Saturday, January 30, 2010

X360 look - Test Drive Unlimited

Today I'm looking at the open-world CARPG Test Drive Unlimited. What is a CARPG? It's my vain attempt at making up a clever phrase that doesn't work. Seriously though it's a racing game with RPG elements. My first experience with the sub-genre was Genki's Tokyo Xtreme Racer and I've been a bit of a fan ever since. While the mechanics and design of a traditional racer are there the pacing and method of progress is more along the lines of the typical RPG.

Since the developers couldn't be bothered with giving the game a storyline I had to make one up myself. The star of this game is PepsimanVsJoe. He's arrived at Oahu to solve the mysterious murder of his parents. This is accomplished by driving all around the island giving rides to top-models and their boyfriends, test driving expensive race-cars, and buying multiple dream homes. The problem with PepsimanVsJoe is that like most RPG heroes he has severe mental problems. Aside from amnesia he suffers from two different personalities. While one is trying to focus on the task at hand the other is obsessed with material gain and only cares for owning more cars, motorcycles, and clothes. While the island offers many opportunities for both sides of PepsimanVsJoe in the end he never figures out what happens to his parents and is soon lost to a world that never sees a drop of rain or even the moon.

Seriously though the player starts by selecting one of several characters to represent them. Upon arrival they're given a house, some spending money, and the freedom to go anywhere they please. Oahu is a very large island but thankfully exploration is a breeze thanks to a GPS system. Aside from giving step-by-step directions to every destination this system is also capable of transporting players to any previously visited spot on the map. Aside from dealerships to buy new cars one can expect to find other facilities like clubs to organize games with friends, restaurants for taking on multiplayer challenges, and a variety of clothing stores for playing dress-up.

The bulk of the game is in the various racing modes. As expected there are race and time trial challenges(beat the rivals or beat the clock). There are also speed challenges where the play has to pass numerous cameras at over a certain speed to attain a particular average. There are other missions to take on as well which can be lead to some very good money. All of the challenges are arranged quite well and though they can be repeated to gain money as well as beat the best times on the leaderboards, it's usually not necessary.

All of the challenges have particular modifiers. What this means is that some races might have traffic while others have a bar that decreases whenever the player drives off the road or hits an object(which leads to penalties). There can by any number of combinations to each challenge but for the most part this is a pretty easy game to complete. This is mainly due to the fact that while some skill is necessary if the player has the best car available and its fully upgraded they will most likely finish the race. Races with rival AI cars are exceptionally easy as they tend to slow down far too much at the turns. That said though there are still some rough ones towards the end and it can be frustrating to lose a 7 minute long trial because the player bumped into another car.

Usually the player-character in open-world games goes on to become a homicidal maniac but here in Unlimited they're limited to being just a jerk. While other motorists dot the landscape there is no penalty for crashing into them(outside of a race of course). Oh sure the cops will show up but in all my playing I've yet to get pulled over. I guess they couldn't care less that I smashed a pick-up truck because I ran a red-light while driving 200 mph. It's a good thing pedestrians didn't make it into this game cause I have a habit of driving on the sidewalk. This can be useful for avoiding traffic while maintaining speed on straightaways though.

I've heard some mixed impressions of the way cars handle in this game but for the most part it doesn't really bother me. Unlimited definitely has a more arcade-feel to it than sims like Forza but it's not to the point of something like Outrun or Ridge Racer. Since the player is likely to go through driving many different cars I guess it's best not to put too much effort into the way they handle. It's supposed to be a pick-up and play kind of game not one where the player has to fight just to stay on the road. Then again I'm not an expert on cars or even car racing games. I couldn't care less about concepts like the "feeling of weight" cars have and when it comes to setting things like suspension and gear ratios I just look up a guide. The pacing is also very relaxed even during challenges. I'm kind of disappointed cause in terms of music that means my Eurobeat goes to waste so instead I gotta listen to Jamiroquai or something similar.

Unlimited is what I would consider a great example of an open-world racer. Despite the numerous challenges available none of them take place on the same stretches of road and exploration feels rewarding as there are dealerships and other challenges not shown on the map. There's also a very intriguing multiplayer side to it as other players can be seen and interacted with. Course like seemingly all multiplayer games these days the chances of finding players can be pretty low. Still though it's a very impressive feature especially for a game that launched at only 39.99.

As an experience I can't recommend Test Drive Unlimited enough. It's a very easy game to just cruise around to and makes for something relaxing in-between sessions of my favorite 2D shooter. Also since in real life I doubt I'll ever buy a car nicer than a Ford Focus or even go more than 55 mph with no risks it's always handy to have a game that does both. As a game I'd still recommend it cause the way progress is handled is very well done and understanding the driving model can be very rewarding. I really wish there was a way to change my character from a man to a woman though...nevermind.

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