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PSP  header logo

Test Drive Unlimited

For: PSP

Want to own the supercar of your dreams?

Product: Test Drive Unlimited | Developer: Melbourne House | Publisher: Atari | Format: PSP | Genre: Racing | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: Europe
 
Test Drive Unlimited PSP, thumbnail 1
Any child with a passion for cars will at some point have calculated that working for five or six years whilst earning the national average salary (and ignoring living costs) will result in enough money to buy a Ferrari.

By their teens, though, reality hits: for the majority of people, owning a supercar (or even a sports car) is a lifestyle they'll never experience.

Atari thinks otherwise. In what might be considered a surprisingly philanthropic move, it brings you Test Drive Unlimited, a game that aims to be more than just another racing title by delivering an engrossing world, within which a community of petrolheads get to virtually live an alternate existence.

You begin the game by arriving on the Haiwaiian island of Oahu. With some savings burning a whole in your pocket, you're soon off to buy a car and a house to keep it in. Once you do, invitations to participate in one-make series and other such racing events start filling your message box, but the beauty of Test Drive Unlimited is that you're entirely free to ignore them and simply grab your keys to explore the 1,000 miles of tarmac available.

Thankfully, the roads aren't entirely free of traffic – the game would lose significant appeal without the inclusion of the mobile chicanes provided by civilian drivers. But they're not lawless, either. The police presence isn't overbearing, but they will stop and fine you for collisions, speeding, and ignoring traffic regulations. That's assuming they catch you, of course.

Initially, they won't have too much trouble keeping up. Your first vehicle, like your residence, isn't exactly supercar material, but the game's underlying draw is obviously geared around working your way up the automotive and property ladders. So while you may begin in an Alfa Romeo GT V6, you'll soon be searching the map for dealers selling something more exotic, say a McLaren F1 LM.

When you get there (courtesy of the game's helpful sat nav system – although you can subsequently 'teleport' to locations should you wish to), don't despair that you'll be asked something in the region of 1,300,000 credits for the keys. It's the kind of money you can expect to eventually make, and in the short term you can always take it or any other car for a (brief) test drive.

Better still, in a very clever move, you can rent some of the more desirable cars for set time periods (30 minutes and above) – just locate the rental firms and see what's available.

Ultimately, however, you'll be wanting your own collection of dream machines. You earn the necessary cash by entering the various challenges dotted around the island – races, time trials and speed trap tests – as well as those you're offered at home.

If things get a little tough and you're still some way short of the list price (don't forget to factor in the cost of items from the options list, too), consider a visit to an upgrade parts specialist – they'll sell you a performance enhancing part that may make all the difference in terms of beating the competition.

And things can get tough. AI-controlled drivers aren't infallible, of course, but then they're not the ones you should be worried about. You see, you're not entirely alone on Oahu. Not if you elected the option to play online as the game started up (one of the impressive feats of Test Drive Unlimited is how identical both on- and offline experiences seem).

We're not talking massively multiplayer here – alas, the infrastructure mode supports just four players (as does the ad hoc alternative) – which is primarily why it's mentioned so late on in this review. That and the fact that, from our experience, the online component of the game is too often disappointing, with rival cars popping around the scenery as a result of (presumably) lag issues.

The odd race does occur without incident, and it's fun to come across fellow gamers in this competently depicted environment (the car models, in particularly, are impressively detailed), but if you were pinning your hopes on the PSP being able to recreate the experience (and selling point) of the home console versions, you'll be disappointed.

Having said that, it would be unfair to criticise Test Drive Unlimited PSP for what it doesn't have in relation to its cousins running on vastly more powerful hardware. The online portion of the game may be a bit of a letdown, but let's focus on what is here.

First and foremost, you get a decent driving experience. Handling is suitably weighty and responsive, while the sense of speed (regardless of which of the three views you favour) is good.

The graphics are more than up to scratch, as is the audio side of the equation. Both engine noise and music display high production values, with the latter offering a wide range of styles to accompany your driving. That may not sound like a big deal, but listening to Mozart's Magic Flute in a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder while escaping police, or simply cruising the twisty hill roads in a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren with Beethoven's Fifth blaring out of the stereo are the kind of ingredients that constitute special gaming moments.

And Test Drive Unlimited can certainly produce those. Combine the above with the scale of what's on offer and the convincing and engrossing virtual world feel of the experience – in no small part due to seamless loading of the environment, meaning the action isn't interrupted – and you have a rather unique racing offering for PSP (a console which is hardly short of decent racing games).

Sure, it lacks the excitement of more arcade-influenced racers and it can't replace the thrill of owning your own supercar. But occasionally, just occasionally, its more sedate pace and undercurrent of realism deliver glimpses of a dream-like alternate existence. And that's the kind of thing you can't buy, regardless of how much money you have.
 
Test Drive Unlimited
Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches | 27 April 2007
A decent driving model set within a rich virtual petrolhead lifestyle world that – occasional technical glitches aside – can prove absorbing
 
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