Unfortunately, far too much of Test Drive reins you in. Your progression from immigrant to multi-millionaire petrolhead playboy requires earning lots of dosh from various challenges to buy - in descending order of excitement - cars, mods, houses, Ben Sherman shirts and Mark Ecko hoodies. No, really.
If the usual point-to-point races, endurance races and Beat The Clock modes show TDU off at its exhilarating best, frankly we got fed up of having to drive deliberately within ourselves to deliver a car in pristine condition to some tosser or other. The problem being that doing this safely just means taking your foot off the gas a bit. TDU comes into its own when you're pushing your car's limits, and pushing your limits. And when you're not, you're less a road-going Fernando Alonso and more of a glorified courier wearing a nasty Mark Ecko top.
The in-game map lets you teleport about the island once you've driven over a specific point, which is a godsend given the bland nature of large tracts of road. Without descending to the brash thrills of Burnout or LA Rush, we think Eden could have indulged in a little creative freedom, such as the odd ramp, without wrecking the serious sim atmosphere. Equally irritating is their inability to truly exploit the world they've created. It's a huge island that begs to be explored but as soon as you escape the asphalt, you're on the road to nowhere. You can drive for minutes, struggling to get up hills, or finding others impassable as you attempt to get to a beauty spot before hitting an invisible wall. It's worse when you're on the bikes. These can get up more hills but run into an obstacle and it'll transport you right back to the nearest road. Pure frustration. Surely it wouldn't have taken that much - they've already put the landscape in there! Furthermore, areas with potential for drag-races or simply messing about in, like airports, cant be accessed. Why put in all this detail and then avoid using it? It sounds harsh but it's true: it feels like you're being cheated.
TO THE LIMIT
And this feeling of being short-changed lurks on every corner. When you consider that Oahu is the developed world's best stab at paradise, a tropical island with first class hotels and enough 7-11s to keep you stocked up with Mr Frosty's 'til Doomsday, there's no-one around. No peds whatsoever. We don't need to run them over. We don't even need to jump out and shoot them. We'd just like to see them. The illusion of a free-roaming, real world setting is sadly eroded further.
Our major grumbles aren't that the game isn't good - just that it could be even better. The race events are mostly worthwhile, with well picked-out tracks and only the slightly irritating Crazy Taxi-style lifts and car delivery sections proving a grind (and then only because if you wipe out you'll more than likely fail, but you can pootle along and still bring home the bacon). So do you bore yourself by taking it easy and banking the cash or get the task over quicker but risk a crash or someone running into you? Either way is frustrating. Otherwise, the economy system is well-paced, giving you enough cash to put you within spending distance of super-cars, but tight enough so goodies aren't thrown around like confetti.
Ultimately, there aren't any real reasons not to get TDU. Sure, another few months of development might have made this a true PGR3 or Gran Turismo spoiler. But this is a solid game offline, and one that is replicated almost in its entirety online (although the servers we were playing on have been recently turned off). Regardless, we've had enough hands-on-time to suggest that this will be a corker on Live, and should breathe a little life into the otherwise rather pointless character customisation options. Given a few more months, a little more imagination and improved racing objectives, this could have been the drive of your life. Instead, it looks like being the drive of the year so far, and certainly a tough act for Forza 2 to follow.
TDU is going to be an impressive racer... but it could have been incredible. Anyone with half an interest in a decent car game should pick this up, although you'll find that where TDU excels in some areas, in many others it flatters to deceive. But from what we've seen so far (and we've seen a lot) this looks like a 'buy'.