X05: Test Drive Unlimited Updated Impressions - New Features

Atari gives us a look at some of the peripheral customization and multiplayer features found in its next-generation racing update.

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AMSTERDAM--We last looked at the core driving gameplay in Test Drive Unlimited, Atari's new Xbox 360 reprisal of the classic driving franchise, back at the Tokyo Game Show a few weeks ago. At the recent X05 press event, we've gotten the chance to investigate some of the peripheral features that will complement that driving action. Unlimited looks set to deliver a nice variety of lifestyle and customization features for the enthusiast, and we're impressed by the developer's unique multiplayer implementation as well.

Test Drive Unlimited takes place in Hawaii on more than 1,000 kilometers of virtual road, all of which is streamed seamlessly off the disc; so you can just joyride by the coast all day if you want. But since your driver character will live in Hawaii as well as drive on its roads, you'll get plenty of chances to flesh out the sort of life that character will lead, both through your driving performance and your choices off the road. You'll be able to roam around the island, looking for challenges that show up on your map; these missions include one-on-one solo races, multi-car challenges, or even delivery missions similar to those of Crazy Taxi.

The bottom line is that these challenges will earn you money, and once you've got money, it's time to go shopping. There's apparently a ton of stuff for sale in Hawaii--you can spend your earnings on new cars, new houses, and new clothing, some of which can get pretty pricey. The clothing is self-explanatory. You'll see your virtual driver sitting inside whichever car you're using, and also outside of the car, in places such as your home--so you'll want to make sure that polygonal dude is wearing the most stylish threads available. You can go down to the local clothier and try on some clothes, and apparently the game will feature licensed fashions, since we saw some Ecko Unlimited-branded gear for sale.

Probably the most interesting aspect of Unlimited's driving system is the home. You'll actually be able to buy as many houses as you want, which will become necessary if you want to amass a fleet of cars, because you can only have as many cars as you have garage space for. Your home is also where you'll receive the latest news about online rankings and even downloadable content, which the team says it will support with new cars available every month. The game will take advantage of all the friend-tracking enhancements Microsoft is making to the 360 version of Xbox Live, except that it'll all tie into the home interface rather than dropping you out to an arbitrary menu.

But given the unique setup of the game's multiplayer component, you might not need to track friends; you might just run into them on the road, instead. When you play the game online, you'll begin to randomly pass cars that belong to other players on Xbox Live who are playing at the same moment. The game will filter which players you see based on some parameters that you set up beforehand. These can include a specific friends list, rules about the degree of skill you want your potential opponents to have, and so on. Once someone is in your game, you can challenge them to various race events--and the game will even let you set up your own start and endpoints on and overhead map to customize your challenge against your opponent.

Where Project Gotham Racing 3 has again focused on hardcore street racing, it looks like Test Drive Unlimited is more of a deliberately paced game targeted at the "driving-as-lifestyle" enthusiast. It seems to have solid customization features, and the dynamic multiplayer matchmaking isn't quite like anything we've seen in recent memory. How well these features will work with the core racing action remains to be seen, but we'll bring you more on Test Drive Unlimited as its release approaches.

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