- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

Unlimited? No. But Atari manages to get pretty darn close.

The venerable gaming company and developer Eden Games have taken the wide-open, nonlinear style made popular by games like Grand Theft Auto and applied it to their latest driving game, Test Drive Unlimited. Eden spent the past several years recreating the island of Oahu in Hawaii. And with more than 1,000 miles of road — featuring terrain that ranges from coastal to mountainous — you almost always can find somewhere new to explore.

“Unlimited,” of course, doesn’t just refer to the roads around Oahu. The premise of the game was to create an expansive world full of multiple driving challenges, both online and off. Atari calls Test Drive Unlimited the first “Massively Open Online Racing,” and it certainly fits that description.

Offline, all the other cars you see are bots (computer controlled). But when you are playing on Xbox Live, the vehicles passing you illegally on the left are other gamers from around the globe. In this virtual world, many of the more than 350 driving challenges are specific to online play — you can race up to seven other gamers at once — and almost all can be repeated as many times as you want.

The challenges online are divided into races and speed (either highest average or fastest). These, however, simply are for pride. To advance in the game, you also must complete offline challenges, which earn you money to purchase cars and places to store them.

As the game begins, you get to choose from among eight or so drivers to be your character, though only the gender really matters because you can customize almost everything else later. You then fly into Honolulu, rent a car and ride off to purchase your first car and homestead.

The offline challenges are a bit more diverse. Beyond the simple races and speed challenges, there are time attacks in which you must finish under a certain time to win cash. Also, you can choose to deliver cars and packages for cash or models and hitchhikers for tokens to purchase new clothing.

There are more than 90 vehicles available — seven classes of cars and two classes of motorcycles — and even some cars that can be unlocked later. Scattered around the island are various car dealerships, everything from Ferrari and Maserati to Audi and Chevrolet. You will need to master driving cars of all classes because some races have restrictions, though you can drive any car in the longest and most intriguing race, an 87-mile circuit around the entire island. The vehicles can be upgraded at high-end tuners to help, though sometimes tuning will better the car’s class.

Clearly, the options are exhausting. Bored of the built-in challenges? Create your own on the editor for use both online and off or flash your headlights at an oncoming car for an impromptu race. Want to remember some crazy pass? Take a photo. Feel like being a part of a team? Join or create a racing club online and go for the glory. Want to play demolition derby? OK, that’s a bad idea. The pesky police will pull you over and fine you for collisions.

So unlimited? Certainly not. But with all the areas to explore, challenges and options to try and cars to drive, you never will be bored with Test Drive Unlimited.

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