If sedate sight seeing isn't enough for you, you can head to the races where you will experience events with various shapes and forms ranging from six car races to timed events. Some races will be on open, traffic-free roads winding through volcanic mountain terrain, while other races will be on city roads with non-racing folks just trying to drive down to the corner grocery for a loaf of bread without getting t-boned by a street race. If you don't want to swap paint, there are also timed races and top-speed races. It's not particularly difficult to do well against the AI controlled cars in the single player races, and you quickly earn enough cash to purchase even hotter and pimpier rides. For an even greater challenge, an online multiplayer mode is available that will allow you to race against online players.
There is also a decent variety of non-racing missions in TDU too, up to and including picking up ungrateful hitch-hikers that are ready and willing to jump in the car with you without any offer to share costs, and then make total pains of themselves by criticizing your driving and griping about how long it's taking to get there. For those of you that have been pining for a good mother-in-law simulator, here it is!
Where the real money is, though, is in delivering cars for people that are not only inexplicably lazy about driving their own car, but also seem to hold said delivery services in such high esteem that they will pay over $5,000 per mile for a safe delivery. I don't think anyone has been paid that much for doing so little since Ki-Jana Carter signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. That said, these are actually my favorite tasks in the game. The routes are usually at least 15 miles long, and it actually is more of a challenge to safely deliver one of these vehicles for the full payment than it is to beat a pack of cars in a straight up race. While the AI bot cars (aka obstacles) do a pretty good job of driving predictably and signaling their intentions, they do tend to be what I call “point zero” drivers. That means that if the “Drive No Slower Than” limit is 45 mph, then they drive at exactly 45.0 mph. No matter careful you are, it's just a matter of time until the temptation to see what a quarter of a million dollar car can do becomes too much to resist, and you come flying over a blind crest and impale your borrowed Ferrari on the back of a school bus. You know what they say: don't ask me how I know this.
The cars you can choose from to drive are nicely modeled, and demonstrate different traits adequately enough that you will develop preferences for the type of car you want to drive. Some of the older classics, for example, are heavy, under-powered, and under-braked. Some of the newer imports are light, over-powered, and over-braked. They all have their own distinctive sounds too, although I suspect that there might be a little involvement on the part of the manufacturers' marketing departments in selecting the sounds. Now, I will be the first to tell you that I have never driven or ridden in a Saturn Sky, but I would be very surprised to find that the real car sounds as powerful as the TDU version does. Pleasantly surprised to be sure, but surprised nonetheless. The physics seem decent enough, although I found the cars very difficult to control without at least minimal traction control and anti-lock braking assistance from the game. Getting up into the mountains and getting wicked air under the car by topping crests in the road at 150+ mph is a real blast! The beauty of it is that while you can do some real damage to the car of the innocent bystander that you land on, your car is completely invulnerable. I suppose some players would like to have a damage model for their own car to add the “skin in the game” factor, but that can also be accomplished as part of the vehicle transport missions I mentioned before.
After nearly 1000 miles under my belt, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Test Drive Unlimited. The previous versions of the Test Drive series that I had experienced always seemed to be just a bit short of delivering a true driving experience, but with the new mix of autonomous free-range driving with the old point-to-point racing TDU has revitalized my interest in the franchise and offers a compelling vision as to what is possible in future driving game/simulators. I eagerly await the release of Test Drive: Back Seat Driver.
Test Drive Unlimited is just like Grand Theft Auto, except without the sex, violence, swearing... well, ok, it's only kind of like GTA, but it is still the most fun you can have in a virtual Ferrari without risking getting a dose of a virtual social disease.
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