I’ve been looking forward to Test Drive Unlimited. The whole Hawaiian island of Oahu modelled for driving, realistic roads and traffic, garage full of sports cars (and motorcycles), what else would I need? Based on the demo, not very much. It’s as good as they promised.

It’s fun just to… drive. There’s a great sense of freedom to drive along nice and slow, keep to your own lane, pick your own path and then slam down the accelerator when you feel like it, dodging traffic and hear the engine scream in joy. Bliss.

However, a couple of niggles worry me. First, is there enough to do? While free roaming is fun for a couple of days, sooner or later you’ll want some objectives. There will be taxi missions and such in the retail version, but I wonder if it’s enough. Of course there are online races, too, but keeping just one location – no matter how delicately reproduced – fresh, is quite a task.

Second, excessive speed equals danger. The danger element is completely missing from this game. If you career out of control and slam at oncoming traffic at full speed, the traffic just flies out of your way, denting some metal while at it, but you merely spin a little, if that, and continue on your way completely unaffected. Rubbish! If the game is based on a “realistic” experience, I want to live with the consequences of my actions. If licencing contracts forbid the thrashing of the sports cars, fine: send me back to my last checkpoint or something, whatever to feel like it’s a bad idea to crash.

Allegedly there are Hawaiian cops who chase you if you hit other cars. I haven’t seen them, though. All I get is a textbox informing me that I’ve been fined. Police chases would be an essential element of this package.

UPDATE 11 JULY: There are cops. I don’t know why I didn’t see them once during my first plays of the demo. They’re a little easy to shake, though, at least in the demo’s Lamborghini. It’s good fun to play Getaway In Stockholm, waiting to let them close in and then lose them in a successful run. The protagonist’s whimpering “Oh no” when the police lady comes in to write a ticker is pathetic, though.

The environment looks convincing, but not very next-gen. Blocky shapes, not much in the way of HDR goodness in lighting, no pedestrians. The cars do look sweet and I love the way sunlight plays in my in-car view. The driver models are all right, but not realistic and regardless of their very limited posing, they exhibit clipping problems.

The in-car view kicks ass. You can even adjust the seat and play with the windows. It may be that Hawaii wins Need For Speed: Most Wanted in the shopping list priorities.






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