Test Drive Unlimited

Its open roads are ambitious but the cars are still the stars

Freedom can be a dirty word in modern games, not least because of its devilish alter ego: monotony.

It's a cruel irony that while streaming technology progresses to the point where virtual worlds can wholly justify that description, the demands of supporting elements such as textures and models increase to complicate their creation.

But a distracting world isn't necessarily the chief requisite of a game that touts freedom to roam as its prime commodity; the mode by which you roam can provide an alternative just as alluring, as our time with Unlimited increasingly reveals.

We're encouraged during our hands-on to savour the opportunity to embrace the game's lack of boundaries and take to its rolling forests, but it's on tarmac where the weighty handling model excels.

Flooring the accelerator is believably rare, and the full thrust of the engine provides compensatory pleasure. A leisurely drive ends at one of the game's many hubs - a base camp featuring a living room and garage for relaxed online trading, communications and avatar editing.

With approximately three months until its suggested release, Unlimited's 1600km of Hawaiian streets do, however, add up to a world of fixes left to implement.

While the frame rate will inevitably be improved, it's still unknown whether the team is aiming for 30 or 60fps (it currently dances between and often below).

We've known for a while that the damage model will only affect AI traffic and not the pristine engines reserved for players, but it's the behaviour of cars while they're crashing that now worries us more than how they look afterwards.

Collisions in the current build have much in common with those of Double-STEAL, vehicles floating high into the air when struck.

Once Unlimited's final layer of polish is applied, the game will look incredible. Perhaps not in the same painstakingly authentic manner as PGR3, but in various other ways that are nonetheless entirely (and arguably more) appropriate to a driving game.

Its online functionality again promises something different yet equally exciting, making this something of an irresistible prospect for racing fans.

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