If you've played the Xbox 360 version of Test Drive Unlimited then you will likely be shocked to find out that this PSP game does not offer any of the mission-based challenges. So don't expect to drive hitchhikers around or deliver packages, these events are completely missing from this handheld version. And you know what, that's perfectly fine with me. I never liked those missions anyway, so taking them out of this PSP game makes for a more enjoyable experience that is all about the racing and not the other random stuff that just got in the way.
Like a lot of other racing games, the object in Test Drive Unlimited is to complete as many of these events so that you can amass a large amount of credits and then go shopping. Early on the most important thing is to earn enough credits to buy new cars; after all, that's the only way you'll be able to race some of the more advanced events. Thankfully Test Drive Unlimited offers a good sized collection of vehicles to choose from, including vehicles from Volkswagens, Chryslers, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Saturn. This PSP version is missing all of the motorcycles that the Xbox 360 game had, but that's just fine by me.
But cars aren't the only things you can spend your credits on, you are also able to upgrade your vehicles and buy better houses to stay in. While upgrading your car is useful, buying a bigger house will ultimately become imperative if you want to further your progress in Test Drive Unlimited. Each of the houses only has room for a certain amount of cars, so it's important that you buy new pads so that you can increase your garage. The houses all look different, but outside of acting as your central hub you probably won't be doing much here.
Of course, the big thing that sets Test Drive Unlimited apart from all the other racing games is that it is essentially a massively multiplayer online racing game, an ambitious idea (on any system, not just the PSP). While the online modes are a welcome addition to the game, there are a few problems that keep this from being the be-all, end-all online racing experience it could have been. For example, it's not always easy to find an online race to jump into. Where most online racing games offer some sort of menu system to get you into a race, Test Drive Unlimited requires you to find an icon that will start an online race. While this is definitely not a deal breaker, it does seem like it's a bit too difficult to quickly get into an online match.
Like the Xbox 360 original you can play the entire game logged onto Atari's server via the PSP's Wi-Fi infrastructure connection. This means that as you drive around the island you will see other vehicles driven by real people, something that is actually pretty cool to see on the handheld system. This is also cool because you can flash your headlights and trigger a challenge. If you're looking to take on random people then this is definitely the best way to go about it.
One problem I had with the game is that there seems to be some sort of limit on how many other racers can be in any given area, so finding specific people can sometimes be needlessly confusing. Most hardcore Test Drive Unlimited players will be able to find ways around these problems, but the fact that they are here makes the online mode a little less impressive than what we saw on other consoles. Then again, this is the first time anything like this has even been tried on the PSP, so Atari certainly gets points for being ambitious enough to even attempt such an online mode. Atari also gets points for giving PSP owners offline multiplayer modes, something that none of the other console versions had.
But no matter how cool the online mode is or how large the world is, a racing game lives and dies by how it controls. While this is not the best handling racing game I've ever played, Test Drive Unlimited does a good job of recreating the feel of these vehicles. There are times when I felt that the cars were a bit too floaty, but it was never to the point where I stopped having fun with the game.
Seeing as this is a real world environment you are driving through it only makes sense to have other cars driving around and cops patrolling the island. Like Burnout, the other vehicles are only there to get in your way, which can sometimes be annoying when you are trying to get to a new race in a hurry. Oddly enough, if you hit a computer-controlled vehicle while going a hundred miles per hour it will send that car a good thirty feet into the air, which is just one of the unrealistic aspects of this game. Unfortunately if you do this while a cop is around you will have to either pay for a ticket or try your best to outrun the fuzz. Sadly the cops aren't part of the actual races; I could definitely see that adding a lot to the intensity of the various events. It's also worth noting that if you're playing online the cops don't appear at all, which actually makes that mode a bit easier.
Given how ambitious this game is you might expect the graphics to take a hit, but they don't. While it's certainly not as attractive as the Xbox 360 version, Test Drive Unlimited manages to be a really good looking PSP game. There are a few minor graphic problems, but nothing that will get in the way of you having a good time and being impressed by the beautiful scenery. Also impressive are the load times, regardless of whether you're loading up a race or jumping from one part of the island to another, the load times are extremely short and rarely get in the way.
While the PSP version of Test Drive Unlimited is not the most complete version of the game available, it's certainly the most impressive from a technical standpoint. It's one thing to put all of this into an Xbox 360 game, but to cram all of Oahu and the massive online game modes into a portable is just crazy, yet Atari has managed to do it. If you're looking for a lengthy racing game for the PSP then Test Drive Unlimited is well worth checking out, even if there's not a lot of variety in the actual events. Make no mistake about it, it's games like this that show off just how much power Sony's portable game system has when somebody takes the time to work with it.
While it's not nearly as exciting as other recent racing games, Test Drive Unlimited proves to be one of the most impressive portable games I have ever seen. Think Atari can't fit the entirety of Oahu into a portable game, then you haven't seen how ambitious this handheld version really is!
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