Test Drive 4
Windows - 1997
Description of Test Drive 4 Windows
Quantity = Quality?
Racing games. Have you noticed how many racing games have appeared on the PC market during the last year or so? I mean, yes, there are lots of racing fans, but do you really believe that there are so MANY? Market forces indicate a positive answer, I guess, but still...
Whatever the case may be, one thing is sure: real quality, in a racing game, is still hard to find. Yes, in absolute terms, we saw quite a few excellent driving titles- but compared to the numbers of titles available, the number of really good ones suddenly looks a whole lot smaller. Quantity, it seems, does not quality make.
One of the most, if not the most, dominant driving sub-genres is arcade racing. No surprises there- the biggest crowd are the arcade people, who want to relive their gaming hall experience at home, in front of their PCs. And PCs are new to this business, as all of us who have a grinning friend with a console know. But ever since 3dfx, we PC owner have had a chance to laugh back, with such great better-than-the-original ports as Sega Rally, and original titles such as the amazing Screamer Rally.
In comes Accolade. The company who, many years ago, founded a new and interesting breed of racing games, in the form of Test Drive. That classic title planted the foundations for a series of games and a number of clones: "cannonball" races, with real traffic and police cars chasing you around while you were trying to get your own, real-life super car first to the finish line. Exciting indeed. That was before console gaming, remember, when companies had to give you something else because the graphics were never that good.
And now we have Test Drive 4. Released not long ago, into an age when graphics ARE good enough, this game is supposed to be the bearer of the flame for Accolade. After all, take a classic game and add some top-notch graphics to it, and it should be an even bigger classic, no? I am afraid to say that, in this case at least, the answer is a most resolute "no". Hear me out.
The faults of TD4 begin straight out of the box. Well, OK, I didn't actually get the box. But I can tell you that, for example, Accolade chose to include a Word "readme" file instead of the usual text variation. A minor inconvenience, yes, but indicative. And make sure you have Wordpad ready.
In any case, you go about installing the game, and you find to your amazement that the normal install is- deep breath now- 220MB in size. 260MB if you want the 3dfx version. Why the deep breath, apart from the obvious "why, this is way too much space" response? Because the manual specifically tells you that it should take 100MB. The readme file tells you otherwise, of course, and I may as well tell you that there are a number of omissions and mistakes present in the manual insert. For example, scores are not saved automatically, there is no "Duel" feature available, and only 6 players can play over a LAN, and not 8 as promised (I wonder if the box says 8 also). On the other hand, the readme file claims TCP/IP (Internet) support, but it seems like in this case, the manual is correct in stating IPX. To the good side, the manual goes into quite a bit of detail about each car, at least giving the impression that they each have a different "personality". That the game itself shatters this illusion is no fault of the manual.
The game's menu system continues to show a similar lack of thought, with the ESC key returning you way back to the main menu instead of the standard "one screen back", and the sound settings being unsaved between game sessions. The game interface is not exempt from problems either, with no way to restart a race without going back through the whole initialization process, particularly annoying when you wish to drag a few times in a row. You also do not have the privilege of seeing a top-down view of the tracks before running them, a silly omission which only serves to annoy you as you try to familiarize yourself with a track, completely unprepared.
All in all, TD4 's front end is rather disappointing, although this is certainly in line with the rest of the games in this genre. The arcade origins show, I suppose, although in this case, in a game which originated on the PC, I did expect something better. I also did not like the menu music, a weird sort of quiet techno (?) but I guess this is a matter of personal taste.
Bells and whistles
Graphically, TD4 looks good, but not too good. The cars are fine enough, with a relatively large number of details like working brakelights. You get burning rubber and smoke effects, the tires move realistically, and the car never seems to go into its separate parts, like it does in other games of its type. Sadly, you get very little jumps, even in places where you really expect them, like when you drive over a bump at 300KPH.
The scenery is also pretty good, but again, it leaves something to be desired. The main problem is that it is too static and has a "bitmappy" feel. This feeling is strengthened when you happen to drive near pedestrians, and see them in the full, never moving, 2D-bitmapped glory. The game incorporates invisible barriers around the track, so you cannot really run over someone. In a game where you can actually turn innocent, oncoming cars on their backs, this left me with a weird sort of disappointment. Or maybe I played too much Carmageddon. Some of these cars will do their best to avoid you, by the way, slowing down or moving to let you pass, but others will simply play dare with you until either you swerve or both of you die.
As for sounds, well, TD4 again delivers reasonable, yet not outstanding, performance. Tires screech, but the tone is mellowed down. The same goes for engine sounds. Crashes at high speeds are, for lack of a better word, boring, with none of the excitement generated from the likes of Screamer Rally. It isn't only the sound that is at fault here- the crashes themselves are very unspectacular, and when you expect tons of smashed glass and flying, deformed (car) body parts you instead get to look at the car's underbody as it turns over, but otherwise nothing. Again, TD4 isn't much different, really, then other arcade racers, but as the premise is SO different, it makes the actual performance disappointing.
But does it go... vroom?
Before I go on, a few words about options. TD4 gives you a lot of different ways to compete. You can obviously run a single race, or go for a championship, in which your aim is to gain the highest number of cumulative points in 12 races. Then there's the Challenge Cup, where you fight for the lowest cumulative time over 6 races. The Pitbull Cup again sees you running on 6 tracks, only this time you have to finish first on each before you advance to the next. The most complicated of all is the Masters Cup, in which you ride in ten different cars over ten different tracks in an effort to gain the lowest cumulative time. Finally, there is a "drag race" mode, in which you choose two, possibly identical, cars for a quarter mile drag, with manual shifting only. This can be quite fun when played with a friend, especially as simply pressing the gas pedal before time will only result in revving too high and losing time in a long power-wheelspin. The fun is almost immediately ruined, though, when you realize that you have to spend a minute going through all the menus before each 10-second drag race, instead of simply restarting.
All in all, there are 12 tracks, and the funny thing is that none of the above really has any relation to actually unlocking the "hidden" tracks. You simply have to win a single race at each of the first six to unlock its last 6 counterpart. No, the aim of all these championships is to place on the high scores table, which is as purely arcade as they come. Oh, and also, eventually, to unlock secret cars.
Test Drive 4 could have redeemed itself if it had great gameplay. Unfortunately, it does not. Racing using a keyboard is never even close to being realistic. We all know that, but a good game makes us feel good enough that we are willing to believe otherwise. TD4 on the other hand, left me a bitter taste of dissatisfaction.
There are several reasons for that. The first is the non-existence of any damage model whatsoever. The only bad effect of crashing is losing time- and in a game where your computer opponents usually drive very accurately, and in which the races are relatively short, losing time is not a good thing to do. But that's it- no blown tires, no overheated engine, no slowdown, and you go on racing even if you hit a brick wall at over 300 KPH. Nothing. You don't even see dents in your car. It must be all those new aluminum alloys.
The second, and most important reason, is the driving model. The Accolade team, please, I have a suggestion: take an advanced driving course. Preferably in Europe, if you can. You see, it is simply not true that a car will only stop spinning, sliding, or otherwise doing undesirable things related to controlling it, when you press the brakes. No, really. In fact, I know this may come as a shock to you, Accolade team, but pressing the brakes in the middle of a corner when your car starts losing grip is almost always going to send you to your death. You know what? I'll settle for a basic driving course.
Test Drive 4 has, and I want to make this absolutely clear, the most pathetic, far from real life driving engine I have encountered in a PC racing game in the last two years. No matter what happens, if you were going too fast, the ONLY way to fix your error is to first slam on the brakes, and then think. I don't know what they had in mind, but I had a nagging feeling that my mom designed that model. It is not only ridiculous, but also dangerous, as it may actually make some young kid who doesn't have a driving license yet believe that this is how real cars behave. Locking your wheel in the other direction? Hah! At most, you will do this about 6 or 7 times in a row, alternating from right to left (assuming you have a long enough clear stretch of road for that), until you realize that the damn car DOESN'T LOSE SPEED! Or at least, it loses speed so slowly that you may think you are riding on ice. No, no. Just slam on the damn brakes, and instead of the meeting the undertaker, as expected, you will miraculously regain control.
TD4 's driving model is so bad, that I hesitate whether there is any point in mentioning the other big fault of this game. You see, the sense of speed is terribly wrong. You never get a real impression of how fast you are going, until you reach a corner and find out that you are going way too fast. And those corners appear without adequate warning, not only as to how close they are, but also how hard. It feels like you are cruising along on the highway, when suddenly there is this BIG building coming towards you at terrifying speed, you have about 1 second to react, and you don't have a clue as to how much you have to slow down and turn the wheel! So, you guessed it right, you slam on the brakes, hard, while taking the corner, not caring much if you do crash because you know that nothing will happen to your car. Let me tell you people, this process can grow boring rather quickly.
As sorry as I am to say that, Test Drive 4 is not worth anybody's while. It isn't junk- it looks nice, the premise is fun, and Need For Speed 2 isn't all that good. But in this day and age of high adrenaline, believable, beautiful arcade racers, TD4 never manages to get past first gear. You want a good arcade racer? Get Screamer Rally. But do yourself a favor- no Shelby Cobra is worth this sort of treatment.
Review By GamesDomain
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