During E3, Atari released a demo of Test Drive Unlimited on Xbox Live. It sucked. It had graphical issues, it had control issues, and the entire experience was lacking in fun. What a difference six months can make. Test Drive Unlimited is the best racing game available. Not just on the Xbox 360; it’s the best racing game available period.
While the demo suffered from massive framerate issues, the final version of Test Drive Unlimited bounds along at a solid 30 fps. The car models are easily the best seen so far, beating even those of Project Gotham Racing 3, even if they do not take damage. The environments might not look as impressive as PGR3, although they are certainly impressive, simply because concessions needed to be made given the scope of the island.
And what a scope it is. It takes over two hours to simply drive around the perimeter of the island. Exploring every road, for which an achievement is given, will take countless hours, easily expanding the value of Test Drive Unlimited.
Players will be able to drive around the entire island without ever experiencing a load time. There is pop-up in places, and the text is unreadable on SDTVs (and the graphics score suffers as a consequence; developers need to learn this is unacceptable), but the sheer amount of location means that these faults are forgivable.
The game itself plays a lot like Midnight Club and SSX 3. Players will drive around the island, finding a variety of missions to engage with. Offline the game will merely include a range of single-player missions, although the sheer scope of the island means that even travelling between missions is enjoyable.
The real fun comes when Test Drive Unlimited is taken online. The entire island acts as a single server, much like those found in MMORPGs. Consequently, Test Drive Unlimited is a MMOR: massively multiplayer online racer.
Players can engage in classic online races like those found in other games, and they can also issue instant challenges to the copious amounts of players they will witness driving around the island of Hawaii.
The only drawback to such a set up is that players will be forced to listen to the plethora of dickheads that litter Xbox Live. You can mute all communications if you wish, but it limits the experience somewhat. Ultimately, if you can experience Test Drive Unlimited as it’s supposed to be experienced, expect to hear some rather vulgar bigotry.
The music is also excellent. Players can obviously use a custom soundtrack, but the included radio stations fit the experience. A personal favourite is the classical station; racing down a freeway at 250 kmph to the Willam Tell Overture has never felt so right. The sound effects are also top notch.
The bottom line is that Test Drive Unlimited is a perfect example of the Xbox 360 experience. The entire game feels connected and involved. You’ll notice other drivers speeding around you as you engage in your tasks. The sheer scope of the island means that the game will not grow old quickly. And the ability to upgrade your car to compete in a variety of challenges means that the gameplay is varied and enjoyable. And given that some of the achievements will take a while to unlock, Test Drive Unlimited is value for money.
If you want the best racing game available, one that truly feels alive, you’d do well to check out Test Drive Unlimited. Unlike other racing games, it does not feel like a collection of independent modes; it is a hyperreality that blurs the lines between the real and the virtual. Driving around in Test Drive Unlimited is the closest thing you can get to driving around in real life. If you like racing games, you owe it to yourself to play this game.