Imagine heading to the island of Oahu with nothing but 200 large in your wallet and the clothes on your back. You rent a car to do a little house hunting and sight-seeing, then it's off to buy your first set of wheels. That Ferrari dealership looks inviting, but for now you better take a look at what Ford or Saturn are serving up. The hell with that, let's splurge and buy an Audi TT. While in the dealership, you hop into the car and look at it from all angles. You test the horn, the windows, and rearview mirror. You turn the key and listen to it purr. You take it.
The island is big and there are hundreds of miles of road winding from one verdant corner to the next but you've got all the time in the world. The roads are your office. They're where you will make your money -- money that will help you upgrade your ride and maybe even add another lady to your garage. By cruising the island, you will learn the whereabouts of hundreds of races (time trial, street race, speed zones, etc.) and missions (hitchikers, models, transport, package delivery) as well as an unfathomable amount of car dealerships, tuning shops, clothing boutiques, paint shops, realtors, homes for sale, car rental agencies... the list goes on.
And while you cruise around, guided by the helpful voice of your GPS navigational unit, you'll often hear the chatter of other racers -- human players. That's right. While you are driving around the island trying your best to drive a gorgeous "top model" 11.5 miles to a friend's house in Honolulu or participating in a high-speed race near Makaha, there are dozens if not hundreds of other human players cruising around doing the same thing. Roll up to another human player and flash your high beams to challenge him to a race. Maybe you'll wager on it, maybe you won't. Doesn't matter -- just set the course on the map that pops up and floor it! Bragging rights are on the line.
Or maybe you want something a bit less spontaneous. Drive up to any of the many set locations for multiplayer racing and challenge other drivers to an official ranked race. Or maybe you want to just cruise with your car club or people you've befriended. Toggle the "locked" function and you and your fellow car enthusiasts can cruise the island together in a pack. Additionally, you can also pull up to a drive-in and upload your own customized events for others to participate in. And, to that extent, you can also buy, sell, and trade vehicles with other players from around the world.
If Test Drive Unlimited is starting to sound like a game with a nearly endless list of things to do and accomplish, that's because it is. I didn't even mention motorcycles yet. As you complete races and buy more and more cars, you'll come to own numerous houses throughout the island, each with at least a 4-car garage. And as your collection of cars grows and you continue to tune them and locate each of the car dealerships in the game, you'll eventually be able to purchase any number of quality crotch rockets from a bevy of manufacturers ranging from Ducati to Triumph.
To say I'm excited about TDU is an understatement. I came home from E3 in May as excited as can be about the game and, for a brief few days, was hoping to be able to author the strategy guide for it. But, alas, my publisher's competitor had already begun work on it. So be it, it's more enjoyable when I'm playing strictly for leisure than for work.
So far, I've logged a little over 6 hours in the game and have ranked up to "Expert" level in the eyes of the game. I've driven close to 350 miles, but haven't seen half of what there is to do. You can use your GPS to magically warp to a destination on the map so long as you've actually driven the roads to it previously. Although some events and key locations will appear on your GPS thanks to ranking up, you primarily fill out the map by driving past locations -- missions, races, and locations are automatically added to your GPS once you drive past them. If you haven't been there yet, you can select the location and your GPS will guide you. Thanks to this game mechanic, I once drove 31.5 miles to a race on the other side of the island. Along the way I got to learn the roads, find numerous dealerships and boutiques, and even do a little sight-seeing at Pearl Harbor. Which brings up another great feature about the game -- there's no need to stick to the road. You can drive on the beaches, through the fields, between the trees in a forest, you're only limited by your willingness to explore and your tires' traction.
Of course, the game didn't knock me off my feet from the start. The character models are pretty stiff and the women in the game (who populate every store and dealership) have absurdly rigid Botox-enhanced smiles that remind me of Chucky from the "Child's Play" movies. Fortunately, it's a racing game and the beauty of the vehicles is far more important. And the car models truly shine. Not quite to the level of Project Gotham Racing 3 but they do look great, and not nearly as plasticy as in Burnout Revenge. That said, the car physics will take a little getting used to. I was positively baffled by the way my Audi TT drove at first, but I eventually added some tuning upgrades to it and found it much more palatable. That said, many of the faster cars in the game drive like a dream.
My one main concern with the game though was that the 100 or so missions (not to be confused with the hundreds of races) would get very repetitive. After all, is there really any difference between driving a model, a hitchiker, or a package to a distance location? In each instance, you only have so much time to do it and your passenger will only tolerate collisions and off-roading for so long before the mission is failed. So, yes, this aspect of the game does get a little repetitive. However, I'm happy to say that these missions aren't a bore nor a chore as they really help you see more of the lesser-traveled roads which, in turn, makes it possible to warp to that many more locations and events that you may have never found otherwise.
So, to summarize, TDU is a fine, fine game. Not only is it a grand achievement and a great step towards the realization of a true driving-based MMO, but it's also quite fun to play. Each of my initial concerns have been laid to rest as I continued to play the game and I can't wait to play it again later today.
But I've saved the best part for last. All of this can be yours not for the next-gen price of $60. Not even for $50. Nope. Atari has released this game with a suggested price of $39.99. A great game at any price, but an absolute steal at this lower pricepoint. Test Drive Unlimited is available for Xbox 360 only.
Here's a link to the official website.