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E3 06: Test Drive Unlimited

Well, you certainly have to give Atari, Eden Studios and probably also Microsoft some props for ambition. Test Drive Unlimited is aiming to create and grow an entire online community. Put simply, Test Drive Unlimited is meant to be played with Xbox Live, as you compete more or less constantly against hundreds and thousands of players online, all of them living and racing on the same island as you, where a simple flash of the headlights is all it takes to flag another player into a race.

Atari is making provisions for players to form clan-like car clubs, in which members can hook up, trade items and race each other or rival clubs. There will also be in-game provisions for player-to-player direct sales and auctioning off of cars and items, so if you find the price of a Koenigsegg CC 8S to be a little steep, eh, maybe you can pick one up used for, oh, 10 or 12 grand off the $350,000+ price tag.

There are some 125 different vehicles to own, from bargain basement Fiats, all the way up through Dodge Vipers, to car enthusiast drool magnets like the Aston Martin Vanquish and Lamborghini Murciélago. Interestingly, TDU will also feature a number of two-wheeled wonders like the Ducati 999r or MV Augusta F4 Brutale 910S. Each vehicle can then be outfitted with upgrade packages, although the upgrades seem to be simplified into acceleration, top speed and weight categories.

So the online stuff looks monstrous. Conversely, the single-player game, while detailed, is also a little aimless, as there’s no storyline or real characters to interact with. The idea is to begin on the island of Oahu with $200,000 and the dream of becoming the island’s number one street racer. After that, you’re on your own. The island itself is about as accurate as the developers at Eden know how to make it. Using GPS data (and, one imagines, many “data gathering” trips to Oahu - the sacrifices one must make in the pursuit of the perfect game…), the island has been meticulously recreated, with its over 1,000 miles of road precisely laid out. Not that you're confined to the road. You can actually drive anywhere you like.