To get a real challenge racing wise from TDU, you'll probably want to go online and it is here that TDU again really impresses, but also falls short.
First of all, lets address the good news - the online "mode" in TDU is so seamless to the entire game, that it isn't a separate mode at all. When
you create your profile, you are given the option of linking it to a Gamespy account. If you don't do this, your profile will be offline only
permanently so choose wisely, as the game can't be 100% finished
with an offline profile. This is because the main game mode in TDU can be both offline and online, and as you browse around your map and drive around
Hawaii, you'll see both offline and online races. On top of this, other gamers online will drive by, and you can challenge them right there and then with a
flick of the headlights. You can also access online clubs, user made challenges, and compare your times and scores with a world wide leader board all with a
few clicks of the mouse.
That's the good news. The bad news is, all of this just never seems to work as you'd expect. Getting my profile to associate with my GamespyID was easy
enough, but once you start the game and the online componentskick in (after the short introductory period), things start to go a little sour. First of all, even though I'm sure there
are people online, sometimes you will go hours without seeing a single player driving around. When you do find one, or a preset online race with people
inside ready to go, I was
lucky if I ever made it past the dreaded "connection lost" message. In fact the whole time I was playing, online elements only seem to pop up
occasionally despite the fact the game insisted I was connected to the TDU servers. In all fairness, I am located in Australia on a modest 512K connection at
that, but when you can't even see people in game that the map is telling you is there, I've gotta believe something else is up.
Even if these issues can be largely attributed to my location and connection, there's no denying that, by simply looking at the leader boards, online mode
in TDU PC is absolute riddled with cheaters - people finishing 3 minutes races in 30 seconds, people finishing a "F Class" race with an
"A Class" supercar etc. It doesn't take a genius to hop onto Google and see that there are trainers out there allowing people to instantly obtain
millions of dollars, become super speedy and cheat the class
system. This is what happens when you merge the offline and online modes together on the PC and allow the user end machine to upload data about a user's
profile - people simply change the data locally before it gets sent to the TDU servers and ruin it for everyone else. This system may work on the Xbox 360
but not the PC, which is why I will refrain from labeling TDU as a true Massive Multiplayer Online Racer - if WoW worked off character data stored locally on
people's PCs, it would have died years ago.
If you can put those negatives aside though and just enjoy TDU for its incredible open nature and its fun but somewhat semi-realistic gameplay, you will
have a great time. The racing is fast and furious, and the depth on offer is insane - you will have hours and hours of driving in TDU just to finish the
game 100%, let alone after that where the PC version opens up an all new "Hardcore Mode" from the main menu, which takes the mostly arcade based
gameplay and puts a simulation racing spin on
things. And even though I have already covered the
true scaled representation of Hawaii, I feel compelled to emphasis again just how cool it is - being able to drive on the amount of roads TDU has to offer is
mind blowing. Yep, there is no doubting that any racing fan or just PC gamers in general should have a great time with TDU.
That is until the game randomly corrupts your saved game file. After starting my second profile specifically for online use, I only managed to get
37% into finishing the game until the infamous corruption happened to me. For those not in the know, saved game corruption is a recognized problem with
TDU PC that Atari claim will be fixed in a future patch. Any previously corrupted saved game will not be restored, but future corruptions should cease
to exist once this patch is out, which is said
to be any day now. Luckily for me, I knew about this issue before installing TDU and regularly backed up my saved game files (found in My Documents > Test
Drive Unlimited on XP). Even so, this really is an unacceptable bug for a retail game and I can only imagine how many unknowing people have lost their
progress because of it - isn't stuff like this why TDU went through a beta testing phase? On top of this, if you lurk around the Atari community forums and
other locations, you'll read stories of TDU corrupting
Windows after uninstalling, saved games losing data but still being loadable, and other issues of this nature. Pretty scary stuff.
Visually, TDU is very impressive but once again the good comes with the bad. The good here is the car models look fantastic and the Hawaiian
environments are great, especially when you switch HDR on in the options menu. The bad here is the performance of the game, even on modest visual settings.
Now, the X1900XTX I run is no longer king kong of the 3D chips, but coupled with an E6600 and 2GB of memory, it should be able to handle top quality from any
DX9 game like TDU and in effect it does - when you add
"-fps" minus the quotes to TDU's desktop shortcut, the game will print your current frame rate at the top left corner of your screen and mine is
consistently hovering around a smooth 40-60fps. The problem comes with the regular stuttering whenever objects coming into your view distance are being
loaded, creating a reasonably undesirable "pop up" effect rather than a smooth transition from low level of detail to high
level of detail. Atari claim performance is another area the patch address,
but we'll have to wait and see for that one. Another slight disappointment with TDU's visuals is the time of day never changes and neither does the weather -
this is not a huge deal but more a chance lost to make the graphics that much more impressive.
Like any racing game, the controls are a vital part of TDU and while the keyboard will suffice, it is highly recommended you have a wheel or at least a
gamepad. I personally used a gamepad - the USB XB360 controller - and while it took a few minutes to configure, it worked great with TDU, featuring full
analog control on the sticks and the triggers for acceleration and braking, which is very important as simply flooring it in TDU is not a good idea, you
really have to ease your way into full throttle or otherwise
you will likely spin out or lose control. Unfortunately I could not seem to get force feedback working with the 360 controller but research suggests this is
possible if you use the XBCD drivers and not the official MS drivers.
Unlike the Xbox 360 version, so far the PC version has not seen any downloadable car packs despite the fact the in game menu system does have an entry for
it. Given the bugs and general "beta" feel of TDU PC, it would be nice to see Atari release a few free packs with the patch to try and make up for
some of the oversights, but there has been no official mention of this so I'm just throwing ideas out there. In any case, sooner or later you've got to think
someone out there will figure out how to
add user made cars so hopefully addons - official or not - are not far off.
So how does one sum up Test Drive Unlimited for the PC? It is such a brilliant concept and in most ways it is executed flawlessly to the point of
innovation in the racing genre, but the bugs and issues present in the retail version are so prevalent they simply can't go unnoticed. If you're lucky enough
to have a perfect online experience with no saved game corruptions, all without a sign of performance issues, TDU PC is easily a 9/10 or better game that
should be played by everyone, but the odds are you won't
be this lucky. Hopefully a patch is here soon that can put these issues behind us, as I really want to enjoy TDU PC because as far as arcade/semi-realistic racers go, I don't think there is a game out there with as much potential as TDU, it's just hard to in its current
state. If Atari can fix the
issues in the near future and maybe do something about the online cheating, then you've got a seriously fun game on your hands with Test Drive Unlimited