Test Drive Unlimited

The Xbox 360 launch window may offer only one fighter game title, and a single RPG title, but it's certainly not lacking when it comes to the racing genre. From Project Gotham Racing 3 to Need for Speed: Most Wanted to Ridge Racer 6, racing game fans have plenty of software to choose from between the launch of the Xbox 360 on November 22 and the end of the year. In this crowded genre, it may be difficult for quality titles to stick out. Atari's Test Drive Unlimited is one of these titles that should be getting more limelight than it currently is.

We played the game at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo, and we've updated with another preview of the game since that time, but we recently got our hands on the game one more time, and our impressions are still positive. What we recently played has altered our opinion of the game a bit. Not in a negative way, but in the audience this game is targeting.

When we first got our hands on the game back in May, it felt like it would fall into the same market as PGR3 and Ridge Racer 6. While the games lifestyle options of buying cars from the local dealer and pimping out your house and your selected avatar helped to set it apart from the other racing franchises, it now appears that the title has taken a more realistic spin. When Atari first announced the game, it boasted realism along the lines of offering 1,000 miles of Hawaiian roads to traverse. Now, that level of realism has been taken up a notch.

The recent build that we played showed a significant change in the way the game controlled. Instead of a loose Ridge Racer 6 feel, the game was sporting a more lifelike Gran Turismo handling system. Since a vast majority of the game takes place on Hawaiian roadways, you can't simply take corners at 130 mph. When you do, you'll go flying off the road and into the grassy surroundings. To stay on the road you'll need to be mindful of turns and slow down as you approach them. The same can be said for starting off on the paved roads, as putting the pedal to the metal will cause you to spin wildly out of control. You'll need to ease into the accelerator to get the results you're looking for.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much to play with in the preview build we tested out. The graphics looked only slightly better than the E3 build we played several months ago, and none of the customization features were available either. What we did get to test out was the intricate roadway system featured in Unlimited. This is the first and only Xbox 360 title that will allow players to traverse roads at their leisure. You can drive all around Hawaii and never have to start a single race. We drove around for about five minutes and never once had to turn around and backtrack to get to new areas.

Atari has not yet confirmed if Test Drive Unlimited will release with the Xbox 360 on November 22. However, we expect the game to hit before the end of the year. With its ambitious Xbox Live and customization features, the game should be able to hold its own against heavy hitters like PGR3 and Need for Speed. We'll be sure to keep an eye on Unlimited and bring you updated hands-on impressions as its holiday release date draws closer.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.