Infrogrames, under the ever-famous
Atari name brand, has released the next installment in the long running Test Drive series.
While being neither a full-fledged simulation nor an arcade experience, Test Drive
straddles the proverbial fence between the two. Although Test Drive has a lot going for
it, the inconsistencies in design take away from the overall experience.
You will not only find
the customary assortment of ways this game can be played, such as the always present quick
races, but also a few uncommon races to take part in. For example there is the Drag Race
where the key to victory rests in your ability to shift the manual transmission at the
right moment. Then there is the Cop Chase in which you embody the local law enforcement in
pursuit of six street racers; the objective here is to strike the cars enough to make an
arrest before they reach the finish line. A friend can participate, not only through the
two race modes already mentioned but also in the regular tracks that are both linear and
circuit based as well. And finally there is a last race mode where you must use your skill
to navigate through a twisting course as fast as you can.
A story mode
entitled Underground is available for the solo players to partake of; as the main
character, you have been hired to race against five opponents through certain sections of
San Francisco, London, Tokyo, and Monte Carlo. To help get a feel for the course a
practice run is available before each race starts; this is highly recommended due to some
nagging issues in the game, which will be discussed a little later. If youre
successful you can unlock more cars to be played in the other modes.
The cars you
begin or unlock with each victory are officially licensed: Viper, Camaro, and Hemi are
just a few choice selections out of nearly 40 cars that can be played. The appearance of
each car is even changeable; if you dont like the three preset colors, you can
customize the paint job and surface type, either matte or reflective, to your liking. So
if your favorite colors are purple and gray with a reflective surface, every car can be
altered to make them as appealing to your eyes as possible.
problems that plague Test Drive are the yo-yo AI and how the physics work. Yo-yo AI takes
place when the run youre making is perfect and the opponent racers are right behind
you; no matter what you do, you cant shake them. Another scenario the yo-yo AI
effects is when you make the worst crash of your driving career at the start of the race.
You would think the rest of the pack would be halfway around the track by the time you get
things back together but they wont be. Youll still be able to catch them with
little or no trouble at all. The time limit and your own skills are the only real
adversaries in the game. If youre spanking the competition hardcore, but you screw
up near the finish, you wont be in the top three, guaranteed! Yet, if youre a
slow starter, you can make some mistakes ands still have plenty of opportunities to take
the lead and win.
How the cars
handle has nothing to do with the physics problem in the game; in fact they handle quite
well and arent loose to the point of fighting the car for control. Collision
detection is where the problem lies; essentially what youre driving is a battering
ram that travels over a hundred miles an hour. Knocking a car backwards, in the air, is a
common occurrence in this game and can actually be used to get past a rival by holding
them up. That still isnt the real problem though. The trouble is in the local
foliage. Test Drive has the strongest vegetation around. Sure you can take on a 2000lb
vehicle and usually come out with your wheels still on the ground but lock horns with a
small bush or railing and your world will literally be turned around. Even still, strike a
power pole or fire hydrant and theyll quickly be uprooted and tossed aside like they
were nothing. Its all these inconsistencies that start to add up and prevent Test
Drive from ever becoming what it should be.
the custom soundtrack feature I was able to play the music I wanted to hear, and since
they had a Hemi I thought it would be fitting to play some Lynard Skynard in homage to the
movie Joe Dirt. Test Drive's own soundtrack is brimming with well-known artists and offers
a good mix of music styles. Though I found it distracting that only one song plays per
track; the constant repeat is a nuisance. Another drawback is the lack of a way to cycle
through the tracks to one that is more enjoyable. Filling out the rest of the audio is
sub-par sound effects and engines.
Test Drive runs
at a fluid pace, keeping it around 60fps, even with all the effects on. The car models are
accurate to their real-world counterparts and the scenery reflecting off the mirror-like
surfaces is cool, with a drawback. If you are going fast enough, at times the reflections
dont match what youre passing; this is extremely noticeable in the night
driving scenes. Dont worry about marring the paint-jobs on those gorgeous cars, if
you wreck havoc with either car or bush the vehicles themselves tend to stay unscathed; on
a side note, the fender-benders can be quite stunning, especially when you start a chain
reaction--the more cars involved the merrier.
Test Drive is most enjoyed in moderation, so for the majority of us its a rental.
Being a rather easy game to beat, the only replay value is the multi-player portion, and
there are much better games out there for that. If youre curious about Test Drive,
rent it; the most you can lose is five dollars and five days of your life.