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Test Drive 6 (PC) Review

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Screens (9)
The Test Drive (TD) series has been around for a good while, and each release has shared many common elements--a wide selection of real-world exotic cars, tracks based on real locations, and a lot of flat-out fast driving. There have been the inevitable comparisons to EA's Need for Speed series, and TD has usually come off holding the short end of the stick. Can the sixth iteration of TD turn the tables and steal some of the glory away from the competition?

Presentation/Graphics : 63
Things certainly start off looking good for TD6, with some very nice looking loading screens, and a goodly number of graphics options in the launcher. The menus are not attractive, but are functional--just very console-like. Things take a nasty turn in the car selection screen- a few of the cars look OK, but the majority don't. They seem to be squashed, deformed variations on the real thing, with colors that are far too gaudy and bright. Don't get me wrong, they overall shape can be recognized (for the most part), but I don't think the 3D modelers for Need for Speed or Viper Racing are feeling any pressure from this one.

Once out on the track (or the streets, whichever the case may be), TD6 is a real mixed bag. While the colors may be a little on the drab side, they still look very nice. The detail in the background is not as extensive as NFS4, but what is there looks good. That's where the good stuff ends and the problems begin.

Once again, the cars in TD6 just don't look right. Mainly due to the overly bright colors, TD6 screams "Console port!" at the top of its lungs. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, since that's what it is. I do remember the cars in previous releases in the series looking better, though, so it's all a little strange. Don't get me wrong--there are spots where TD6 looks fantastic. The problem is, those spots are pretty few, and the rest seems pretty uninspired.

There are some issues that show up every now and then, such as some clipping problems and the fact that the tires aren't touching the ground, that show a lack of attention to detail. The lack of any in-car view kills any believability for me as well.

The worst offense, though, is the horrible stuttering and low frame rates. Even with a decent mid-range system like mine, it becomes intolerable unless you turn the detail or resolution down. I've heard reports from people with brand-new high-end systems having the same problems, and just can't understand how something that looks so ordinary can require so much horsepower to run.

Presentation/Audio : 55
The sound in TD6 matches the graphics perfectly--absolutely nothing to get excited about. The cars do have different engine sounds, but they aren't very convincing, with the engine being very muted and the skids and crash sounds improbably loud.

TD6 has one thing going for it in this department--a pretty terrific soundtrack. There are several choices of music, mostly from well-known bands, and a neat Fear Factory video on the CD. If the music were in CD audio format, I might recommend purchasing TD6 for that reason, but it isn't. Even in that case, $40 is a lot to pay for a few good songs, so save your money.

Interface/Options : 65
The user interface in TD6 is effective, but is about as unattractive as they come in these modern times. Once again, it looks very much like an old PlayStation title. On the positive side, it is easy to use and navigate through, so you can get to the sparse options right away. There aren't a lot of options in any single area of TD6--for example, the graphics can be adjusted by resolution, texture quality, detail level, fogging, and view distance. No setting to turn individual objects on or off, no lighting, no reflections--once again, it screams "Quick console port!" Everything else follows suit in this department--c'mon, guys, this is a PC title, and we want to use the flexibility that offers. Anything less is unacceptable.

Gameplay : 32
Welcome to racing on the Bizarro planet. If there is one creative thing about TD6, it has to be the car physics--there seems to be a definite lack of both gravity and friction here. The smallest of bumps will send the car airborne (usually in a nose-up posture, despite the fact that most cars are front-heavy), and in this case airborne means way up there. Feels like if you're test driving anything, it's definitely winged. The rest of the driving experience falls in line with the gravity issue. There seems to be little regard for the real world rules of how objects behave, aiming more at going fast, sliding around, and hitting things. There is no feeling of driving a real car at all--you're very aware that you're playing a game the entire time. Is there anything wrong with making a game like this? No, not if it's well-executed and fun--two things that TD6 seems to fall short in.

There are several different race modes in TD6, ranging from practice races to the career mode (in which you have to win races to buy parts to win races--we all know the drill), and yes, there is a cop chase mode. One good addition to the career mode is the ability to wager an amount, thus providing a chance to increase your winnings when you need a few bucks. Single race and tournament races round out the package.

There is a nice selection of fairly well-done tracks, based on real world locations. London, Ireland, Egypt, and Cape Hatteras are a few of them, and they do a decent job of representing their namesakes. Each is filled with recognizable landmarks, shortcuts, and interactive objects, such as boxes, carts, and barricades. The tracks are not as good as those in NFS4, but are still pretty good.

The collection of cars is pretty impressive, too, with a nice mix of vintage muscle cars (like the Shelby Cobra and Plymouth 'Cuda) and modern-day screamers (the Viper and Nissan Skyline GTR, among others). There are some unexpected vehicles included, like the Lotus Elise and Ford F-150 Lightning--nice to see the lesser-known cars represented. Don't, however, go into TD6 expecting a realistic experience with these cars. They all pretty much feel the same, with some difference in top speed and slight differences in grip. Any car at any track will yield similar times, so car selection is purely based in preference.

That all sounds pretty good, right? So why the low score? There are two major problems that make TD6 a lot less fun than it could be (in addition to the funky physics). The control and the AI. Using my ACT Labs Force RS, TD6 is all but uncontrollable, far too sensitive to wheel movement. I don't recall turning the wheel more that 15-20 degrees at any time, and even a small movement can send the car veering wildly. There is no sensitivity adjustment, or this could be overlooked. The problem seems to be worse with some cars, but it's bad with all of them.

The AI in TD6 leaves a lot to be desired, too--it seems they expend all of their energy either trying to run into you or run into other objects. There's really no impression that real people are driving the other cars, and since there's no damage modeled, most races are a series of wrecks, with the one who wrecks least winning. This title would have been considered pretty good, were it released 2 or 3 years ago. With all the competition out there today it's not near the top--other titles just offer more, and deliver it better.

Replay Value : 58
With most racing titles, there is a given amount of replay value--each race plays out a little differently, and therefore it's always worth firing it up one more time. TD6 is, however, crippled in this area by the lack of a multi-player mode. Note to developers: Internet, or at a minimum, LAN, multi-player is a necessity in a racing title these days. Please remember this.

Overall : 52
While not the worst racing game around, there are enough problems with TD6 that I can't give it a hearty recommendation. Other titles have done something similar with much better results--take a look at NFS 4, for example. I'm not going to condemn TD6 completely--it does have some genuinely fun moments, and if the control were fixed it would receive a significantly higher score. As it stands, though, purchase TD6 with a healthy measure of caution.

By: Scott Moore 4/5/00

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