Hear the roar of engines and smell the burnt rubber as you step up to take the challenge of Test Drive 5. Race on 17 different tracks in locations such as Moscow, Honolulu, Tokyo, and the winding streets of San Francisco. The interesting twist is that the courses are reversible giving you an total of 31 driving combinations. Add that to 28 licensed cars including classics such as the Aston Martin Vantage and the Ford Mustang among other super-charged and secret cars that will melt the asphalt beneath your tires. Multiplayer support for up to six players, and two players can compete at once via split-screen on one PC.
It's a really good time to be a racing fan. In the past few months, all sort of new racing titles have been offered up to gamers, expanding the genre with titles that range from the purely arcade (Speed Busters) to the deep simulation (Newman Haas Racing) with loads of titles in-between (Need for Speed III, TOCA, Formula One, and so on). Now the most recent in a series that helped start the home computer racing craze is attempting to jump into this crowded market. Blessed with solid graphics, great sound, and some of the finest cars ever included in a racing game, Test Drive 5 is more than just another racing game. Here's some of the reasons why...
Right from the start you'll get an earful of Test Drive's fantastic soundtrack, supplied by bands like KMFDM, Gravity Kills and Fear Factory. There's even a quick rock video as you enter the game that 's actually pretty cool. The odd thing is, while there's fantastic music pumping throughout the intro, load and selection screens, the music actually included in the races sounds pretty lame, like standard video game tunes. The in-game sound effects on the other hand are pretty good, allowing you to tell how close other cars are to you on the road (and sometimes even what kind of car they are).
Once you've gotten into the game itself, you're likely to be impressed by Test Drive's wide variety of play choices. Just about everything you could possibly want to do is here in some fashion or another. First off, if you're one of those psychos that doesn't have time for directions, you can double-click 'quick race' and get on the road quickly. For those of you with time for a few more menus, you'll be able to choose between Single Race, Cup Race, Time Trials, Drag Race, and Cop Chase modes. In the interest of being thorough, we're going to take a quick peek at the good and bad of each of these options.
Single Race mode is exactly what you think it is. You select a car, pick a track (more on both of these later) and compete against a group of computer cars in a race against the clock. Single Race is a lot like your traditional arcade racer in that you have a set amount of time to reach each checkpoint, and should you fail to reach any one of them in the allotted time, your game's over. These levels are viciously hard, and you'll spend a lot of time trying to beat them all. The good news is, should you manage to finish first on any of these levels you'll unlock a secret car or a reverse track. Good luck.
Cup Race is subdivided into several different categories, most of which you won't get a shot at until you've proven yourself. This is the sort of career mode of Test Drive, in which you get a chance to go to each different track in turn in attempt to earn the cup. In the Championship Cup, you'll race four courses and earn points based on your finishing position in each one. The Era Cup is a little longer, six courses, and contains only cars from the beauty or beast category list (new or old cars). You're judged based on your total time for all six courses. Later you'll be able to play the Challenge Cup, which offers the rules of Era Cup but with no restrictions on which cars you select. You'll also have to earn your chance to play the Pitbull Cup which requires you to get a first place in order to even be able to move on to the next track. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Pitbull Cup is played over eight different tracks. Win this one, and you've got my full respect. Even so, you'll have to then face the Master's Cup, a ten-race competition with some pretty funky rules. In this rally you have ten random cars, each of which can only be used only once. This is a good way to test if you're just good with one car or if you've truly mastered the driving engine. Finally, when you've worn out all the other possibilities, you'll be ready (maybe) for the Ultimate Cup, a twelve race saga. Scores in this massive event are earned for your average speed on each track, with points being withheld for hitting walls or being pulled over by the 5-0. Earn a first place and you're going to unlock cars, tracks, and different stuff. Obviously, this is something I didn't manage to complete, and I'm not ashamed. It's really hard.
The closest thing Test Drive has to a practice mode is the Time Trial selection in which you pick a car, and a track and race for a final time. As far as I could see, finishing first here doesn't seem to do anything for you at all. Fair enough, this is pretty easy stuff.
Even more basic is the Drag Race where you select a car, and one for the computer and then try and get to the finish line first. Keep in mind that there are no automatics here, this is a contest to see who's got the better car and shifting ability.
Last but not least comes Cop Chase, a play mode that's pretty much the opposite of that found in Need For Speed 3. Here you select from a fairly short list of police cars and hit a track hell-bent on giving a little bit of justice to all of the racers on the road. Each one of the felons has been charged with crimes that range from chicken plucking to murder one. In order to pull them over, you've got to reduce their damage bars down to the red and then get 'em stopped with your siren going. It's a lot harder than it sounds, so you shouldn't expect to get a lot of points on this game until you've gotten adept at passing and crushing other cars.
The most important part of any racing game is how the cars handle, and here Test Drive fares pretty well. We used the keyboard, joypad, and steering wheel when testing this title, and all of them seemed to work delightfully. The cars all handle fairly well, although at high speeds they seem to drift a little bit unrealistically. Still, what the hell would I know? I've never driven a Viper at 160mph before. In addition to your standard brakes, which you need to be VERY easy with, Test Drive 5 also provides you with a handbrake that's perfect for power sliding around those hairpin turns. It's a delicate art and one that none of us ever mastered it completely. In fact, both Julian and I (we're the two who played the most) found Test Drive 5 to be a very difficult game to play, but not always in a frustrating way. It just takes a long time to learn how to handle the cars properly. But don't get too cocky, once you get the hang of driving the car, you'll still have to master driving in the snow or rain, both of which present their own special problems (like lack of vision and lack of traction respectively). Unfortunately, all of this solid play is ruined by the way the computer plays its game.
The biggest problem with Test Drive 5 is that it cheats. Now I know that this sounds a lot like a frustrated gamer looking for an excuse, but in this case it's absolutely true ¿ your opponents can do loads of things that you can. The one you'll notice first is car to car impacts. When you're racing, if another car pulls up behind you and taps you on the rear bumper, your car immediately goes flying out of control. While this seems reasonable (if a tad excessive), the same trick just doesn't work if you try to do it back. Shove an opponent's car from behind, and you're a lot more likely to end up in the ditch than he is. Next comes the differentiation in car acceleration and top speeds, something that becomes immediately noticeable in the Drag Race mode. When you race against the computer, they're able to make a car perform in ways that you could never manage. They can reach accelerate cars faster than you can, and they can reach and maintain top speeds under conditions that would send you flying off the track. Finally, comes the police factor. In a standard race, all a policeman has to do is get in front of you and you're automatically pulled over. In the police chase mode, you have to batter the hell out of a criminal to get them to stop, something that can be difficult at best when each impact sends you flying out of control. The last of these problems I can forgive. In order for the police chase mode to be challenging, some liberties had to be taken. But the first two problems seem to be a way to give the computer opponents an advantage in competition. A much better way to keep the game challenging during races would have been to create AIs that, while hampered by the same restrictions as you, were good enough to make you sweat. The way it is, the most you'll get is about three or four races before the computer pulls a dirty trick so foul that you'll turn your computer off in disgust.
Okay, now that I've gotten that off my chest (whew!), I can get on with what I really liked about the game, namely the incredible car selection. Straight out of the box Test Drive 5 offers up sixteen different cars, some of which I have been waiting to drive for a very long time. There are eight 'beauty' cars, the 1998 Dodge Viper, the 1997 Chevrolet Camaro Z28SS LT4, the 1998 Saleen Mustang S351, the 1998 Chevrolet Corvette, the 1998 Nissan Skyline (huh??), the 1998 TVR Cerbera, the 1998 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and the 1998 Jaguar XKR, included from the current era of automobile production. Better still (and to me this is the good part) Test Drive 5 also includes eight cars from the golden age of automobiles including the 1967 Pontiac GTO, the 1969 Dodge Charger, the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6 (oh YEAH!!), the 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, the 1966 Shelby Cobra 427SC, the 1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL1, the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and of course, the 1968 Ford Mustang 428 CJ. Don't get me wrong, I love the high performance vehicles, but how can I pretend to be Steve McQueen when I'm in a $100,000 car? The addition of these classics has been a looooong time coming. If you're really good, you'll also be able to unlock the seven other cars that are shown, the Aston Martin Project Vantage, the 1998 Shelby Series 1, the 1998 TVR Speed 12, the 1998 Dodge Viper GTS-R, the 1994 Jaguar XJ220, the Caterham Super 7, and the most unbelievable car in the game, the Nissan R390 GT-1. I'm also fairly sure there's a couple of cars in the game that Accolade doesn't tell us about, but I've got no real proof for this, so don't take me at my word. As soon as I get everything unlocked (I'm figuring another week or so) I'll update this review and let you know what's there.
Multiplayer options are also very strong, offering up head to head play on one computer (your choice of horizontal or vertical split screen) and net play for up to six players. This is actually the best way to play the game as your human opponents won't play the computer tricks on you that makes the game so frustrating sometimes. Other than that, multiplayer races proceed pretty much as the computer controlled variety with you and your friends barrelling down the same tracks with the same cars trying to beat each other to the finish line.
In the end, Test Drive 5 comes really close to greatness, and then veers off sharply at the last minute. The game's solid handling, great car selection, and passable graphics are all ruined by the fact that computer controlled cars can pitch you off the road at any given moment and by the fact that even with the fastest cars at your disposal, you'll probably find yourself struggling to keep up with the slowest computer opponents. Unfortunately, those flaws are there, and they do reduce the overall playability of the game. Even so, there's a lot to like about this game, and I have to admit that I keep finding myself returning to it after hours for another quick race. If you're into racing, and you think you handle a few dirty tricks you may want to think about taking this one out for a spin.
People who downloaded Test Drive 5 have also downloaded:
Test Drive 6, Test Drive 4, Test Drive, Test Drive 3: The Passion, Test Drive, Test Drive: Off-Road 3, Test Drive: Triple Pack, TOCA Race Driver (a.k.a. Pro Race Driver)
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