Review by BloodGod65

"Accident Prone Death Car of Doom"

Revisiting old games is always a risky proposition. While it might have been a great game when it was released, chances are that things have changed since then. What was once a great title is now nothing more than a mess of old design and antiquated mechanics. With that said, it's entirely possible that Test Drive was once a good game. However, some seven years later it is nothing more than an agonizing trip into the territory of old-school game design.

Like the few other racers that actually had plotlines in its day (and even at the present time), the narrative is only here to give context to all the driving. A racer named Dennis Black is brought into an elite club of racers because one of the drivers was injured in a previous race and can't take part, but he still has a lot of money riding on the outcome. So Dennis is going to fill in for him.

While this would have been enough to set most players on their way, the game just doesn't give this tid-bit and leave it at that. It constantly badgers you with needless garbage as it plays audio conversations where the opposing racers mouth off and whine to each other, before and after each race. Thankfully, you can skip these and I'd highly recommend doing so.

Should you choose to tough it out, you can expect to see a lot of character cliches, such as an effeminate German, a skanky racer chick, and stoner Californian. Perhaps the most idiotic part of it is that there's actually a character named Morlock (as in the underground dwelling freaks from HG Wells Time Machine). Listening to these ass clowns is even worse, as their voice actors are awful, whether by design or accident. Main character Dennis Black sounds like someone who has suffering debilitating brain damage, and the rest are simply insufferable.

Since I'm already on the topic, the rest of the audio is a mixed bag. Engine noises are abysmal, sounding more like cheap computer generated noise than an actual engine. On the other hand, the soundtrack is pretty good, taking into consideration when this game was released. But with that in mind, it is a little dated (remember when Saliva was cool?). It is also a little small compared to more recent games, as there are few tracks and most of them come from a small pool of artists, the aforementioned Saliva being one, along with Ja Rule and Junkie XL comprising the majority of the tracks. Still, those artists alone encompass three music genres, so there is decent variety as to what you'll hear. But the game ends up using the same handful of tracks over and over, while neglecting others.

So what can you expect as far as the actual racing? The action takes place in four cities scattered across the globe (San Francisco, Tokyo, Monte Carlo and London) each of which have their own atmosphere. The three different race types are circuits - which make up the vast majority of the races - sprints and drag races, which are few and far between but typically reward players with the pink slip for the opponent driver's car. In Test Drives career mode, the Underground, you'll take place in ten races in a city before moving on to the next location. Each race requires the player to finish in a certain place in order to move on.

Anyone acquainted with the Test Drive franchise probably knows to expect a certain degree of arcade physics. However, don't expect the fast and loose style of the Need for Speed games. The handling is actually stiff to the point of lifelessness, which makes the cars unresponsive and hard to control. Contrary to my typical hard-line stance on vehicle physics in video games (in a nutshell: simulation or arcade, it'd better work right or it's trash), I don't think this is really the game's biggest problem. In fact by itself it's really a trivial matter. This is largely due to the fact that opponent cars have just as many problems driving as you will. They crash on a regular basis and bang off of walls as if they are driving bumper cars.

Speaking of crashing, that's another consistent issue with Test Drive. Due to the sloppy vehicle handling, getting away from oncoming traffic takes a fair amount of foresight, quick reflexes and a whole lot of luck. Even with those variables accounted for, you'll still have a hard time avoiding all crashes due to the fact that the other racers have a tendency to bang into your ride with wild abandon. In these instances, your car will typically go into a wild tailspin as you completely lose control. Trying to play rough in return is largely a wasted effort as opponent cars don't seem susceptible to foul play. In other crash scenarios, such as a head on collision with traffic, the gonzo bumper car physics are on full display (and this is true whenever the car hits any obstacle). The car just bounces backwards, often slewing to the side. With no damage, there's really no problem with crashing other than it is irritating as all hell.

The biggest problem Test Drive has is its blatant and poorly done rubber band AI. For those who aren't acquainted with just what this is, it serves as a sort of balancing mechanism that keeps opponent cars at your relative skill level during a race to make it feel as though you're always being challenged. When done properly it's merely a moronic design nuance. When done badly, such as it is here, it can (and does) completely ruin the game. It is so unabashedly blatant that you can completely stop during a race and watch the other cars come to a halt as well. When you're doing well, they stay right on your tail and will often fly past, even if their cars are much worse than the one you're driving. Due to this, the outcome of every race is dictated more by chance than any player skill.

There are a few other weird nuisances and odd design characteristics. An odd and antiquated element is the use of a timer, which is completely redundant. Upon starting a race, you'll have a set amount of time to get to the next checkpoint, which gives you extra time. Run out of time and you lose the race. But why is this even necessary when racing against other people? Not to mention that even were you capable of continuing after running out of time, it would still be possible to catch up due to the ridiculous rubber band AI. Then there are the cops, who serve no practical function other than annoyance. When they arrive, all they do is bang into your car. Should they hit it a certain number of times you are “arrested” which takes you out of the race for a second, before jumping back in.

If this game has anything going for it, it would be the car list. And although it's not an exceptionally large list, it is packed with cool cars. How cool? The starter cars are a Hemi ‘Cuda and a Supra. The rest of the list is mainly divided into muscle cars and exotics, with the majority going to the muscle cars. Of course, given the aforementioned problem with the physics it's not really fun to drive any of them, however with the inherent lack of handling finesse, the muscle cars definitely feel better than the exotics, which should be fast and nimble.

Graphically, the game is nothing special. But considering that it is a seven year old game, the bland graphics aren't too surprising. Most of the typical issues such as pop up and fill-in aren't here, but that could be due to the bare bones nature of textures and the like. The cars still look pretty good though.

It is worth noting that the load times have a tendency to stretch far beyond what is considered acceptable, even for an early PS2 game. However, it's extremely likely that players won't notice as the game actually lets you play Pong while a race is loading. That simple fact alone keeps the load times from becoming a real issue. And in all honesty, I think I might have had more fun playing Pong than actually racing.

THE VERDICT
So Test Drive is not a good game. And were it not for the fact that it is so bad, it would probably be the sort of game that Hot Pursuit fans could really get into. However, the weight of its problems ultimately quashes what little enjoyment could be had from it. Simply put, the biggest problem this game has is its rubber band AI, which makes the outcome of every race a matter of chance. And any game that leaves success up to luck rather than player skill is a poorly made game, indeed.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 05/21/09, Updated 07/07/10

Game Release: Test Drive (US, 05/27/02)


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