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Test Drive Le Mans (PC) Review

Background Info

Screens (8)
Back when I was just a kid, I read a book entitled "Black Tiger at Le Mans" about some American kids taking their home built sports car to the famous Le Mans 24-hour race. It was one of my first steps in what has become a lifelong interest in sports cars and racing. Maybe today's kids will someday look back on Test Drive Le Mans by Infogrames and have the same feeling.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
The strongest element of the game is the graphics. Across several environments and times of day, the game is always attractively done. Especially nice are the races held at dawn or dusk where the play of light and shadows is very realistic. On the other hand, night races are difficult because the headlights do not shine very far down the road nor brightly on horizontal surfaces. Curves come up quickly and vision alone will not provide adequate warning.

In addition, different types of weather can be chosen from dry to rain to even a thunderstorm that flashes on the dark track.

There are many graphics options to tune the quality of the visuals to the abilities of your computer. I was able to run everything at maximum level with my P2/400 with no noticeable effect on frame rate, even when the car was going through tunnels in a crowd of other cars.

Presentation/Audio : 55
This aspect of the game seemed a bit weak, with all the cars sounding pretty much the same and lacking bass depth. Especially irritating is the backfire, which sounds just like someone beating on a drum, and the announcer who has a VERY limited repertoire of comments about the proceedings. Also, at the start of the races, the game hangs with the announcer saying, "Three-ee-ee-ee-ee two-oo-oo-oo-oo, one-n-n-n-n, GO!" Cute the first time, but it gets old in a hurry.

Interface/Options : 65
The driver chooses whether to use an automatic or manual transmission -- automatic is just as good -- and whether to have braking and steering assistance. In the advanced mode, there are additional options for tire compound, downforce and fuel load. After that, it's off to the track, so this is a game about driving, not pit work.

DirectX 7 is required for the game and force feedback controls are supported.

Gameplay : 80
I'm not really an expert at arcade-style games, so the usual descriptions of how well a car balances through the turns don't really apply here. Instead, it's all about how well the game holds your interest, and at that TDLM isn't bad at all.

The only view provided is a low chase view, which does well to show off the game's flashy graphics. On-screen information includes speed, gear and position in the race. Occasionally other information will appear in pop-up screens.

Game modes available include arcade, championship and the Le Mans race itself. The arcade version has three variants -- Challenge, where courses and opponents are randomly selected; Time Attack, where you are on the track alone trying to achieve the best lap time; and Quick Race, where you select the track and whether to run GT2, GT1 or Prototype cars. In Championship mode, you start out in a GT2 car -- either a Marcos or a Porsche -- and run a complete series of races. If you do well, you will receive offers to join teams in the higher-performance categories.

In the Le Mans event, the driver can choose to run the race from 12 minutes of actual time to a real-world 24 hours. I only tried the shortest mode and it's interesting to watch the sun plummet down toward the horizon over the matter of just a minute or two.

Urban environments include highway and tunnel sections while racetracks have the track surface surrounded by rumble strips, grass and sandtraps which slow the car realistically. It's fun to watch the play of the suspension of the cars as you slam the curbs.

One thing I noticed in all classes of car is that it's never necessary to shift lower than fourth gear. In the three lowest gears, all you do is spin your tires, so you're actually better off in terms of acceleration to remain in the top three gears.

I also had the impression that the speed of the AI cars was variable by how you were doing in the race -- if you fell behind, they would seem to slow and let you catch up, at least in the arcade mode.

I was not very good at this game on any but the most simple tracks. Handling is flypaper-like right up to the moment that traction is lost and then the car just loops right around. And I looped a lot! The GT2 cars are especially prone to this behaviour while the prototypes can be hurled into sharp corners at near suicidal speeds.

Replay Value : 85
With all the choices of game mode, tracks and cars, this is a game that should spend a good amount of time on the computer. Though learning to play is easy, learning to be good is an entirely different matter. I usually found myself in the middle of a large knot of traffic, and that's the best way to maintain interest.

Overall : 78
I'd like to see an in-car view and the option for more adjustments to the car, but that, of course, would move it from an arcade to a simulation game. I also would like to see the visibility improved in the night races as currently, it's very difficult to judge approaching turns.

I like the idea of a game with a wide variety of sports cars and challenging tracks. A lot of Americans never are exposed to the wide variety of racing that exists beyond NASCAR and dirt tracks. Test Drive Le Mans is an entertaining introduction to the world of sports and prototype racing and I hope a lot of people follow through on their experience with the game to learn more about the real races.

By: Paul Hamilton 4/18/00

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