Written by: Rik

Date posted: April 27, 2006


The scenery is pretty dull, so why not liven things up by driving on the wrong side of the road.

Test Drive was one of the first games to offer players the chance to drive cars they’d never be able to afford on public roads at speeds they’d never be able to get away with in real life. As ideas go, it hardly seems like rocket science (especially now, with the Need for Speed series in its ninth incarnation) but Test Drive was arguably the game that started it all. Significantly, it moved the cross-country racing genre away from Outrun‘s arcadey stylings, offering a superficially more realistic experience by switching the view to in-car, making the player drive on the right side of the road while avoiding pesky slow-moving traffic and the attentions of the police along the way. With a few nice-looking stills of the car thrown in for good measure (as well as some complicated-looking performance stats), Test Drive wanted people to think it was a proper simulation.

And it more or less worked, providing the blueprint for a whole host of similar games, which, inevitably, included its own sequels. Of the whole host of games that have carried the name over the years, TD2 is arguably the most fondly remembered: original developers Distinctive later fell out with Accolade and had nothing to do with the frankly-terrible Test Drive 3: The Passion, although some members of the team had a hand in the first Need for Speed game. Following the success of NFS, the Test Drive name was resurrected and slapped on a succession of underwhelming games in an attempt to cash in, but none have really remained true to the series (although TD: Unlimited looks quite promising).

Or indeed by involving yourself in a head-on collision.

Test Drive 2 is subtitled The Duel, which refers to the not-insignificant draw of featuring two of the world’s then-fastest production cars, the Porsche 959 and the Ferrari F40, racing against each other. Indeed, these are the only cars featured in TD2, which may seem a little unreasonable considering the first game gave you five to choose from, but then the first game only allowed you to race against the clock on one track. While the roster of cars may have dropped, TD2 is certainly an improvement over the original in all other respects. There are now six stages in all (although some of them do feature the cliffside scenery so prominent in the first game) and you can elect to race against a computer opponent – with the intention clearly being that you pit one supercar against another.

The aim of the game is really to beat said opponent, although you’ll also have to contend with the two inevitable side-effects of driving on public roads – the almost impossibly-conservative driving of law-abiding citizens, and the fact that the police don’t like it when you drive too quickly. Of course, this arrangement will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played this type of game before, especially Need for Speed, right down to the presence of the ‘cop-detector’, beeping away almost incessantly throughout the game.

The Ferrari F40. All those graphs and statistics must mean it goes really fast.

However, Test Drive is slightly less forgiving than more recent titles. Firstly, and perhaps most significantly, when you collide with anything, be it on the road of off, you, well, crash. And when I say crash, I mean that the windscreen shatters and you grind to a halt. Anyone expecting a ‘bump’ sound effect and a slight reduction in speed is going to find it tough going at first. Luckily, you get a number of lives, earning an extra one at the end of each level. The police are also pretty tough customers. While in Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit, they chase you around for miles, trying to bump you off the road, setting up roadblocks and slashing your tyres, only to let you off with a couple of warnings once they catch you, in TD2 if you evade the police and then get caught, it’s game over.

It can be frustrating early on, especially if you can’t deal with slightly twitchy steering, but once you get used to how it all works, it makes for a surprisingly enthralling experience. The need to avoid hitting other vehicles at all costs means that overtaking slow-moving traffic at will feels like the dangerous and irresponsible thing it undoubtedly is. The feeling you get when you accelerate onto the wrong side of the road only to see a flat traffic sprite lurching towards you is a mixture of excitement and fear notably absent from many modern racers. You can feel yourself tensing up when there’s a police car in the rear-view mirror, and losing a life through carelessness can prompt brief fits of swearing, especially if it happens at a crucial stage. There are no saved games in TD2 – you play until you finish, run out of lives or get arrested.

Hillside driving is mildly more exciting – if only because you can drive off the edge and plummet to your death.

Initial annoyance at having to finish the whole race in one sitting soon turns to shock as you discover how short the game is. If you’re the sort of person who automatically gravitates towards the easier difficulty settings, then there’s a chance that you could have it over and done with inside an hour. Without the option of saving between stages, TD2 has to be short enough to give players a chance to complete it, but the result is a game that fails to provide either pick-up-and-play thrills or a lasting challenge.

TD2 is fun while it lasts, though, and on a moderate difficulty setting you can have a good couple of evenings’ entertainment trying to finish it. In spite of the lurchy EGA graphics and the shrill sound of the PC speaker filling your ears, it still plays pretty well, and there are a few exciting moments to be had. However, once you’ve played through it once, there’s very little to bring you back, and few will find themselves trying again with the other car or a different skill level.

That Test Drive 2 looks and feels absolutely nothing like driving a car should not necessarily count against it: while the cars in, say, Need for Speed 3 look a lot better than the flat sprites on offer here, they still handle like hovercrafts and can be bounced off the scenery with gay abandon. And with damage frequently absent from modern racers, the sense of danger while overtaking or approaching the wall of a tunnel is something TD2 has to recommend it above more recent offerings. Ultimately, with only one real game mode, “The Duel”, to keep you interested, it’s an extremely short-lived experience which (understandably) no longer has the ‘wow’ factor it had when first released. Good fun for racing nostalgia freaks – for a few hours, at least.