When you look at the progression of racing games over the past few years, particularly those in the more accessible 'arcade racer' genre, quite
a lot has improved - we've seen better graphics of course, some online enhancements here and there, and a very strong movement towards making the
gameplay open to user choice and customization in an almost 'sandbox' style. Despite the reasonable degree of competition out there, only one racer in
recent memory really managed to capture all three
of these focus points very well, and this was Test Drive Unlimited for the Xbox 360. Now finally seeing its release on the PC, TDU once again impresses,
although not without a few hiccups along the way.
For those who haven't played the XB360 version yet, TDU is all about choice - it's up to the gamer to decide which character to start with,
which activities to undertake, which cars to buy, which house/garage toput them in and so on. To do all this, gamers must access car dealerships, races (and other competitions), real estate
agents etc in the actual environment, which means driving to locations. Once a location has been driven to, then it is instantly accessible via the game's
main map - this
includes any strip of road you have driven over as well. In effect, the world in TDU acts as the mode menu.
This system is not new to arcade racers, but the degree in which TDU delivers it is. This can be mainly attributed to the fact the "actual
environment" you're driving in just happens to be an entire Island - the "Big Isle" of Hawaii to be precise. We're not talking a small representation of a city's CBD
here, we're talking the entire big Island of Hawaii - and then some. The in game representation is a true 1:1 scale, meaning the distance from point A to B in
real life is the same in the game. Not only this, but
the entire Island is open for exploration from the moment the game's quick introductory period is over, and while the available competitions and services
will expand as you progress, there is never a point in the game when you feel restricted by the options available to you - hell, there's never really a point
in time in this game where you feel restricted at all, as you can even drive through the forest areas if your car/bike is up to it - there are no
invisible walls here folks.
To guide you in this awesome virtual version of Hawaii, TDU incorporates a powerful GPS system complete with a female voice for verbal directions, which
you utilize by setting points to go to on the map so it can calculate the shortest distance (following correct road lane ways). This is a pretty cool system
although somewhat annoying once youstart driving
the really fast cars as it is often too late in its directions, forcing you to keep an eye on the small mini-map down the bottom left for any up coming
sharp corners. As you can imagine, this becomes quite difficult to juggle when your blasting through heavy traffic at top speed, but you get the hang of it.
Speaking of traffic and top speed, should you ever run into a civilian car, a cop is never too far behind ready to issue you a fine, although naturally you
can try and out run them.
Like the world in which Hawaii itself resides, TDU revolves around the all mighty dollar for just about everything - you gain money for completing
most mission types (but not all), and you spend it to expand your car and bike collection, as well as your real estate portfolio. The amount of houses and
apartments you own means you have more garage space for your motor collection to occupy, which is extremely important to the point of necessity as TDU is not
a game where one car can do it all. This is thanks
to the game's "class" system.
The class system is basically a way to categorize the 90 officially licensed cars and bikes in the game based on performance. For example, the Enzo
Ferrari and McLaren F1 are considered to be "Class A" cars and as such, any race or competition can require only "Class A" cars be used.
The same can be said for any class, which goes from A to G for cars and mA to mB for bikes. Perhaps the coolest part about the classes in TDU is their depth
- even notable differences can be had between
cars in the same class let alone across classes, and further more, upgrade kits can be purchased to further refine your rides in each class providing
you've managed to locate the appropriate shop for any given car. It would have been nice to see a tad more customization options, but
this isn't really an underground street racer game - it's more about taking cars that are already high performance or at least highly desirable and racing
The amount of competitions types on offer are not staggering but they do offer a varied experience. You naturally have your traditional races against
other cars and solo time trials against present gold, silver and bronze times, but also included in TDU are "top speed" races which require you to
hit a certain speed in a set period of time in a certain location, and "speed average" races which requires you to average a certain speed
measured across a handful of speed cameras in key
locations. On top of these, you will also find plenty of vehicle transport missions tasking you with safely driving a car from point A to B, courier missions
for delivering packages, hitchhiker missions requiring to do exactly what it sounds like, and "model" missions which tasks you with playing taxi
for an occasionally picky model fresh from her day shopping.
Unfortunately, while the types of racing do offer varied gameplay from an arcade racer standpoint, there are a few distinct problems. First of all,
some are very easy to exploit - for example, the races which require you to hit a certain speed often place you in an undesirable location to do it, such as
on the wrong side of a sectioned highway with hairpins up ahead. To get around this, all you have to do is turn your car around and find an easier strip in
the often ample time period given. Another issue
somewhat related is easily exploited missions like these are even sillier considering you can do them over and over again an unlimited amount of times,
collecting the top prize money each time. This isn't a huge issue but it can make the in-game currency seem somewhat pointless as you could technically rack
up enough money to buy everything before even touching the more advanced races.
However, the real problem with the racing modes on offer in TDU is simply
this - the CPU AI are just so damn easy to beat.
I thought maybe the game was being easy on me initially to get me going, but it became evident after I got far enough in the game to complete my first A to G car collection
that the CPU drivers are just slow arsed pussies, often braking at the sign of even the slightest corner, and often taking each other out after doing so
anyway. At times you may get a glimpse of a challenge from them, but a quick stop to the relevant tuning shop to obtain the next upgrade will almost always
take care of that. The races which have a time
limit can be challenging, but the races which require you to simply finish 1st against CPU driven cars are down right