We've seen free-roaming driving games before, but the idea's never been used to its full potential - and certainly not online. Test Drive Unlimited looks set to change all that though, with an entire Hawaiian island as its setting and over 1,000 miles of twisty tropical tarmac for you to lay some rubber on.
As well as the picturesque landscapes rushing by your window, the island plays host to a bevy of car dealerships where you can purchase new vehicles, a local police force ready to issue fines, a variety of CPU challenges (from standard races to tasks like transporting a vehicle without taking any damage), a selection of clothing shops and even houses to buy. Owning a home offers the opportunity for bigger and better garages to store your vehicles in, while the clothing options give you the chance to ridicule other people's dress sense when they wind down their in-game windows.
Developers Eden Games have assembled a pretty impressive garage of cars for you to choose from too, with over 125 licensed vehicles wedged in. And don't worry that your career will begin with a clapped-out Fiesta either - pretty much every vehicle rates quite highly on the desirability scale. Whether it's a gentleman's Aston Martin, a nimble Lotus or a bit of American muscle you're after, everyone's tastes are catered for. What's more, your choice isn't just limited to four wheels either, with a selection of bikes adding yet more variety.
TDU will feature plenty to do, both on and offline, but where the game really promises to shine is in the multiplayer. Borrowing liberally from the massively multiplayer genre to create its own little niche ('MOOR' or Massively Open Online Racing), TDU will see you cruising the streets besides other online players. If you fancy starting a race, it's simply a case of flashing your lights, setting the waypoints on the map and kicking their butt. You can even place wagers or race for pink slips.
As is standard for the genre, you can tune your car with official parts as well as organise car clubs where you and your racing chums can chat, trade and organise online competitions and races. And we're sure that if you want to, you can do doughnuts in a Honolulu carpark too.
This community factor looks set to add another dimension to the normally staid world of racing games, and could really separate TDU from its rivals. With the PC version also receiving a hardcore mode to cater for sim enthusiasts, TDU should please car nuts and GTA fans alike. Our driving gloves are waiting...