TGS 2005: Test Drive Unlimited Hands-On
Open roads and wide-open checkpoint races are what you'll find in Atari's upcoming driving game.
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TOKYO--The Test Drive series has seemingly been around since the dawn of time itself. As a long-running computer game series, it set the early standard for racing games on platforms like the Commodore 64. Over the years, the Test Drive series has evolved, though lately it hasn't been quite the marquee name that it once was. With Test Drive Unlimited, Atari is aiming at bringing the series back in a big way with large, open-road racing.
Test Drive Unlimited seems to take place in a large overworld sort of space, sort of like Midnight Club or Need for Speed Underground 2. You can just aimlessly drive around, if you like, and with any luck, you eventually happen upon an icon that drops you into a race. We drove a Ford GT around at high rates of speed and found ourselves racing against three other cars in a checkpoint race.
While the game may seem to have the same sort of over-the-top trappings as many other street racing games, the control in Test Drive Unlimited is far more limiting. While Test Drive Unlimited doesn't seem to quite qualify as a racing simulation, the driving and physics model in the game is definitely one that requires you to use the brakes. There are no Ridge Racer-like arcade-style slides to be found here. Flying into a corner at 200mph or more is just the sort of thing that ends in a quick trip off-road, perhaps ending with your car being introduced to a tree trunk. However, the game doesn't seem to be modeling any damage at all, so wrecking is more of an inconvenience than anything else.
While the Ford GT we were driving would easily pass the 200mph mark, the version on display at TGS 2005 is fairly sluggish, making that high speed seem more like 45mph or so. The frame rate doesn't seem to keep up with the action too well. Additionally, the game's lighting is incomplete, leaving behind some occasionally dark sections of track. These are all things that are likely being worked on, though, so hopefully they'll improve prior to the game's release. Test Drive Unlimited has a good visual look to it, and the environments are nice and large. The car models are also sharp and appear to be almost cel-shaded a little bit, which helps to make them stand out from the background a bit better. Additionally, the game has a lot of cool camera angles, including an inside-the-car viewpoint that shows your driver's hands manipulating the steering wheel as you drive.
Overall, Test Drive Unlimited has a pretty early look to it, but it definitely seems different enough from the usual racing game to stand out a bit. With a few more coats of paint and some flashy new rims, this game could be one to watch out for.