Believe it or not, Test Drive Unlimited for the Sony PSP is one of the most technically impressive games of the year. While it may not look as good as upcoming PlayStation 3 games and isn't as deep as Forza 2, this portable racing game manages to do something that I never imagined could be done. What Atari has been able to do is accurately recreate the full Xbox 360 experience on a handheld game system. Sure it's missing a few things here and there, but Test Drive Unlimited is practically the same innovative racing experience that we saw last year on Microsoft's next generation console.
I won't kid you; the whole idea of Test Drive Unlimited is definitely intriguing. Not only does the game manage to recreate the entire island of Oahu, Hawaii, but it also keeps the massively multiplayer online aspects intact ... even if they are a bit toned down for this portable version. Test Drive Unlimited is a good looking racing game with tons of content, a great sense of style and an open world that is actually interesting to explore.
Your adventure starts in an airport as you are getting ready to board an airplane and discover the tropical island of Oahu. Once you've touched down you'll have to rent a car, buy an inexpensive house and then find some car you can call your own. The rest is pretty basic, you'll be taking part in one race after another earning credits (money), buying newer/better cars and eventually upgrading your living condition. If you're good enough you'll see every inch of this beautiful island ... even if it's when you're whipping past it at 120 miles per hour.
With such a large island at your fingertips you might think that this would be an overwhelming experience, but Test Drive Unlimited does a good job of showing you where you need to go from one race to another. Regardless of whether you're in a race or just driving around aimlessly, you'll have a handy GPS unit stuck to the bottom left of your screen. This GPS unit will show you the directions to the next race, or if you're already in a race it will keep you on the right track.
The problem is that it feels like there should be some sort of story or something that connects all of these races together. Granted, racing games aren't known for having fully fleshed out stories, but it seems a little odd that all you do is go from one race to another without any thread or reason. At its core this is just a standard racing game that takes place in a huge open world, not that there's anything wrong with that. I'll confess that I probably wouldn't be real interested in some tacked-on storyline, but it might give Test Drive Unlimited a bit more purpose.
Regardless of how or why you're there racing, Test Drive Unlimited does a good job of making you explore the island around you. At first there will only be a few races open to you (all relatively close to where you start the game), but as you start winning these events more of the island will be opened up to you. That's not to say you can't go out and look around the island on your own, but it's not until the events pop up that you really need to discover what the rest of the island has in store. By the end of the game you will have thoroughly explored Oahu, which certainly gives you a sense of accomplishment you don't normally get in standard racing games.
But exploring the island is not always your friend; sometimes it can be downright boring. Early in the game a lot of the races are only one or two miles away from each other, but as you progress through the game you'll be forced to drive 15 or more miles to your next race, something that can take a number of minutes to accomplish. This is cool if you want to see what all this island has to offer, but gamers looking to get on with the racing will probably get bored by these lengthy travel times. The good news is that if you have already been on the same road as a new race then you can just warp right there, a cool trick that only takes a minute or so. Unfortunately with so many races (and roads) you'll probably end up having to drive around more than you normally would, which can sometimes be a tedious process.
Even though you're racing through a large open environment, there isn't much variety in the types of events you take part in. For the most part you'll be playing the racing events, which are pretty much exactly what you think they are - races against three other cars where the first person to the finish line is the winner. From time to time you will also have to race some timed laps, which involve you racing as fast as possible trying to beat a set time. There's also an event where you have to race by several cameras that clock your speed, the object here is to have a fast enough average to get either first, second or third place. Sadly that's it; you'll simply be playing variations on these three events over and over again. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but considering how much time you'll be spending on Oahu you may find that the events become somewhat monotonous.
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