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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Atari Melbourne House
GENRE: Racing
March 20, 2007

Test Drive Unlimited 2

Test Drive Unlimited 2

Test Drive Unlimited 2

Test Drive Unlimited

Test Drive Unlimited

More in this Series
 Written by Adam Woolcott  on April 30, 2007

Review: M.O.O.R. than meets the eye.

Submerged in mediocrity for years, the Test Drive franchise returned in a big way last fall with Test Drive Unlimited for the Xbox 360. Its concept is something of wonder ? dropping players into a nearly complete rendition of Oahu island in a massively multiplayer ?lifestyle? racer that almost defies description. Now that it's had its fun on the new-generation 360, TDU has made its way to Sony's PSP in an achievement that might even be beyond what was pulled off the first time around. Though it's designed by a different studio ? Melbourne House rather than Eden Studios ? it's far from a shovelware port, but instead is a racing game on PSP that has no equal. Some corners were cut to make it all work, but what's left is still the spirit of the original product, and there's enough new here making up for it to make it feel less of a port and more of a completely new game, just in a familiar world ? and for those without TDU experience, it's a dazzling and unique racing game like nothing else out there.

Oahu is a massive island, and it's amazing that effectively every inch of it that appeared on Xbox 360 is here on PSP. Sure, it's not as detailed and some things were altered due to hardware limitations (though it still looks very nice on PSP), but still, we're talking about a huge, huge space that makes the two Grand Theft Auto PSP games look like a single city block. Combined. Yet despite the massive size of TDU, the load times are minimal and the game surprisingly weans battery life (though it takes a hit when using Infrastructure play), making it a very efficient game to play on the go. Thanks to this, one can enjoy the sights of Oahu, be it downtown beach areas, plantations, wide-open flatlands, huge stretches of fast highway, and tree-lined residential areas. Even every tune from the TDU soundtrack is here, for better or worse, along with some generic tunes to deepen the mediocre compilation. Sadly, no custom soundtracks here.

Alas, some cuts were made to the game, both good and bad. Gone are most of the ?lifestyle? elements like character customization, which was fairly superficial anyway. The other half, buying homes, remains for storing the many cars you win and buy over the course of the single-player portion of the game. Speaking of cars, most of the huge selection of cars (mostly European) remains with the lone notable exception of Ferrari and Maserati vehicles, which is a disappointment... who knows what caused them to be removed. Motorcycles are also gone, but they were used so sparingly in the original TDU that they're hardly missed. Sadly, the 4 major ?challenge? events ? giving models a ride, hitchhikers, vehicle delivery, and courier, have all been axed. They've been replaced with multi-race series events and racing clubs with a ladder-style progression system with the goal being to rise to President of every club, each of which having a different gimmick.

If you played the original Test Drive Unlimited on Xbox 360, or perhaps are playing the PC version that's a port of the 360 edition, the PSP version will feel familiar... yet different. Aside from the game taking place on the same island, almost every single race is brand new. There's straight up races, time trials, and speed challenges like usual, but they're in different locations with different names. Progression is also slightly different, mostly due to the lack of Achievement points on PSP. TDU has something called Master Points, which are akin to the Kudos system from Project Gotham Racing, and once you reach a certain amount of Master Points, the next level of races unlock. Points are earned by drifting, slipstreaming, winning races, and weirdly, just by driving around the map at a high speed. Thus you could theoretically drive around Oahu and unlock the Champion level races without touching a Rookie event.

Melbourne House could have left the MMO aspects out of the game, and it still would have been a great single player racing game, but instead, they pulled it off. Mostly. What's been dubbed M.O.O.R. - Massively Open Online Racing ? is still there, but it's technically not as seamless as before, mostly due to how PSP's online is structured. Since it doesn't have the same sort of system as Xbox Live, the game only asks if you want to go online rather than just dropping you there. If you do go online though, it's the same open world, massively multiplayer setup, though with a couple limitations. The clubs, which were a popular aspect of TDU, are gone, so everyone is basically on their own, and most races are driven by a menu and not like on Xbox. It works well, but don't come into this version expecting the same depth as on 360.

The PSP version of Test Drive Unlimited has undergone some other changes, mostly for the better. The AI, which was easy to exploit in single player races, is a bit tougher and doesn't fall for the same tricks ? namely they don't slow down to a complete crawl taking a corner this time around. Cop AI is a bit different too ? they still are easy to evade but they don't always tolerate speeding; if you go by a cop at a very high speed there's a chance they'll chase after you, and call for backup a lot faster. The downside is getting busted is something you can deal with if you have disposable income, as even with a 2 badge warning it's 2400 credits to get away with it. Most importantly, the car handling has been fine-tuned to precision, even better than the touchy 360 controls. Now even the most high-powered beast feels under control as long as you're not too reckless. Even using the PSP's fickle analog nub, it works.

Where the game struggles is in its progression, mostly due to the lengthy challenges removed from the feature set. In the original TDU, the car delivery missions, for instance, were very lengthy and while doing them you'd pass by other races making it simple to fast-travel to them. Now without those, the way the game progresses means having to drive dozens of miles to reach a destination unless you've bought a house or found a car dealer nearby. Unlocking race ranks opens a cluster of races but they're almost always in an empty part of the map, thus relying on the GPS is needed. It gets better as more races unlock (as you'll have seen much of the map by then) but early on having to travel 20-30 miles to reach a 2 minute time trial is annoying. The GPS itself is more bizarre than the 360 one, as often it will direct you to travel in the opposite lane meaning going head-on with all sorts of hassles, frequently blind to boot. It's an invaluable tool given how many roads are there, but you still have to cautiously pay attention to the directions given if you don't want to deal with the possibility of wrecking and drawing the attention of the Hawaii Five-0.

Bottom Line
Test Drive Unlimited, on a technical level, is a great achievement on the PSP ? it used to be Liberty City Stories that set the bar for huge worlds but here's a game that goes far beyond what Rockstar achieved. More importantly, despite some juggling of features from the original console version and outright trimming of others, the game is a fantastic racer that will last a long time with oodles of replay value. Even those experienced with the Xbox 360 version might find enough to make a double-dip reasonable, as aside from the familiar setting, it's almost a completely different game. Those who are TDU virgins shouldn't fear a half-hearted cash-in either, as this stands up as one of the best racing games the PSP has seen so far. The once-dying Test Drive franchise is back, and in a big way.

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