Monday, September 18, 2006
Good: Excellent presentation, satellite map, multiplayer integration, huge map
Bad: Huge map means huge sections of uninteresting countryside, somewhat stiff controls
Oahu: Apparently filled with women that will randomly get in your car
Atari obviously poured a ton of hard work into Test Drive Unlimited, and many areas of the title show it. They've recreated the entire island of Oahu, and presented Xbox Live members with the most perfectly integrated multiplayer experience yet on the system. Unfortunately, you'll only get a fraction of the experience if you don't have a Gold account.
Rather than the standard opening menu that gives you a Single Player and Multiplayer option, it's all automatically thrown into the game. By default, you start in Free Ride mode, which allows you to explore the island at your leisure. Multiple objectives are scattered across the map, including standard races, time challenges, speed challenges, and multiplayer races. There are also several missions, including vehicle delivery, hitchhikers, and odd ones that feature you picking up random women and driving them to their destination.
Speaking of the map, it's one of TDU's coolest features. It greatly resembles Google Earth (Best. Program. Ever.), and allows you to really get a grasp of how ridiculously huge the game is. I'd say it easily rivals the playable space in the also-gigantic San Andreas. It's also very helpful in terms of warping to areas you've already been to or placing GPS beacons. If you've ever been in a car with an actual GPS system, the navigational voice should sound familiar to you. It behaves just like the real-life systems, indicating "Turn left at the next intersection" or "Your destination is two miles away."
The whole game has a great "pick up and play" feel to it. On top of taking you right into your file, it also saves your game each time you pause. It also has a great Achievement-based progression system. As you earn actual 360 Achievements, it will up your in-game rank and make new features available to you.
You'll occasionally run into other actual XBL players driving around the map, and pressing A to flash your lights at them will initiate an Instant Challenge. You can set stakes and play for in-game cash. It's also possible to create your own unique challenges and share them at certain locations with other gamers.
TDU features cops, but I think it would actually be a stronger title if these were omitted. This isn't GTA, it's a racing game. Cops simply complicate the experience. If you're on a time challenge and trying to achieve a hard gold trophy, it's a pain in the ass to get pursued by the police for accidentally skimming another vehicle.
My biggest complaint with TDU is the huge sections of boring countryside and uninteresting roads between cities. It's somewhat understandable thanks to the sheer scale of the map, but they could have done more to make it interesting. Very few environments are destructible, so you can expect to be stopped dead in your tracks by fences and trees.
Visually, TDU is easily topped by other 360 titles like Burnout Revenge and Project Gotham Racing. There are far too many PS2-esque "jaggies," and all of the human characters look downright weird. The soundtrack is solid, but there aren't too many tracks (Joe Walsh's "Funk #49" is easily the best).
Test Drive Unlimited is a hugely ambitious title that succeeds in almost every presentation and online element. Unfortunately, the actual gameplay doesn't quite match up to its lofty aspirations. With a little tweaking to the actual driving, this could be a definite must-own for racing fans.
First Play: 8.0
Replay Value: 8.0