Being part of the game
There’s no doubt that one feature that people love about playing video games is to the ability to escape to another world. Sure, a few games from big-name franchises such as Forza Horizon 1 and Need for Speed Most Wanted (2005) were two decent games for setting the tone and making you feel like part of the story. However, in my opinion, TDU still does this the best.
In Test Drive Unlimited, you’re instantly thrown into a character selection screen with 8 different characters to choose, and with varying gender and race. This was instantly a step forwards in time as TDU is a 2006 game, and to be frank, there weren’t really any other games that did this. Ok, you could choose from different characters. So was that just it? Absolutely not! Along with this, you had character customisation, like clothes.
Next up you had one of my favourite features – shops and dealerships. Here’s where some people winge and some people adore this. Around the map, there were clothes stores where you could buy items for your character, as it is in real life.
Then you had real estate agents where you could buy houses (I’ll talk about this more in a bit), bring your ride to tuning shops, then when you got your car all mucky you can park up at a hand car wash shop and best of all… car dealerships! You could go through the cars and see them around the showroom, and much like any modern game, you can find all of these features around the map, and then you can see them on your map once discovering them.
These all together definitely made you feel like part of the game, which was an awesome experience that I feel that modern games miss a lot of. I believe Forza Horizon 4 has had an attempt at recreating the houses from TDU, but they’re practically rendered useless as there isn’t a garage system like there was in TDU.
Welcome to O’ahu!
Before you think this a made-up place like in the NFS franchise, it’s actually not! O’ahu is the main island of Hawaii! In my opinion, this was a pretty nice place to set a game, as it is naturally an island, so you could get away with not having invisible walls which would take away from the sense of freedom and immersion.
Speaking of which… there are no invisible walls. This is one of the best features in my opinion. See a mountain in the distance? You can climb it. Sure, don’t expect your brand new Alfa GT to be climbing a 70-degree slope though. Since there is so much freedom, you might assume it has a small map.
Amazingly this isn’t the case. Enjoy 1600 square kilometres of beautifully crafted environment. I did mention houses earlier, and it is another great feature of the game. Throughout playing TDU, you can go to real estate agents and then buy, sell or exchange houses, which are dotted around the map. All of these are pretty cool, starting from a small house or apartment room to essentially a mansion.
What can I jump in?
Test Drive Unlimited has an incredible car list, it’s really diverse actually. Starting from your Audis, Chevys to your Lotuses and Ferraris. Sounding pretty generic though, right? Right? Nope. Here comes your beloved SLR McLaren, VW W12 Roadster, Noble M400, and the list goes on and on. Sure, there isn’t Porsche but there’s one better – RUF.
Now there is something I haven’t quite mentioned, yet they’re still a great addition to the game – bikes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t like motorbikes all that much. However, having them in-game is still great. Kawasaki, Ducatti, MV, and Triumphs are in the game too.
As my primary childhood game, some of my favourite cars have emerged that I still, cherish to date. Such as the Nissan 350z and it’s awesome trumpet growl, and just Noble in general. And yes, I was one of those people that think the first-generation Audi TT was nice. Partly because it’s one of the 4 starter cars, and also because I think it looks cute.
Anything nice to listen to?
Very much like the Forza Horizon series, there are radio stations! In my opinion, the song choices were actually pretty amazing. Imagine rallying your Impreza through the forest while listening to Overture. Well, you can. Though nowadays I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people don’t actually listen to
the in-game music. Some people prefer to listen to their own music, and some prefer to listen to raw in-game sound like myself.
So then, one of the most vital elements in a racing game – the car’s sounds. People adore the M3 GTR from NFS MW, partly because of the sound. The iconic (though not necessarily realistic) sound from the straight cut gears made people love this iconic car. So I believe, if this is the case, then I genuinely think that almost every vehicle should be like that in TDU. Specifically, tunnel sounds are the best feeling in the world. That’s where this game show’s it’s true emotion. The constant feeling of an engine growing louder and gaining RPM in a tunnel is so powerful.
As mentioned before this is how I came to love the 350z so much – the amazing sound from this game. Just wind those windows down, or better yet, let the roof down and enjoy that screaming engine.
Multiplayer is now taken for granted. You buy a racing game, you expect to be able to play with your friends and others. Test Drive Unlimited made it nice and easy to play with others. Though I personally was too small to actually have friends who played the game, the multiplayer experience was very smooth indeed. Even an in-game chat…
Even playing offline, you’ve got roaming racers, and plenty of them driving in a variety of cars. The game never ever felt dead, to be honest. Want to mess with the police? You’ve got it, just be careful not to be busted though, you do get a hefty fine.
I do have a couple of nitpicks, mostly unfair because I’m comparing them to modern-day standards, however, one that shouldn’t have been too hard is car customisation. In TDU, when you buy a car, you can change colours, and then change the rims, and interior trims, all depending on the manufacturers’ options. Thankfully you can almost have unlimited colours that you can choose to paint your ride in one of the shops around that map, similar to NFS Heat, but you can’t change the type of paint. The point that I’m trying to get at is the lack of body part customisation such as widebodies, different rims, potentially neons and such.
Then physics… they weren’t exactly the best. It’s important to identify what kind of game TDU is. Although not really clear, in my opinion, it’s a simcade game. However, the physics reflect very much like an arcade game. While overall physics, ie driving up mountains were semi-realistic, the handling was the big problem. Every car felt somewhat floaty, yet kind of grippy. You’ll understand if you’ve played the game.
Is this really the greatest racing game of all time?
In all seriousness, it’s a big “It depends”. Though trying not to be biased as it is my favourite game of all time, I do think it is the ‘best’ in terms of everything. Sure it doesn’t have FH4’s physics, nor NFS Heat’s customisation.
However, I haven’t seen a single person that has played this game without a massive grin on their face. Except for one person I met who thought it was a 2015 game and tried to compare graphics… This is certainly not the end of the game, people still play it to date, even though the online servers don’t run. Thanks to the modding community, there are plenty more things to do!
If you’re interested in car games or just looking for a nice place to chat with other fellow petrolheads, do join our discord! Also, if you’ve enjoyed the first part of this series, do hang around, there’s plenty more to look forward to.