Friday, 26 February 2010

Best racing ever?

I am in total love with Test Drive Unlimited, so much that I have bought the original from a computer store (the pirated still loads faster and doesn't need the CD-Rom or ISO :). It's a hidden gem, obscured by the regular boring brand titles, mainly Need for Speed and others too. I can't play anything else now in the category of racing games (except for good old Lotus 3 on Dosbox of course (Don't ask me if I have played the Amiga version :)). I don't know anything about the previous Test Drive titles after Test Drive 3 in DOS (too fast and clumsy to play but I used to like on my 386 (or maybe 286 iirc)). But this is definitely the best from the test drive series (also according to the grading in mobygames and other sites).

The single thing that makes it rule is the fact that it's an open space racing games. I miss these kinds of racing games (that's one reason I loved Carmageddon in the past, not because of the killings). The developers have modeled a whole island based on satellite images of O Ľahu in the Hawaii Islands (that's actually the place where Honolulu is, also Pearl Harbor, also Lost and many other movies and series where filmed). You are free to drive around 1500kms of roads and discover various beautiful places on your way.

Of course this alone wouldn't make it the best racing. Say something was very hard with the controls then it would be impossible to enjoy. But here things are playing great! I don't care much about realism, I am not an expert in this, I don't know how much is there or not in TDU but there is an menu option to select driving realism from something that is very aiding and feels like arcade to more hardcore modes. So, I am free to race for hours in endless places and enjoy it because the controls are good enough. Then the graphics, not always very important, but here they are beautiful enough when driving in a highway and watching the nature, the mountains, the sea from far away. Maybe someone would notice that some 3d models are funny, especially those of characters or things that are out of your reach (you can use some cheats and make your car fly to get inside an airport or above building, etc) but that's because it was not necessary to add more detail since it's beautiful enough and good for quality/performance adjustment when driving. The cars are very beautifully modeled though and the outdoor scenes look great. Now imaging driving a good looking car in the highway, having great feel of controls and a whole island for you in a truly open sense. It's the best thing ever!

But what? Only driving? No gameplay? No challenges? Of course they are here too! When you start you actually choose a character. You arrive at Hawaian airport with 200000$ and you rent a car to go to the nearest place to buy a home. Then you can choose your new car from three manufacturers. Then as an introduction you take your first racing challenge. You have a PDA that tells you your itinerary root to those stores and your first challenge. After this the real fun begins. You can drive through the whole island discovering icons that prompted to take part in various challenges like racing, best time or hiking quests or enter stores to by cars (there are a lot of famous brands from everyday people's cars to Ferrari's, Lamborghini's or some classic oldschool cars, also motorbikes. One hundred of beautiful vehicles!), clothes or a new house and quite more. There are hundreds of them placed in the island. You can either ignore them and free roam to the roads or play the game by winning these challenges and getting more money, new cars or houses with bigger garage to store all your babies. It's like a MMORG (massive multiplayer online racing game). It's funny that in the game while you drive for hours randomly, a number of other NPCs (AI players) drive around the island and sometimes one is approaching from the other side and either tries to tease you or ignores you. There is also traffic and police. The island is alive! I haven't tried the online play with real people (imaging 16 real life players driving in a big virtual world) but I bet it will be exceptional!

A sequel is being planned. I am curious how fun it will be. I am not even sure what I'd like as an improvement because I have everything in this one. Maybe pedestrians. There are no one of them in TDU and adding them would make the island feel more alive.

In a nutshell, open big free to roam environment, good and easy driving controls, beautiful cars and endless nature and roads. A dream of the racing gamer!

p.s. Photos from mobygames. Didn't have any time to make my own..

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