Test Drive Unlimited for PC Review

Check out our video review:

As you may or may not know, I’m a huge fan of Classic Game Room. Mark turned me onto a lot of games. He’s a big fan of racing games and I remember watching his review of Test Drive Unlimited. It’s one of his older reviews. At the time, I thought it looked cool so I was going to nab a copy and remember it being rare and/or expensive so I didn’t get it. As time went on I forgot what the game was and eventually got it confused with others. I stumbled across the review again recently which got me in the mood to play it and I was able to acquire a new copy of the standard PC version on eBay, although I can’t say copies were in abundance and I am referring to the North American or English version. From what I saw, the console versions are a bit easier to find. Developed by Eden Games and published by Atari, Test Drive Unlimited was released for Xbox 360 in September, 2006 and PC, PlayStation 2, and PSP in March, 2007. For this review, I played the PC version. The PC version did receive downloadable content called the “Megapack” which features new vehicles and was included in the Test Drive Unlimited Gold Edition which, as of this review, is quite rare.

Test Drive Unlimited is quite different than many other open world racing games I’ve played. It’s not only about driving and racing but also living a lavish lifestyle. When you first start playing you have to choose one of multiple characters, all of which appear to be young adults and, unfortunately, none of them resemble Thomas Magnum and his awesome moustache. It’s unfortunate because after you choose your character, you’re on a plane to Hawaii which is the game’s setting.

I don’t know what these characters did before the events of the game but they’ve got money. Once the plane lands, you’ll rent a car, buy a house, and then buy your first vehicle. And let me tell you, I am in the wrong business. This game has showed me that only after a few races and transport jobs, I could afford multiple homes and vehicles and live it up in the beautiful state of Hawaii. Like many other open world racing games, the world is filled with events and missions and completing them rewards you with money and coupons. The coupons are used to purchase clothes. Apparently, your money is no good in clothing shops. Money is used to buy vehicles, houses, vehicle enhancements, and paint jobs.

Multiplayer was a big part of the game back when it was in its heyday. The official servers were shut down some time ago but the community has found a way to get online games going if you’re interested. Test Drive Unlimited allows you to create and join clubs which help players organize events. I did not play online so I’ll only be able to talk about the single player or offline portion of the game which, luckily, offers plenty of content. You will see AI vehicles around the world and you can challenge them to a race and wager money. However, you can’t wager the money right before a challenge. You have to set the amount in the Game Settings menu which I find odd. Once you challenge an opponent, you set a route and then race them.

Test Drive Unlimited does a lot and the one thing it does particularly well is immersion. Anything else on its own is nothing special but all of it together in this large world makes for a quite an atmospheric and immersive experience. There is a lot of vehicles to drive and I would say the game is a vehicle collect-a-thon. In order to buy vehicles, you need to have a place to store them. That’s why you’ll need to buy houses. Each house comes with a garage that can store a limited number of vehicles. When you look at a house, you can actually take a virtual tour and if you want to buy it, you have to find the real estate office. To buy cars and motorcycles, you have to visit the dealerships or showrooms. When buying most vehicles, you’ll be able to choose a paint color and interior color and some even let you choose different tire rims.

Vehicles are split up into different classes or groups. All vehicles have different stats in acceleration, speed, handling, and braking and you can visit Tuners to buy performance kits to improve them. The game does support keyboard and mouse, controllers, and wheels. I did play with an Xbox Series X controller and thought the cars felt great. For a more immersive experience, I stuck with the behind-the-wheel or cockpit camera and was impressed with the detailed interiors of each vehicle. The game does not come with traditional difficulty settings but you can adjust the Driving Aid which determines how much driving assistance is applied. You’ll always have access to a GPS which will guide you to your destinations and you can fast travel to any discovered event, mission, or road you’ve already driven on.

The game does make you unlock things and I think some of these things should be unlocked from the get-go. For example, the Hardcore Mode. It’s unlocked when you reach a certain rank. All it does is change the driving physics to make things more challenging and I just don’t understand why it needs to be unlocked. Then there’s the motorcycles. You can’t buy any until you discover every car dealership or showroom in the world and that seems unnecessary. Unfortunately, I don’t think the motorcycles are one of the game’s highlights. I played with a controller so I can’t say how they work with a wheel setup but with a controller, they feel terrible. You can’t ease in and out of a lean. At least not in the way I think it should work. It feels weird. If I move the stick slightly to lean or turn, my character kind of leans all the way and there’s a big dead zone when leaning left and right. It’s just very odd and doesn’t feel right. On the plus side, the cars feel great with a controller and there’s a lot more of them.

As you progress through the game and complete events and missions, you’ll rank up and unlock new ones. Events consist of typical races, eliminator races, time trials, and speed races. Speed races will have you trying to achieve a certain average speed or top speed. Missions consist of transporting models, hitchhikers, courier jobs, and transporting vehicles. Transporting people like models and hitchhikers is the way to earn coupons to buy clothes. The other missions are considered one-shot missions as in if you complete them, you can’t do them again but they are lucrative and are a great way to earn a lot of money quickly early on.

Some events and missions will require you to drive carefully which means not crashing or driving off-road and doing will result in a penalty. If you complete certain missions perfectly, you’ll earn a bonus reward. Many events and missions will have certain restrictions like requiring a certain vehicle group or manufacturer so it’s wise to buy all kinds of vehicles from different dealerships and you can change your vehicle right before starting an event which is nice. But not a mission which is kind of annoying. You can also rent vehicles which is good if you need a specific type for an event and can’t afford to buy it.

It’s cool being able to drive anywhere at any time and for a more realistic or challenging driving experience, you’ll want to mess with the Driving Aid setting or try out the Hardcore Mode after you unlock it. Before you can fast travel to an event or location, you have to drive to it first. Events and missions will take you to all kinds of different places all over the world so you can either do those or drive around and explore at your own leisure to discover more of the world. As mentioned earlier, none of the events or missions in this game really stand out on their own. Even living the lavish lifestyle is nothing special on its own but it’s implementation in an open world racing game turned out to be a cool idea.

In your houses, you can change your character’s appearance, see your stats, change your clothes, trade vehicles, and visit your garages. When it comes to the lifestyle aspect of the game, you’re not dressing up for anything, you’re not going on dates, you’re not partying, you’re not snorting coke or dealing drugs, you’re not inviting people over to fuck or anything – the lavish lifestyle in this game means getting rich and collecting houses and vehicles. Test Drive Unlimited is a driving game first and foremost. It’s about driving and exploring the world. You can cruise around, try out different vehicles, take on events or missions, and challenge people. It’s the freedom to do whatever you want within the confines of your vehicle and the immersion of it all that makes it fun. At least I think so.

There are traffic vehicles all over the roads and crashing into them will often result in police attention. The more you crash, the more aggressive the police are. Police vehicles will pursue you and set up road blocks and if they manage to stop you, you’ll have to pay a fine. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto so cops won’t be shooting at you and you don’t have to worry about the FBI or tanks. The amount of police attention is indicated by badges or shields on the screen. There’s three shields and outrunning police vehicles usually isn’t very difficult when you’ve only managed to acquire one. However, constant crashing will result in two or three and then it gets a little more difficult to lose them.

The police pursuit or wanted system is odd because losing cops is more complicated than it should be in my opinion. If you have two or three shields, police vehicles are more prevalent and more of a nuisance than anything else. You have to lose them by driving carefully and outrunning them on the road. You’ll hear police chatter and they’ll announce when they’ve lost you or given up the pursuit. The odd thing is driving off-road doesn’t help you for some reason. Cops won’t chase you off-road and driving off-road only seems to pause the pursuit. You have to get back onto a road and then try outrunning them. Quite frankly, I think that’s stupid and I don’t understand it.

According to the internet, the roads are modeled after satellite images of the island of O’ahu. From what I’ve read, it’s actually a decent recreation but some things are missing. Nevertheless, the game world is large and it can take up to an hour to drive around the entire island. In fact, there are some events that have you actually doing that. You’ll drive past beaches, around Honolulu, and around small islands off the main island. For the time the game released, this is a pretty large and detailed world but, like many other open world racing games, there are no people or pedestrians roaming around. Traffic vehicles will actually signal before making turns and changing lanes and AI racers are always speeding around. The AI in general is pretty average. If you have a fast enough car, it won’t be too hard to speed past AI opponents during races and they seem to crash a lot. You can’t adjust their difficulty and if the game does contain rubberbanding, it’s not much of a problem. During some races, I almost lapped the AI.

Test Drive Unlimited isn’t a bad looking game for its time. Pop-in is rampant and you will often notice blurry textures but these are the only major eyesores I can think of. From the foliage to buildings, the world looks good. Vehicle models look great as do car interiors and you can even see marks on the windshields. Crashes result in sparks and car parts flying through the air but your vehicles never show visible damage. You’ll see planes and birds in the skies, ships at sea, and things floating in the air. The audio work is solid. Each car sounds different and the game does come with radio stations featuring different genres of music and the console versions do feature some different songs. It should be noted that the PC version does support custom music. On the technical side, the frame rate would dip here and there but it never became a huge problem and the game crashed on me once.

I put Test Drive Unlimited up there with games like Euro Truck Simulator 2 and American Truck Simulator. Driving games that excel in terms of atmosphere and immersion. I love Test Drive Unlimited. There’s definitely some odd design choices and things that could be improved but, overall, it’s a fun game. I’ll say it again, everything in this game collectively is what makes it fun. Individually, there’s nothing special about anything. Living the lavish lifestyle is more of a novelty. If you’re looking for more character customization and lifestyle stuff, you could go play The Sims. If you only care about the racing, there are better racing games out there. The driving is fun and the offline racing is decent but if you’re looking for a truly challenging or in-depth racing experience, playing online would be the way to go or look elsewhere. Even the vehicle customization is pretty basic. You can change paint jobs and buy performance kits but you won’t be modifying any specific aspect of your car. If you’re looking for an in-depth vehicle customization system, you might want to check out the Forza games. It’s these kinds of things that I’m talking about. There are other games that do these specific things much better.

What Test Drive Unlimited does do well is immerse the player in its world and offer a lot to see and do. I like racing or driving games that let you collect cars and Test Drive Unlimited not only lets you do that but also collect houses. Your vehicles need to be stored somewhere. You’re not just a random character driving around an open world seemingly living in your vehicle. You own homes and you can actually see and modify your character if you’re so inclined. You don’t just drive up to a house and press a button to buy it. You have to find the Real Estate office first. You can’t just go to any Tuner or Paint place to customize your car. You have to find one that will service your specific vehicle. It’s these kinds of things that elevate Test Drive Unlimited to being more than just another open world racing game. One of the best things about the game is that it can be modified and there’s a pretty large modding community out there from what I’ve seen. You might want to check out and install the 2.00A fan-made patch which fixes some issues and adds some new features.

I would absolutely recommend Test Drive Unlimited. The implementation of the lifestyle stuff makes it unique and stand out in the genre. It’s about the experience and the fantasy it offers. Whether you’re looking to race and earn a lot of cash or just like the idea of relaxing, driving, cruising, and taking in the sights, it’s got something for everyone. Definitely check it out.

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