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Test Drive Unlimited Review

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The seminal driving game comes to XBox 360

★★★★

Although the venerable Test Drive series has given way to Burnout’s ludicrous crashes and the authenticity of Gran Turismo, Atari’s classic was among the first racers to strike a perfect balance between realistic simulation and arcade thrills. Now that Test Drive Unlimited is skidding onto the Xbox 360 with a slew of new features and an ambitious online mode, a new generation has a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Staged on a beautifully realised vision of the Hawaiian island Oahu — anally recreated using satellite photographs and with over 1,000 km of virtual roads — Unlimited offers players a sprawling world to explore where you can collect cars, upgrade your hot rods and race computer-controlled drivers for fame and fortune. However, it’s in Xbox Live where the game really comes alive.

Hundreds of players can burn around the island simultaneously online, and if you flash your headlights at another real racer you’re thrust into a head-to-head scramble that can also include A. I. players to spice up the challenge. Even better, you can also use Xbox Live to invite groups of human players to join races, allowing eight racers to hit the road together and compete for new wheels, kudos or cash.

But even though the biggest thrills are to be found on the ’net, Unlimited still has plenty of depth to keep solo players hooked, and there’s a deep sense of satisfaction in customising your game world; from choosing clothes and hairstyles for your avatar, to buying real estate in which to house your burgeoning car collection, Unlimited feels more like an RPG or MMO than any other racer to date.

Occasionally the action judders when there’s a lot happening on screen and the sense of speed isn’t always as pant-soilingly rapid as other recent racers, but in blurring genre boundaries and giving players over 125 motors from the likes of Jaguar, Aston Martin and Lamborghini to thrash, Test Drive Unlimited is one of the 360’s most impressive games to date.

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