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3.0 out of 5 stars Test Drive Unlimited (Xbox 360): Servers have now been shut down, 27 April 2014
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This review is from: Test Drive Unlimited (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
The Test Drive series has been around a long time, but unlike fellow arcade racer Need for Speed, new iterations arrive infrequently. After going through various incarnations that included street racing, off roading and even a Southern style demolition derby title, the franchise went dormant. Now, the series has been resurrected for the 360 and it is clear that the developers were finally ready to bring the series into the major leagues.

Like its forebears, Unlimited is an arcade racer, but this newest iteration is different in many ways. For one, the racing is no longer confined to tracks and instead takes place in a huge open world. And this isn't just any world – it's a real location. Players are plopped down in the middle of Oahu, a tropical Hawaiian paradise, and given a huge stable of cars to buy and drive around. Unlimited allows the player to delve deeper into this fantasy of luxury, with the ability to outfit your character with a variety of clothing bought from real brands and acquire houses and garages to park your cars in.

Of course, everything starts with money. And you'll only get money by racing. There are numerous race types across the island such as circuits, sprints, time trials, and speed races. While most of them are standard racing fare, the latter deserves explanation. Speed races come in two different flavors. The first is just to get your car up to a certain speed, then end the race. The only problem is that these races are usually held on heavily trafficked or curvy roads. The other speed type is similar to NFS speed races, where you pass a number of checkpoints; your speed is registered and averaged out to a whole. Unlike the NFS games, there is no set path and you can pick which checkpoints you wish to hit first.

There is an additional type of event, called “transport”. Transport events take a number of different guises. In some you'll be driving a vehicle to a new location and in others you'll be transporting people and cargo. Each has a minor quirk that sets it apart from the others – for instance, damage during a vehicle transport mission deducts from your final reward – and a different reward, but all of them are fundamentally the same. Of course, some of these transport missions are the only way you can get the vouchers that allow you to buy clothing in the stores, but that's an ancillary diversion many people won't take an interest in.

The actual racing is good, but there are a few bugs in the vehicle physics. For the most part, these are so minor it may take a few hours to notice them, but they do affect gameplay. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a car not turning properly, or as drastic as a car suddenly losing traction and flying off the road. But as the game progresses, it becomes more of a problem because of the increasingly high performance cars you'll be driving.

Another of these subtle problems is with the transmission. This is a consistent problem, regardless of which car is being driven. At times, a shift doesn't register, or it registers late. While this isn't so much a problem while shifting up, it becomes immediately noticeable when shifting down. This problem borders on being ridiculous when you have to put your car in reverse, as it can take upwards of five seconds for it to actually go into gear. It may not sound like much on paper, but if you've just spun off the road and everyone else is going by at two-hundred miles an hour, five seconds is a lifetime. Of course, these problems can be avoided entirely by switching to automatic transmission, but that's an unacceptable solution for any self-respecting racing enthusiast.

In the case of motorcycles, it is best to avoid them altogether. While they suffer the same basic physics and transmission problems as the cars, these problems are exaggerated by the fact that motorcycles are inherently more unstable than cars. There is also no way to lean over to take a sharp turn, which means that motorcycles tend plow straight into a barricade and turn the driver into a human missile.

During the game it is likely (and inevitable) that you'll come up against the cops. They can be called in for numerous reasons, such as reckless driving or a hit and run. While they aren't especially smart, they make up for it in dogged persistence. They'll try to ram you and they'll also set up roadblocks. To make matters worse, if you hit another car, or another car hits you, your wanted level goes up. In effect, this means more police and more roadblocks. It wouldn't be so bad if there was some convenient way to shake them off - something similar to Grand Theft Auto's Pay and Spray - but no such mechanic exists. Instead, the wanted levels have to fade one their own. It also seems that this isn't based on a matter of time, but of distance driven, so if you want to lose the cops you have to stay on the roads and not just hide out. At times it is easier to just pull over and take the ticket, but the prices become astronomical in a hurry. Price factors include everything you hit as well as a loose approximation of your skill, called driver level. The good news is if you're completely broke they just put you in jail for thirty seconds and you're free to go!

Survive the police and win races, and you'll eventually get enough money to start buying cars. But don't be surprised if you have to make some hard decisions in your purchases. Unlimited has most of the big names such as Lamborghini, Ferrari, and McLaren, along with a handful of luxury vehicle manufacturers like Mercedes and some more down to earth companies like Ford and Chevrolet. All in all, there is a nice mix of cars that span from both the low to the high end of the spectrum. But, there are some very noticeable holes in the lineup. For instance, Porsche and BMW are mysteriously absent. That's not to mention some of the most prolific companies are missing many of their signature models. Ferrari has been whittled down to the bare essentials and Lamborghini is lacking the Countach, Diablo and a few others. While many of the missing cars have apparently been introduced via DLC, that doesn't do much good for those without online – and those unwilling to pay for cars that should have been in the game in the first place.

Unlike most racing games, the cars you buy in Unlimited don't just go to a mysterious invisible garage with unlimited space. You must have a garage where cars can be stored, and that's where real estate comes in. Each house on the island has a garage that holds a certain number of cars. Once it has been filled, you must sell some cars or buy another house. More expensive houses tend to have larger garages. Houses also serve as a basic hub for the game. Not only is that the place to store cars, but you can check your game progress, Achievements, and change clothes for your driver.

For a budget title, Unlimited looks okay. The cars are absolutely magnificent on the outside. By using the driver camera, it is possible to immerse yourself further into the illusion of driving one of these cars. However, the immersion is hindered by the fact that the instruments don't work on many of the cars.

In terms of the environment, it looks okay as long as you keep your eyes focused solely on the road. Look around and you'll see that this digital recreation of Oahu isn't nearly as pretty as the real thing. While it's hard to expect ultra-realism from a budget priced game that attempts to recreate an entire island, it's still a little disappointing. The landscape is filled with two-dimensional trees and bland textures. The culprit is easy to pinpoint; dozens of square miles of empty land with no roads fills the interior of the island. Had this unimportant area been ignored and the island streamlined, there would have been much more time to work on the rest of the island.

Unlimited's audio is interesting. Every car has a realistic radio, and you can choose from several stations that encompass rock, alternative, electronica and even classical music. While the song list for each station is limited, each is pretty good and fits the overall mood of the game.

While the game has its fair share of problems, it allows the player to experience something truly unique in the gaming world. How many other games out there allow you to take a Koenigsegg all the way to its top speed on a winding backroad? That's enough of a reason for this game to warrant a look by any racing fan.
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