Let's face it. Racing games are a dime a dozen on the PlayStation. Heck, they're a dime a dozen no matter what platform you're playing on. That said, it takes a special kind of racer to separate itself from the pack. Is Test Drive 5 that special kind of racer? Hmmm. Good question.
As previous incarnations of the Test Drive series have revealed, the cars in TD5 are all about power. Like EA's Need For Speed series, Test Drive 5 offers you some hard-core horsepower to take the twisties with. Not only does it give you the cream of the crop, chosen from today's most desired cars, it also gives you a healthy selection of the muscle power of yesteryear, hence the choices: beauty or beast. As with any other racer, pick your car and off you go.
Like any decent racer worth its salt, TD5 offers you the usual opportunities to test your driving prowess: single race, time trials, cup race. While quick starters will aim straight for the single race, the real meat is found in the various cup races. There are six different cups to try to win: championship cup, era cup, challenge cup, pitbull cup, masters cup, and the ultimate cup. Each cup has its own particular criteria for winning, and your success will determine what secret cars and tracks are unveiled for you. If playing by yourself isn't enough of a challenge, you can always go to the split-screen two-player mode.
The controls in TD5 are as basic as they get, with the L2 button functioning as a hand brake, which helps a great deal in controlling your car through power slides. However, the cars control kind of heavy, and analog really isn't much better. Without any sort of tactile resistance in the analog pad, you'll find yourself tapping the thing as much as you would the regular D-pad.
The graphics in TD5 are better than the majority of the racing games out there. Each car is rendered nicely, and the game even uses a neo-specular highlighting, which is inconsistent in its appearance. Sometimes the effect is used, while other times it is not. The frame rate is kept up at a respectable 25 frames per second though, which is pretty good when you consider that there may be up to six cars onscreen at once. There are also some pretty nice lighting effects when you're driving at night.Unfortunately, the problem with Test Drive 5 is that it tries to be too many racing games at once. It's a tactic that doesn't really pay off; while it emulates other games fairly well, it doesn't do anything particularly well. It tries to be Need For Speed III, without the pure speed rush that NFSIII gives you. It even offers a take on NFSIII's pursuit mode, only in TD5, you get to be the cop. It tries to be Gran Turismo-esque in both its graphic presentation and simulation aspect. However, without GT's extensive customization options, TD5 comes off kind of shallow by comparison. At times, incredibly enough, TD5 even tries to pull a San Francisco Rush. An inclusion you'll soon discover when you're zooming down a hill, one huge step at a time.
Now, all of these things would be great if the game weren't so darn difficult. While controlling your car is fairly easy (despite the extremely heavy handling), the computer AI has this amazing way of being able to blow by you as if you were standing still. It's almost as if your car has no acceleration whatsoever. It's difficult enough to try to keep up with everyone, let alone pass them, but scrape a wall, and your race is over. Sure, there are shortcuts on every track, along with multiple paths, but this game is way too cheap to be much fun for long.
In the end, when you think of all the other games that Test Drive 5 tries to emulate, you're thinking of at least three other racing games that you should purchase before you go for this one. While not a dismal failure by any means, the cheap AI and unbalanced gameplay ensure that Test Drive 5 remains rental material at best.