We've had the damn-near-complete version whirring incessantly in our 360 for the past week and we've come to a few conclusions - lane discipline is over-rated, American Traffic Cops are refreshingly lenient and even tropical islands can be a bit boring. But this is one racer that's well worth taking for a spin.
One of our biggest fears, with all the talk of TDU's online ambitions, was that the single-player game would get lost or ignored. As far as we're concerned, when full-priced games cost half-a-ton there's no excuse for a non-existent single-player experience. And despite many previous concerns ranging from the handling to the environment, and its more obvious limitations, there is a fully-fledged, grown up, proper single-player game here, which at its core delivers exactly what we've wanted: a spot on razzer. However, like fatty Ronaldo's World Cup showing, it's good. But with ironic inevitability, it's limited.
In recreating the ENTIRE island of Oahu, we suspect that even developers Eden couldn't have imagined the results. The better travelled/irritating members of the Xbox World Team who've been jammy enough to visit Hawaii were overly keen to provide anecdotal evidence to TDU's island accuracy, and a cursory glance over Google Earth proves that Eden's ambition has been both worthwhile and breathtaking. Thousands of miles of real roads are here for you to cruise and race around, making TDU a must-see technical masterpiece even before the rubber hits the tarmac.
TRIED & TESTED
And when it does, you'll be absolutely amazed. Amazed that a lot of it is - dare we say it - slightly dull. Before we have to fend off calls from the Hawaiian tourist board and Tom Selleck, we mean this is in the nicest possible way. The fact is that even tropical paradises have long stretches of tarmac flanked by trees that look exactly the same as each other. So for every jaw-dropping vista at the apex of the finest twisty mountain roads we've ever virtually driven down, there's a long drawn out-section that's more reminiscent of an idealised M5 on a summer's day.
What saves these sections is the pure speed that your better class of sports car delivers. Once you've put a few quid in the bank, get yourself down to one of the many car showrooms and spunk the lot on a rocket on wheels and take it for a cruise. As you fly through the gears and let the throttle out, suddenly this island makes sense. We bought a Jaguar XJ220 from a classic European car dealership and upgraded it with another $160k of kit to do 0-6- in 3.6 seconds and pump out 650 bhp. And it changed everything.
Steaming down Oahu's A-roads at 180 MPH, the traffic that previously seemed so sparse becomes perfectly paced. Not so much as to rule out seriously high-speed, dangerous joyriding but enough to put you even further on edge, to push you to the limits of your handling skills. On some point-to-point races or timed modes where traffic is included, it reminds us of the real-life mini-rush of pulling out from the slipstream of truck on a single carriageway, except we've actually got 24 valves and a top speed of 233 MPH instead of a 1.3 engine, a seatbelt and a prayer. Brilliant.
Yep, when you pass the magical speed that hovers somewhere around the 140 MPH mark Test Drive Unlimited comes alive. And bursting through the 200 MPH barrier is a thrilling, guilty pleasure grounded in a world that relates your speed magnificently. Once you hit breakneck speed, where you're just twitching the stick to weave in and out of traffic, that's when you know you're at the wheel of a quality title and you won't be able to wipe the smile from your face.