I’m one of those people who can’t afford a giant house on the beautiful island of Oahu in Hawaii. I also can’t afford two large garages full of fast expensive cars. But until that day comes, at least I can still live out those fantasies vicariously through Test Drive Unlimited.I also don’t have the luxury of getting my PS2 online, which means that I had the chance to become very familiar with single player mode. It’s not half bad if all you want is to drive expensive cars around an expensive island. The first thing I like about this game was that it lets you just get down to the business on hand: racing. There is no elaborate story. Just a few quick tutorials and you’re free to zoom-zoom all over the island looking for races to take on.
While I didn’t have enough credits to buy the car of my dreams in the beginning of the game (I squandered most of my money on a house. I don’t know why), I was able to take advantage of the car rental shops on the island. It should have been obvious by the title, but I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to drive around some of the more expensive cars in the beginning of the game, even if it was only for thirty or sixty minute rental periods. Taking the cars for a test drive also took the pressure off of "Should I buy this car with the better acceleration, or that one with the better handling".
The graphics are pretty to look at and it’s obvious that a lot of attention to detail was put into every car. Unlike lesser racing games, there wasn’t a lot of noticeable popup of building and trees in the horizon during races. What wasn’t aesthetically pleasing though, was the in-dashboard view. I never realized I had such blocky hands! There are other graphical anomalies throughout the game like cars clipping into each other, but that only comes up if you’re a bad driver and purposely cause accidents.
When you’re driving, you need cruising music and this is one area that Test Drive Unlimited does not disappoint. There’s a decent amount of music in the "radio" to choose from including classical for those who like listen to Mozart while driving their beemer. All of the cars also come equipped with a helpful GPS that shows the nearest mission as well as bark out instructions such as, "Turn left at the next intersection" and "You’re going the wrong way" in races.
Races vary little from your basic run of the mill time trial or versus other cars type of race. What’s disappointing is that the streets are surprisingly barren during races. I would have preferred the occasional pedestrian or random car to pop up during a race. While there are a decent number of courses, most of them end up feeling the same. This might be fine if you’re satisfied with the way the courses are laid out, but I thought there were a few too many sharp turns to really get any satisfaction out of going fast and not spinning out of control.
It’s also disappointing that the game’s not shortcut friendly. During one race, I tried to shave some time by driving off road through a grassy area instead of taking the road all the way around and the GPS kept telling me I was going the wrong way. After that, trying to reset my car on the right path, which usually plops my car down on the road if I get stuck somewhere, kept setting my car down on the road pointed in the opposite direction the race was headed while still telling me I was going the wrong way. That’s a pretty big bug that they left in the game, which makes me wonder if it’s to discourage people from taking clever shortcuts.
Other than the inability to take shortcuts, races are pretty straight-forward. Thankfully, there’s no rubber-banding AI so when you smoke past a competitor, you can be sure that he’ll stay far far back without inexplicably catching up to you during the last quarter mile. What would have made my races more enjoyable is the option to change controller schemes, but that was left out. The default controls aren’t hard to learn, but I preferred to move the camera-view button to something that wasn’t so easily accidentally pressed.
Test Drive Unlimited is a decent racing game if all you want to do is drive expensive cars around. I only wish the load times were not so long and prevalent. Why does it take two or three seconds just to load the options menu? The game isn’t going to win any awards, but for what it is, a racing game, it’s pretty enjoyable.