Monday 11 September 2006
In all the excitement over Test Drive Unlimited, it's been easy to forget that the free-roaming racing game has been attempted before. Indeed, the genre's top-selling franchise Need for Speed has already tried it, with some success, in last year's Most Wanted. But the landscape of EA's games is as unreal as a model set next to Test Drive Unlimited's Hawaiian setting.
Based very closely on the island of Oahu, this is a believable real-world space on a scale seldom attempted in games of any sort before and, save for a couple of unlockable racing circuits, it's entirely free to explore from the start, off-road as well as on.
And Oahu is a breathtaking, bottomless resource of hundreds of miles of road of every conceivable kind: city street, suburban lane, sweeping coastal highway, bustling four-lane freeway and steep mountain switchback.
There is far too much to get familiar with, making this a very different flavour of driving experience - not about learning tracks and mastering technique as much as reading the road and the traffic ahead, and instinctive car control in unexpected situations. It is, in short, just like driving, to the extent that when just exploring the island or taking part in more leisurely challenges, you'll find yourself unaccountably observing traffic signals - despite the complete, and wise, lack of damage modelling.