9 Reviews

Test Drive Unlimited

There's no limits as Atari's high-end MMO racer hoves into view and roars into racing legend

Chances are you won't really know where to start with this. We didn't. Test Drive Unlimited is huge. Not just the usual 32 tracks and 64 cars kind of huge, but a whole island of roads, houses, garages, shops, fields and mountains to explore, drive over, up, around and quite possibly through

You can make a start by doing a few of the hitchhiker missions while you get your bearings. These have you picking up a lost tourist, then ferrying them a few miles to their destination for the rather rubbish reward of some gift vouchers to spend on clothes. Doing this helps unlock roads, with the vast Google Maps-copying island map letting you instantly warp to any spot you've driven over once.

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We spent our first day of playing - and by that we mean a full 'working' day of eight hours minus half an hour to get a sandwich - playing missions and driving about in the south-east corner of the island. That's about 15 percent of the place. Day two, again a proper, whole day, was spent driving across the island, opening up the winding coast roads so we could warp about at will from then on.

Finding your way around is easy. You have your GPS device, which you can lock on to any location, shop or race event on the entire island. If you've already driven past it you can zap right there after a couple of seconds loading time, if not - a good 20 minutes of driving awaits if you're going from the south of the island to the north.

The driving is fun. This is not a collection of race laps, you can do some proper driving here. The car delivery missions are brilliant examples of how much fun you can have doing normal things in Test Drive. These lucrative missions have you delivering cars, usually for around $80,000 - plus there's a fifty per cent bonus if you get the car there in pristine condition. This makes for a thrilling, nail-biting ride as you pay attention to other cars and worry about overtaking or riding kerbs.

There's traffic everywhere and it reacts properly. Other cars indicate and turn off ahead of you, drivers panic and swerve to one side if they see you coming toward them on the wrong side of the road at 180mph. When you're trying to keep your car in one piece, every road junction becomes a nightmare scenario of stupid other people turning into you and losing you your bonus. Test Drive has done the impossible - it's made driving really slowly and carefully into the most exciting videogame experience of all.

But you'll probably want to drive fast most of the time. Test Drive's island is dotted with car dealerships and you can bend up any car you like from day one. Until you actually stump up the cash to buy one to keep you're limited to two-minute test drives. You can't damage the car in a test drive, so feel free to wrap that Enzo around anything you like. It won't cost you a penny.

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In fact, you can't damage anything when you're driving one of the cars you've paid for. Frankly, in a game like Test Drive this is one hell of a relief. Yes, it lowers the realism factor somewhat, but Test Drive's about driving for hours and mucking about - where's the thrill in engaging the police in a half-hour-long coastal race if your car keeps breaking? Damage is kept to the careful single-player challenges, so you're free to drive from A to B in lunatic fashion. And after spending 20 minutes driving slowly on a tense delivery mission, getting back behind the wheel of a damage-proofed supercar again is one hell of a relief.

And you've got motorbikes. They're a bit twitchy and the camera jerks about slightly too quickly, but who cares when you're suddenly on the back of something that can get up to 190mph in a few seconds? You're able to race cars with your bike though, which makes it quite easy to cheat and rack up huge amounts of cash by winning easy races again and again. But with some cars costing $3m and requiring purchase of more houses for increased garage space to stick them in, it's not like you'll own everything in Test Drive soon. If we were reviewing the menu screens, they'd get 10/10 easy.

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