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Test Drive 5 (PSX) Review

Background Info

Test Drive 4 by Accolade was a solid sim racer for the Playstation--but that was in the days before Gran Turismo, which raised expectations for sim racers. Indeed, between GT, the Need for Speed series, and a number of other racers (some of which deserved a little more credit than they received), the PSX has more than its share of good games. Into that competitive environment steps Test Drive 5, a game looking to build upon its predecessor and make a name for itself.

Presentation/Graphics : 85
Graphics in a racer boil down to menus, cars, and courses. On the whole, TD5 does a good job. The menu graphics are clearly utilitarian and sparse, but that's fine. The cars are sharp, subject to a choice of paint schemes, and when on the track their windows and body reflect sky and environment, much as do the cars in GT. There are the usual array of American-made cars (Dodge, Chevy, and so on) with a little foreign flavor (Aston Martin). Tires leave skid marks and sometimes smoke. Most impressive are the lighting and weather effects on the screen, especially rain, which hits the screen rather realistically (regardless of whether you are using a behind-the-wheel or behind-the-car view); enjoy the headlights at night. Checkpoint timers, position maps, and race position displays help drivers assess where they are and what they have to do. However, be prepared to engage in some furious button pushing to change camera angles (this should always be a pre-race option).

The tracks are rich and engaging, reflecting characteristics of their settings (although not always the terrain itself: Edinburgh, which is filled with slopes and hills, looks awfully flat in the game). However, their 2D construction sometimes becomes painfully apparent. Players too busy to notice what they are passing by during a race can use a full race replay feature to take a second look. Do so.

Presentation/Audio : 75
Car and track noises are good; the soundtrack features several bands, offering a selection from futuristic and techno-rock to alternative--something for most players. Players may adjust the volume for both music and sound effects. You may want to sample each band, or you may want to shut off the music altogether. Engine roars vary by car, and racing sounds meet expectations. Overall, what we have is solid but not spectacular.

Interface/Options : 80
It's easy to navigate through the pre-game menus, including race options (quick race, single race, time trials, cup race, drag race, two player race, and two player cup), configuration options, game options (various track conditions, race length, and display options), car choice (and paint job), and car setup (which is particularly well done in that you can see at a moment's glance the interplay of various options on car performance). No complaints here. It would have been helpful, however, had the game contained a preview of each circuit so that you know where you are going next (and perhaps make the appropriate adjustments for weather and track style).

The controllers incorporate analog as well as digital versions, and you can combine stick steering with button brakes and acceleration (my preference). You can adjust the stick's responsiveness. The game also uses force feedback to good effect, and the result really adds to the player's experience. Memory card management menus are straightforward.

The camera views offer the typical array of selections, from behind and above to in-the-car perspectives, complete with various information arrays. Lacking, however, is a rear-view mirror, leaving drivers to hit a button to look behind.

Gameplay : 70
To be successful, racing sims must do two things: reward a good driver who learns how to control his/her car, and provide a realistic challenge in terms of tracks and challengers. TD5 does an adequate job in the former category, but the dubious behavior of CPU-controlled competitors takes away from the fun of racing along visually-absorbing tracks and leaves one with a feeling of frustration approaching helplessness.

Those players hoping to win out of the box may be in for a disappointment. There's a lot to learn about the tracks, the cars, and your driving style and manipulation of the game controller. With practice the cars handle fairly well, although they are prone to drift, and you will have to learn how to handle oversteer and understeer. You can choose arcade or simulation handling dynamics in an effort to dampen some of the results of less-than-sure handling. The car setup routine is easy to understand. Various controller layout options help players find a button configuration suitable for most people.

The player may choose to enter single races, undertake time trials, or compete in a championship cup competition (each with its own rules for success). Some courses are point-to-point journeys, while others are closed circuits--something for advocates of both approaches. The 18 tracks are spread across the world, including Moscow, Scotland, England, Italy, Australia, Jamaica, and Japan; the United States is represented by Hawaii and North Carolina's Blur Ridge. Each contains several alternate paths, some of which offer significant shortcuts; only six are available at the beginning, and in some cases victory will serve only to unlock a mirrored version of the track. There is also a two-player race in split screen mode (horizontal or vertical) and a two-player cup series over four courses.

The races themselves are a challenge, primarily because the computer AI introduces a high level of randomness to each race. If you fall behind, you will be able to catch up, sometimes due to your competition's propensity to become entangled in multiple-car pileups. However, get ahead, and you'll note that you cannot shake the other cars. That's yet another reason for the cops in this game--to stop you while allowing your equally-fast opponents to speed past. Ah, the joys of selective enforcement. I note the cops are nowhere to be found when your opponents choose to play bumper cars with your vehicle.

The cumulative impact of these AI challenges is to make it very difficult to win a race, even on the easiest difficulty level. Dodging traffic and eluding cops is bad enough without facing opponents determined to make sure that you never get too far ahead while teasing you if you are behind. Moreover, if you want to unlock cars, tracks, and other options, you must choose traffic, cops, and the less onerous checkpoint timer. It would be more equitable to base what prizes you unlock by what conditions you choose, so people who want a straightforward racing experience will not be penalized. Instead, the result is an exercise in dodging and driving (and accepting what the fates give you) rather than racing per se.

The cop chase mode (which must be unlocked) adds little to the game; the same is true of the drag-race option.

Difficulty : 75
There are three levels of difficulty (easy, normal, hard). To unlock several options, you must win at the normal or hard levels. Not even easy is very easy; players who want to do well will have to devote a good deal of time to this game, while causal racers should consider something else--even GT's arcade mode. The two-player version includes a catch-up option to level disparities in player abilities, car capabilities, or a combination of both.

Frankly, the difficulty level of the game--complete with computer AI and various obstacles--will limit its audience to dedicated video game racers. Others may purchase the game and find it attractive to view but too much to play.

Overall : 77
For those players who want to put in some time to learn a new racing game, TD5 will provide a stiff and not always fair challenge; for less-dedicated video game racers, please look elsewhere. That's not to say that this game does not have its merits, but that they require some hard work to appreciate. I found it more demanding than Rage Racer, NFS 3, and GT's arcade mode, and I found it more frustrating than GT's sim mode. Others may have different experiences; with a little work and thought, however, this could have been so much more.

By: Brooks Simpson 12/27/98

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