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Test Drive Unlimited

Suzy Wallace dons her grass skirt and shades to pick up the keys to this steamy Hawaiian racer

When you think of Hawaii, the images that pop into your mind probably consist of smiling residents handing out flower garlands at airports, palm-fringed beaches, crashing surf and Tom Selleck's impossibly garish shirts.

What doesn't instantly spring to mind however is a whole heap of exotic machinery, but that's exactly what Eden Games have sprinkled liberally around the island of Oahu in Test Drive Unlimited. Determined to make TDU stand out from the crowd, Eden have gathered together a glorious setting, tons of races and a massive selection of cars that will have enthusiasts dribbling into their Haynes manuals.

They've then drenched the lot in features borrowed from the world of massively multiplayer gaming (but stripped of elves and orcs). TDU even boasts a persistent online world in which you can create and customise your own avatar and battle it out with others driving around on the server - though with less magic spells and more horsepower. Oahu provides a massive and lush backdrop to the game, in stark contrast to the normal concrete and tarmac-based settings of racing titles.

Upon first booting the game up, the tropical setting is one of the first things to grab your attention, with its tree-lined avenues and picturesque sandy beaches. Sadly, it's also one of the first things I grew tired of. Yes, I know that's what it's like in real life and I'm also aware that it probably ranks in many people's top five places to visit before they die, but in terms of variety, it can be a bit lacking.

Despite the initial wow factor, the visuals can quickly grow repetitive. However, the vast size of the island is impressive (at least a half-hour drive from one side to another), and should you choose to go for a bit of a wander, there are some real gems of roads to be found. Do a bit of exploration inland and you may stumble across my personal favourite - a twisty mountain road perfect for testing the limits of your vehicle and for ogling the rather pleasant view.

PARADISE UNBOUND
Essential for navigating around this huge island is your GPS unit. It might be a relatively standard bit of kit nowadays but it's laden with features to make your life just that little bit easier, from handy icons symbolising the locations of challenges to filters and blue lines denoting where you've been on your drive. Once you've travelled a road, you can simply call it up on your GPS and instantly transport there ( la Oblivion), saving you from having to drive across the island and also doing your bit for global warming by reducing the emissions produced by your virtual car. Maybe.

A RUN FOR YOUR MONEY
There's a decent range of challenges on offer too. Instead of standard game modes, TDU utilises themes - speed, race and time - and the resulting challenges are spread around the island, some offline and some on, and each categorised by the type of vehicle you need in order to enter.

Variety is further assured by a range of bonus missions, which offer a bit of silly fun. For instance, Oahu seems to be overflowing with models who, between botox injections and vomiting into toilets, need to get somewhere in a rush. Pull up next to them, Crazy Taxi-style, and you'll be given a 'damage' meter and a time limit in which to get them where they want to go, although I did amuse myself by just picking one up and driving around like a lunatic until they got out in disgust.

Courier missions, meanwhile, require you to deliver a package in a strict time limit, while roadside diners give you the chance to try out some user-created missions. But the car delivery missions are by far the most devious. Handing you the keys to an immaculate supercar, these missions task you with driving to a distant location with a minimum of damage to said auto. Any damage incurred is deducted from your reward, and with an extra bonus should you make it unscathed, they're a great way to boost your cash - provided you can resist the temptation to drive it sideways round corners. Of course, there's always a restart button if not...

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