The long-running series of realistically presented high-stakes driving comes to the PC with this 2002 release of Test Drive. The game takes place across several urban courses patterned after areas of London, Monte Carlo, San Francisco, and Tokyo. Skilled players can gain access to over two dozen cars to race through the cities.
Though attention is devoted to offering a realistic presentation and believable challenges, the game is not a strict simulation and features a more forgiving interface designed to balance the excitement of real-life street racing with fun gameplay. This edition of Test Drive is designed to make use of the technical power of modern PCs, with lots of environmental details, shadows, reflections, and cars rendered in thousands of polygons.
The Test Drive franchise dates back to the times of the C64. During the past few years, the Test Drive series has thrived and it carried on all the way to Test Drive 6. After releasing Test Drive Offroad Wide Open and Test Drive Overdrive for the Xbox and PS2, Infogrames and Pitbull Syndicate have worked together to bring you yet another Test Drive title - this time for the PC.
The game puts you in the role of a small-time drag racer called Dennis Black. Showing off his driving skills in a casual street race in San Francisco, he gets hired by Donald Clark, who was known as one of the top Test Drive racers. So, now you get to take part in illegal high-stake street races, which are being held in some of the major capitols of the world. Dennis needs to participate in a series of these underground racing events in order to earn some cash and a decent vehicle. Racing through the streets of San Francisco, Tokyo, London, and Monaco, your job will be to prove yourself as a true Test Drive racer against some of the best contestants in the world.
At the beginning of the game, the player can only choose from a small number of average racing cars. Finishing the race in one of the top spots will unlock various new car models for you to try out - altogether, there will be over fifteen different vehicles in the game, and that includes the Plymouth Cuda, Aston Martin DB7 Vantage, Ford SVT Mustang, Dodge Charger, Dodge Viper, Subaru Impreza 22B, Jaguar XJ 220, and others. However, the real challenge in Test Drive is using slower cars to beat opponents with faster cars. This will require great skill since most of the cities have dense traffic, particularly districts of London and Tokyo - and what a delightful challenge it will be. No, seriously. This is the part of the game I enjoyed the most; racing at high-speeds through huge tracks that are crammed with diverse obstacles on the road. Regrettably, gamers with good driving abilities, like myself (no false modesty attached to that statement), will get through the entire game in no time. In the end, the game doesn't have any unique gameplay facets that could intrigue players; which means you may get bored soon.
Even though there's enough of a gameplay depth to motivate average players, more experienced racers may not find anything lasting in Test Drive. To put it simply, Test Drive can be described as a Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 replica, which was enriched with a few gameplay elements from Crazy Taxi. The game is just packed with constant action and that will keep you involved for a while, but that surely won't be enough if you're into more realistic vehicle handling and genuine physics - another thing Test Drive obviously lacks. In other words, Test Drive will interest those of you who are into arcade racing, but even arcade racers shouldn't have such poor physics or car handling, as they won't present a decent enough challenge, even for a casual gamer - and will soon become boring.
The AI in Test Drive isn't exactly perfect, neither. Fair enough, most of the AI routines were tuned-up and polished since the last Test Drive game, but that's hardly what I'd call enough. The AI still exhibits some obvious weak moments - for example, when an opponent is only several feet in front of you, he/she will start using obvious and predictable behavior patterns - your opponent sometimes crashes into the same vehicle or obstacle after each lap. And another thing; I think the game could've used a more challenging cop-AI. The ones that chase you here tend to hammer into you like idiots and they occasionally get stuck on the simplest of obstacles, which can look really lame.
The graphics are pretty much standard, but they could've been a lot better. The low-detail background sometimes creates an outdated and rather dreary atmosphere, plus some of the models are in dire need more polys and reflections. Today's graphic cards give ample opportunities for realistic environments, yet the developers seemed to have chosen to shun the next-gen graphics in favor of a solid frame-rate. Furthermore, some of the physics are weird (cars may bounce like balloons after a collision) and the game is deprived of any visible car damage effects (which goes in line with what I've said about car handling in one of the previous paragraphs). Perhaps the only positive thing is that the tracks are lengthy and the frame-rate is rock-solid (that is unless you happen to be playing in the 1600*1200 res mode).
What disappointed me the most is that the developers didn't take the time to enhance the in-game sound effects. The sound of your engine, for instance, reminds me of an old faulty blender I once had and the vehicle collisions sound so awful they'll give you goose bumps. Of course, the situation slightly improves with the high-quality soundtrack, which features the music of Junkie XL, Moby, Saliva, CRUD, DMX, and others.
To sum it all up, Test Drive is a lot like that movie The Fast and the Furious - you get to see a lot of expensive cool cars and you get to race around major cities at enormous speed, crashing into everything on the road from coffee-shop tables to traffic lights. This is the kind of atmosphere portrayed in Test Drive and if you love arcadish-style driving then you'll get a kick out of this - but not for long.
It took me less than two days to complete the single-player campaign and unlock all of the vehicles. After that, the game pretty much becomes a drag, since there will be no further challenges for the player and given that the game's graphics are not all that impressive either, there's nothing left to draw you back into that "fast and furious" racing atmosphere. Hence, I wouldn't give a nickle for its replay value (the game doesn't have a proper MP mode - you can only play in split-screen once the SP campaign is finished). For me, the only satisfying thing was breezing through the campaign and the challenges; once I finished that, there were precious little reasons for me to come back to this game.
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