Originally created 07/24/02

Wild cars, wild music featured in 'Test Drive'

It sometimes seems there are as many driving games on the market as there are drivers.

Add "Test Drive" to the list. This title, designed for the PlayStation 2, is now available from Pitbull Syndicate, Infogrames and Atari for the Xbox.

It's a mixed bag.

On the plus side, there are almost two dozen exciting cars to drive, including a Pontiac GTO, a Plymouth Hemi Cuda, a screaming Shelby Cobra and a wide selection of foreign iron. There's a decent choice of play modes. You can run from the cops - and actually get away.

On the downside, races lack realism, nighttime routes are sometimes hard to see unless you're playing in the dark and one little crash can send you to the back of the pack instantly.

Choices abound. There's a quick race, in which you just jump right into a car and drive. You can race several laps around a course or run from one point to another in a linear race. There is a great drag-race option; pick the car with the most horsepower and you usually win. Very satisfying.

The toughest mode is Underground. You play as hired gun Dennis Black, driving for wealthy Englishman Donald Clark, who was injured in a race and can no longer handle his own high-powered cars.

He offers to pay you generously for taking part in illegal street races against a cast of strange but fast drivers, including Lisa Lux and her Lotus Elise, Big T and his Corvette and Nells Von Stadt, a Jaguar fan.

There's some leeway in your first race or two, but things never get easier, and trying to finish in the top three to collect cash is a backbreaker, even in such lovely settings as San Francisco, Tokyo or London.

Street courses are littered with obstacles - other cars, cone markers, highway dividers, utility poles, the odd pedestrian - and you can go from champ to chump in a second if you hit one. Most annoying is that while it takes you several seconds to gather yourself up and continue, your competition is almost instantly back on the road so it's impossible to come up with any breathing room.

But those complaints aside, "Test Drive" is a deep and often rewarding experience. There's no comparison with the finer racing experiences, such as "Gran Turismo 3"; in fact, "Test Drive" is far more an arcade game than a racing simulator.

There's no way to alter the characteristics of your car and most of the races are more slapstick than serious.

Graphics get a B. Everything runs smoothly and glitch-free, with plenty of color and detail. It's not state of the art, but it's not bad.

Control gets another B. Your racer is easy to guide, and brakes, steering, gas and gears are easy to use and quickly learned.

Sound gets a C+. Engine sounds are only fair. The music, from such groups as Crud, Moby and Saliva, is mostly techie rock. I'ts not bad, just irritating if you have to listen for more than an hour. There's some inane chatter between races, most of it women drivers drooling over your character. It's easy to skip over.

"Test Drive" gets a B-. It's not in the race for greatness, but the fast pace and nice selection of cars will provide hours of amusement. If you want reality, look elsewhere.

"Test Drive" is rated T, for ages 13 and up.

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