there are still some realistic elements. For example, you can still spin out your tires if you floor the accelerator out of a skid. Likewise, if you take a turn too hard your car will spin out and slam into an object on the side of the road. But for the most part, you can take most of the turns in the game at a relatively high speed and use powerslides to maintain most of your speed.

Test Drive is shaping up to be a solid arcade racer with plenty of different modes to offer. It also has surprisingly detailed environments that are accurately modeled after the actual cities. Still, the game needs some polish--there is some polygonal tearing in the London and San Francisco levels, and there are a few frame rate issues. Test Drive is scheduled for release in June.

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