Saturday, December 22, 2012

PSone Nostalgia: The "Test Drive" Games

There's going to be a change of pace here, with the new year coming up and all. This post won't focus on animation, or film in particular (this place is "mostly" about animation, but it's nice to branch out and all), but video games. But... There is animation in video games, so it isn't too out of place. Anyways, I've been revisiting some PlayStation classics that I played growing up and will also discover others that I've never really played before. Part review, part reminiscing. Yes, there will lots of nostalgic tangents here... This won't be a consecutive series, but one that'll come around once in a blue moon.

Anyways, today's review will focus on three games in the long-running Test Drive racing game series that were released for the PlayStation and the PC: Test Drive 4 (1997), Test Drive 5 (1998) and Test Drive 6 (1999).

The Test Drive series began in 1987, five years before I was born. It was essentially a computer racing game with a selection of then-hot real-licensed vehicles such as the Lamborghini Countach and the Chevrolet Corvette C4, developed by Distinctive Software and published by Accolade. It was followed by two sequels, The Duel: Test Drive II in 1989 which would be the first title in the series to be released on consoles (Super NES in 1992, and Sega Master System) rather than just computers. Then in 1990, Test Drive III: The Passion was released, but for computers only. It boasted more open-ended gameplay, a first. Accolade took a six-year hiatus until returning to the series.

Between the release of the third game and Test Drive 4, the home console world had changed. Racing games had changed, with titles like Namco's Ridge Racer and Sega's Virtua Racer. Accolade's return to the series would result in a racing game that was similar in style to the latest titles. One that would be close to games like the Need for Speed games and the then-upcoming Gran Turismo. Enter Pitbull Syndicate, a brand new British video game developer. They were called in to develop the game and ensure a fresh new start for this franchise.

Accolade's fourth entry in the series would boast the graphics that most of the racers were using at the time, plus it would sport a soundtrack with some licensed artists. The car selection would be all licensed vehicles, and five courses based on actual locations. It had the makings of being successful, and it was fairly popular when released in the fall of 1997. The game's reception was mixed, with some praising the title and others calling it mediocre.

Test Drive 4 is at best a mixed bag, but one that seems to be addicting. Test Drive 4 starts you off with ten cars and five locations to race, fair enough. You'll unlock vehicles over the course of the game, that is, if you're lucky to actually win any cups or races. So what are the cars? Well, there's the five beauties and the five beasts. This game, and its successor, would run with that sort of theme to define their rosters.

The "beauty" cars are the vehicles that were, back then, 1997's more well-known sports cars. You have the 1998 Dodge Viper GTS, which is the series' main attraction. A Viper appears on the cover of this and the next two games. Then you have two British beauties, the 1998 TVR Cerbera and the 1994 Jaguar XJ220. You also have the 1998 Chevrolet Corvette, and the 1995 Nissan 300ZX. Pretty solid line-up. What about the beasts?

Crooked stripes... Wonderful...

The "beast" cars are classic muscle cars, ones that aren't sleek or pretty, but pack a punch under the hood... Well, maybe not in this game given the gameplay, but we'll get to that later. Anyways, there's a 1969 Corvette that is oddly far more powerful than the '98 one. There's also a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, which has a wicked top speed like the '69 Corvette. The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle appears, and it's a solid beast at best. The 1966 Shelby Cobra is also one of the beasts, but has poor acceleration and top speed. Some beast that is. The PC version of the game has an extra vehicle, a 1967 Pontiac GTO. Why it isn't in the PlayStation version, I don't know. Perhaps there wasn't enough space? Last but not least is the 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, another slow-as-molasses car like the Cobra.

There's already a problem with the cars in this game. Some do fine (such as the Viper and the Cerbera), others are extremely fast (the XJ220), but some are unusable. The Cobra and Hemi Cuda are legendary vehicles, but in this game, they are made slow. What's the deal with that?

Hidden cars? There are a few, and they expectedly perform better than the default cars. The Dodge Viper GTS-R and TVR 12/7 (the prototype for the TVR Cerbera Speed 12) are monstrous, along with the Dodge Charger Daytona. The last of the hidden cars is the Pitbull Special (pictured below), of course, being a reference to the developers of the game. The Pitbull Special was made up by the crew, and you can tell. It's a Mini Rover clone on steroids with a tongue coming out of the grill. It has the acceleration of a rocket, but a very low top speed. Way to provide a challenge!

The screenshot is from Test Drive 5.

Okay, so the car selection is impressive but the cars themselves don't behave as expected. You can race in five locations (six in the PC version). The first of which is Keswick, England, a track that pretty much takes you across an overcast region of the British countryside. There's multiple turns in this level, plus there's an abundance of grass on both sides of the road that'll slow you down. There's also two very dark tunnels with sides that'll also slow you down. It's a tricky stage.

Then you have San Francisco, which is notable for the long straight roads and the trolley hills. Fun stuff. Otherwise, it's a pretty basic course. Bern, Switzerland is the most challenging with slippery snowy roads and tons of turns. Kyoto, Japan is the easiest of the courses. The roads are mostly long without any major turns, and you also get to race through a marketplace. Washington, DC is turn-heavy, but mostly straight and simple. There's two long, straight roads that bookend the course. Munich, Germany is one giant straight course, but with occasional turns. You can also go the opposite direction on these courses at nighttime, but you have to unlock those. You can play them in the Masters Cup if you don't have them yet. This would be a series staple in the PlayStation era.

So with the variety the game has (for its time), you'd think this would be a solid racer, right? Well it is at times, but it's gameplay is a real problem. The cars have the physics of toys and the handling is downright wretched. Winning a race is no easy task in this game, unless you have one of those aforementioned invincible locked cars. Your opponents tap you from behind and can make you veer off course, as if someone popped your tires. Traffic and cops are everywhere, adding to the confusion. Cops simply race right in front of you (how they can do that in their not-so-mighty sedans is beyond me) and pull you over, just like that. The cops don't even go after the other racers, they are always after you. You also don't get a good idea of what's ahead or where traffic is, as the game uses an odd, crude mapping system. It's simply a bar on the top of the screen with various dots representing the vehicles, the checkpoints and the start/finish lines.

Yes, the game is tough. I like a challenge, but Test Drive 4 is often a little too difficult for its own good. The game gives you a hard time, but why did seven-year-old me keep going back to it? Maybe it was for the cars? I believe so, it's the one thing that always I liked about these three games. Test Drive 4 is still fun at times, but its gameplay severely limits it.

Another problem with the gameplay is that there is very little here. Aside from cup races and a drag race, there's a duel mode where you race and then a ghost car doing what you did is your competitor. The link game is a like a two-player mode before two-player mode was introduced in the second game. Other than that, you can watch the credits (see video below) and see humorous pictures of the developers. (Interesting Trivia: The image for the developer Michael Troughton would appear in the 2002 entry, Test Drive, on a billboard in San Francisco.)

Not sure why the frame rate is slower here...

Sounds? Well all the vehicles have their own distinct sound effects, though they can get on your nerves depending on who you are. The music is bizarre at best, with selections from real bands (such as The Younger Younger 28 and Orbital, as the game's cover touts) and others that are just custom-made. It's all basically electronic beats with some weirdness thrown in. Kyoto's track has this sort of "sp-r-r-reee!" sound effect going against the heavy, booming background. Washington D.C.'s song adds a little rock kick to it, but all the stuff here is electronic. Catchy, but beyond that, it'll do nothing for others. Nostalgic me loves the music overall.

Test Drive 4 ultimately feels bare bones for a racing game, despite a good car selection and some nice real-world locations to race in. The graphics were okay for their time, despite some questionably blocky car designs. Most of the background objects are flat and awkward-looking. In 1997, it simply looked okay. But does the gameplay make it a worthwhile experience despite the graphics? It does, but it's a little too basic and even too hard to make it a good game. It's an average racing game that needed work.

Now if Test Drive 5, released in 1998, isn't a good example of "bigger and badder", I don't know what is. Test Drive 5 sold itself as a bigger game: More cars, more locations, a more complete soundtrack, cop chase mode, and other additions like more shortcuts and jumps. Did it all add up to a better game and a good game in general?

Now that's an intro!

Test Drive 5 is often called the best game in the PSone series, and for a good reason, it seems to gel better than its predecessor and its successor.

From left to right: TVR Cerbera,
Plymouth Hemi Cuda and Jaguar

Test Drive 5 has a massive car roster. It may not exactly rival Gran Turismo's, but there's a lot to love. Like Test Drive 4, the available cars are beauties and beasts. This also applies to a good portion of the locked vehicles as well. Returning from Test Drive 4 are the Dodge Viper, the TVR Cerbera, the 1998 and 1969 Corvette, the 1969 Camaro, the 1970 Chevelle, the 1971 Cuda, the 1966 Cobra and the Pontiac GTO. The Jaugar XJ220 comes back, but as a locked car. In its place for available vehicles is the 1998 Jaguar XKR, which is obviously less than spectacular in the game.

New additions? Plenty. Gone is the Nissan 300ZX, replacing it with the 1998 Nissan Skyline GTR. Unlike the 300ZX, it's treated as a bastard and is one of the weakest cars in the game. The then-new Camaro (Z28) is added to the roster, but is pretty much a pale imitation of its 1969 granddaddy. A Saleen Mustang is added to the mix, alongside a 1968 Ford Mustang 428CJ. The 1969 Dodge Charger also debuts here, but is given a poor acceleration rate. What a disgrace to a classic. Aston Martin makes its series debut here with the V8 Vantage.

Dodge Viper GTS-R.

So the early selection is impressive, what's locked? A ton of vehicles. Like Test Drive 4, a lot of the vehicles are, gameplay-wise, essentially upgrades of what's already available. The Viper GTS-R returns, and it's a speed demon like it was in the last game. The TVR Cerbera Speed 12 replaces the 12/7 Concept, and has monstrous acceleration and speed (the game states "235+ MPH").

The Aston Martin Project Vantage is also a speed demon, along with the super-fast Nissan R390 GT-1. This car could easily be the game's best, as it has everything from great handling to an incredibly high top speed. The classic Mustang and Camaro are given big updates. The hot rod versions boast great top speed (the Camaro Hot Rod is the fastest car in the game with a 237 MPH top speed) and quick acceleration. The four police cars you use in Cop Chase are also playable cars during races, and are super fast. Too bad you can't pull over your competitors and make the race harder for them!

Other locked vehicles aren't as spectacular as you'd hope. The Caterham Super 7 has excellent acceleration, but has very low top speed. The Caterham 21 just isn't any good, nothing special about it. 140 MPH... Pfft. Not "locked car" material in any way. The Ford Mustang GT is a joke, why it's a locked car, I don't know. It has a top speed of 157 MPH, which is much less than a lot of the already available vehicles, and it's just slow, slow, slow. The least disappointing would have to be the Shelby Series 1, which has nothing on the Cobra. The Dodge Charger Daytona is downgraded from the Test Drive 4 version, with painfully slow acceleration. Sheesh, poor Chargers. Did Pitbull Syndicate have something against them?

Mixed in with these vehicles are weird machines that the developer's created, including the Pitbull Special, which returns in full force. This time, it has a top speed of 229 MPH (though the game misleads you by stating it goes 260 MPH!) to go with that lightning fast acceleration. But it's prone to roll and tip over all too often. So I guess a winning car comes with a price.

The other made up vehicles are a mixed bag. One of the strangest ones is called "Behold The Mighty Maul!" (Pictured above) Why is it called a "Maul"? It certainly is mighty, with killer top speed and acceleration but with the handling of a brick. I believe this car is a parody of the McLaren F1, which was then the world's fastest production car. Why its top speed doesn't equal that of the real deal is beyond me. Then you have Chris' Beast, a hatchback with two cartoonish exhaust pipes that takes off like a bullet. The Fear Factory Wagon, named after the band whose music is featured in the game, is not worth picking. It's just a station wagon. The Hot Dog is a green jeep that says "Hot Dog" on it, and accelerates like a bullet, but has such a low top speed. Good luck winning with this one.

So the car selection is pretty big. 28 cars in total, nearly double the amount of vehicles in the last game. This game made sure it came on with a lot to offer. The amount of tracks are big too. The six tracks from Test Drive 4 return, but as locked courses. There's reverse, nighttime versions of each course as well (sans the Test Drive 4 courses, their "forward" versions are at night/dusk/evening).

What are the new locations? Moscow, Russia of all places, a level with two long straight roads in the middle but numerous turns, twists and shortcuts elsewhere. Shortcuts were no option in the last game, so the addition of them in this game only makes things better. Edinburg, Scotland takes cues from San Francisco with gigantic hills to speed off of. Otherwise, it's a boring level. Sydney, Australia is almost turn-free until the last section which does come off as a surprise after you hit your top speed throughout the bulk of the level. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina is loaded with turns and twists. It's a very tricky level.

In addition to your linear courses, Test Drive 5 includes circuit courses. The first of the available lap race tracks is Jarash, Jordan. Now they're going exotic! A desert level is nice, but the level is a pain with its twisty design and slippery environment. It feels like it belongs in a Test Drive Off-Road game rather than this. Newcastle, England also has jumps and a fast track layout. Maui, Hawaii is mostly two paths. It's a scaled down version of the locked Honolulu linear track. Courmayeur, Italy takes you up to the cold mountains, feeling like a small version of the Bern level.

There's also a ton of locked courses too. The six levels from Test Drive 4 are out of reach, plus two new tracks: Honolulu and Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo feels like a punched up version of Kyoto, with more shortcuts but a little too many sharp turns. There are three locked circuit courses as well. The first of which is Cheddar Gorge, England, a mostly dirt-based track but with roads mixed in. Not anything to write home about, though. Montego Bay, Jamaica is mostly all sand. It's a nice course to look at. The last and most interesting of the three is Bez's Flat. The developers must've created this one as well, it's a level made out of playing cards, beer cans, VHS tapes and other objects. It's essentially a Hot Wheels race course.

Again, lots of variety here. Lots and lots of it. With all of that, plus the different modes and cup races, does this game surpass its predecessor? Is it overall a good racing game?

Yes, but with a slight no. Yes, it does top its predecessor in terms of everything from content to gameplay. It achieves what Test Drive 4 didn't and is overall a stylish racer with its own thing going. What's the slight no you may ask? Well, the gameplay is problematic. It isn't as rough as Test Drive 4's sloppy gameplay, but it's nothing great either.

For starters, the game is determined to make you lose. Let's say you pick a car that goes 0 to 60 in roughly 4 seconds. Competent enough, but your opponents' cars are super powered. They go from 0 to 60 in a second, they are much faster than you. As a kid, this always bothered me. I remember very well when my sister and I would play the game back in 1998 and 1999, one of us would complain, "They are going too fast!" or "They make them speed!"

Speaking of which, this was actually one of my first PlayStation games. We got a console for Christmas in 1998, and Test Drive 5 happened one of our first titles because it was one of the hot racing games on the market. Methinks we had it early on was because my stepdad, a classic car (particularly Corvette) enthusiast, saw the cover with the Viper dueling with the Camaro hotrod and picked it up.

My PlayStation also came with a demo disc (can't remember which edition it was for the life of me, I remember it just being "Volume 8" or "Demo Disc 8"), and that disc contained a demo for Test Drive 5. This contained an early, unfinished version of the game where your rivals were Test Drive 4 cars and Moscow was the only place you could race. A majority of the sound effects also come from Test Drive 4 as well. Two cars were available in my version, the Dodge Viper and the 1968 Mustang. Other versions had different cars, which can be seen on YouTube.

Of course, at the time, I didn't know the competitor cars were Test Drive 4 models. That's right, I didn't play Test Drive 4 until October 1999 when I got it as a birthday gift. I remember seeing an advertisement for it in the Test Drive Off-Road 2 instructions manual, so of course I'd ask for it. It was also interesting to be able to play the five courses that would be locked in Test Drive 5, so that was another great thing about my first time playing the game. That, and being able to use the Jaguar XJ220!

Anyways, back to the gameplay. Yes, it's a tough one. Like Test Drive 4, your opponents can make you wipe out with a single touch. Cops pull you over easily, and traffic can be a pain if you don't know exactly what you are doing. At other times, you can be in the lead at your highest speed, and then all of a sudden your opponent catches up to you! And quite quickly too!

But when you do get the hang of it, it becomes addicting. Really addicting. Not only are there more cars, but there are four paint jobs for almost all of them. (The exceptions being the developer-made cars and the police cars) You can unlock some cars and tracks by beating certain levels at a certain difficulty, and you can compete in the cup races like Test Drive 4. This time, they take you on levels that are locked if you haven't gotten them yet. The drag race from Test Drive 4 also returns, but you can only choose the available cars, even after you've unlocked a few of the hidden ones.

What else? The game adds time trial mode where you can take a car and drive alone on a selected course and attempt to set a record. To be honest, I always used this to take a break from racing the tough AI. That, and you could screw around with the game and try cool things. One of the neat little easter eggs hidden in the game is in the reverse Washington D.C. level. Go the wrong way at the start, and let's just say you'll get a weird surprise.

Cop chase mode on the PC version.

Cop chase mode allows you get in a cop version of four cars from the game, but they're more powerful than their normal counterparts (the Dodge Charger police car is a good example). But it's frustrating in its own ways. The rules are simple, arrest all five cars before one of them crosses the finish line. Sounds simple, but you have to ram the cars constantly so their meter goes down. It's harder than it sounds, because of the gameplay. Ramming into an opponent car will most likely make you wipe out, and again, they have ridiculous super speed so they can outrun you. That said, it's still very fun to try. Oh, and you also have to have the siren blaring when hitting them in order to lower their meter.

Two-player mode is split screen racing, though it has its limitations. I admit I didn't really play the two-player mode as much when I was young. It just wasn't much to write home about, since a lot of the action was scrunched in both players' frames. Or at least from what I could remember. Still, the amount of things you can do really worked in this game's favor. Even you have all the cars and courses, it's still worth playing just to test out all of the cars' abilities.

The graphics were a step up from Test Drive 4, though it was no Gran Turismo. The environments are nicely designed, regardless of how accurate they are and the cars looks really good too. There are a few little problems. One example being the white stripes on a few of the Shelby Cobra's paint schemes, they can be a bit crooked. Your rivals' models are noticeably less good-looking, one good example being a rival Viper. The PC version corrects this, and your rivals often have different color schemes. In this game, it's the same set of rivals (there's three sets for three difficulties) with the same colors. For the most part, though, the cars look just like their real-life counterparts. All the different courses are distinct, but a lot of the buildings seem more like painted cardboard boxes then anything. But hey, it's what they had at the time and it looked decent!

Last but not least is the sound, a massive leap forward from the previous game. All the songs on here are real songs, as opposed to the custom-made electronic songs mixed with real songs in Test Drive 4. The "killer" (as the back of the case accurately describes it) soundtrack is provided by Fear Factory, Junkie XL, KMFDM, Gravity Kills and Pitchshifter. And yes, I have all of the songs on my iPod, I'm that much of a fan of this game's soundtrack. However, instrumental versions of sections of the tracks are used in the actual races. They are repetitive and they do get irritating. The PC version uses the full tracks, lyrics and all (with the exception of KMFDM's "Anarchy"'s one explicit verse).

So all in all, Test Drive 5 was a step up from Test Drive 4 and the best game out of the PlayStation trilogy. It's the best-looking, the gameplay is solid and the challenges are there. Lots of variety made this a winner, and as such, it was a big seller and got considerably better reception than its predecessor.

Test Drive 6 came a year later in the fall of 1999, and would also be released for the Sega Dreamcast and GameBoy Color. This would be the biggest game in the series with its expanded car roster, the amount of tracks and even more variety. This time, it would be released by Infogrames, since they purchased Accolade in 1999.

Yet another badass intro...

Test Drive 6 took cues from Gran Turismo and gave players a career mode, where they can purchase cars and win from races. They also added little things into the mix. You can make bets, cops can fine you when they pull you over, and you do time trial challenges. You can also try Cop Chase mode and do to the racers what you did to them in Test Drive 5. You can get good amounts of moolah off of that alone.

Outside of career is your typical arcade mode, where you can pick a car, choose a level and race. However, you can't see what you're picking before you race. This is tedious because in the previous game, you got to see what you were racing plus you could change the color. Here, it just picks it for you. It's kind of annoying.

Cars? Well, they are divided by four classes. Each class goes by the top speed and performance of each vehicle.

Class 1: 1999 Lotus Elise, 1999 Audi TT, 1999 Marcos Mantaray, 1982 Lotus Esprit Turbo, 1999 Ford F-150 Lightning, 1999 Jaguar XKR, 1999 Plymouth Prowler, 1972 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, 1969 Dodge Charger, 1990 Ford Mustang LX 5.0, 1968 Ford Mustang 428CJ, Caterham 7

Class 2: 1999 Venturi Atlantique, 2000 Panoz Esperante, 1999 TVR Griffith, 1999 Lotus Esprit V8, Dodge Concept, 1997 Ford Mustang Super Stallion, 1999 Shelby Series 1, 1999 Nissan Skyline GTR, 1999 Subaru Impreza 22B STi

Class 3: 1999 Dodge Viper GTS, 1999 TVR Cerbera, 1999 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage, 1999 Ford Mustang Saleen S351, 2000 Jaguar XK180, 1966 Shelby Cobra, 1999 Venturi 400GT

Class 4: 1968 Ford GT40, 1999 Dodge Viper GTS-R, Jaguar XJ220, 1999 Aston Martin Project Vantage, 1999 TVR Cerbera Speed 12, 1999 Nissan R390 GT1, 1999 Lotus Elise GT-1 and 1999 Toyota GT-One.

Notice something strange about this line-up? No Chevrolet vehicles at all. Corvettes were staples in Test Drive games, but they are nowhere to be found in this game. No Camaros or anything else, either. Kind of a strange decision, you can't just get rid of Corvettes. Sure, the addition of vehicles from Venturi, Panoz, Subaru, Toyota and Lotus are great, but... No Chevy? Also, why a Ford F-150 Lightning? Trucks in a "car" racing game? It should've been in one of the Test Drive Off-Road games, not this. I don't mind it being in the game, but that and no Corvettes and Camaros? Inexcusable if you ask me.

Also, if you notice, more Japanese makes are here than ever before. Again, methinks the developers wanted to include lots of makes from around the world in order to compete with Gran Turismo. By the way, the Gran Turismo comparisons will keep coming. I do think that series is superior to this series, but I will admit, I always played the Test Drive games more than I played most of the Gran Turismo games. So no hard feelings...

Anyhoo, this class system is better because you know what you're racing, and you're put against cars from your class when you do race. It's not like selecting a car in Test Drive 5 that goes roughly 160 MPH and being pitted against something like a Corvette that goes 202 MPH. The game's much more fair, but we'll get to the gameplay and difficulty later!

Courses? Oh there are plenty. All the circuit tracks from Test Drive 5 return (with the exception of Bez's Flat), though the different graphic style makes them feel a bit different. The circuit tracks are now given simple names. For instance, Cheddar Gorge is now just "England". Courmayeur is now just "Italy", and so on. It's kind of boring, but hey.

The new linear tracks are Paris, New York, Rome, Hong Kong and London. Like the last two games, there are reverse versions that take place at a different time of day (sans New York, the reverse version is daytime). Pelton Raceway, Ireland, Lake Tahoe, Egypt and Switzerland are new circuit track additions. Some tracks like Egypt are interesting additions, but most of the environments oddly feel half-hearted compared what we saw in the previous game. The details are there, but the level design just isn't as impressive to me. It never really was. I always liked looking at the environments in Test Drive 5 as a kid. I'd often stop and look at what wasn't there, but in Test Drive 6, I never really found myself doing that.

Everything in the course design seems to be a blur, and I think this is due to the overall gameplay. During a race, it's all about speed. No gawking, no carefulness or slowing down. It just feels insanely fast, even when you are slowing down to turn. When you stop, it feels fast. Something about the whole entirely just feels like it's on speed. Test Drive 4 and Test Drive 5 felt more realistic when you stop the car or slow dow for a turn or tricky area. Here, it's like a total adrenaline rush.

The physics certainly add to the overall super-fast feel. It's a complete 180 from Test Drive 5's physics. You and every other vehicle in this game have the weight of a Hot Wheels car. This game is literally Hot Wheels super sized. Even the sound effects add to it. When you hit traffic, it sounds like something hollow being bashed. When I hit something in Test Drive 5, I felt the weight of the vehicle and what I was hitting, even some background objects (like guardrails) were paper-thin. In this game, I feel as if the car has nothing heavy inside of it. Again, like a Hot Wheels or Matchbox car.

A few positives: Opponents can't make you veer out of control when they hit you, cops can only pull you over if you stop next them, and your opponents don't go to 0 to 60 in a second. It's definitely a lot less challenging, but sometimes I feel it's a little too easy. Career mode can be fun as you advance and get better cars, much like in Gran Turismo. Cop chase mode is a lot more fun. Since the cars in this game don't have the physics of a whale, it's not as hard to actually arrest the damn racers. Races are brisk and fun enough, too.

I didn't mind it as a kid and I still don't. As a Hot Wheels collector at a young age, all this game needed to have was great cars, nice locations and decent gameplay. Not gameplay where I felt like throwing the controller. Something tells me that the success of the PlayStation-era Test Drive games were successful because of this. Kids my age at the time probably didn't care about any visual shortcomings or the generic features, they just got what they wanted: Awesome cars, pulse-pounding music and lots of fast action and mayhem.

All of that aside, Test Drive 6's core gameplay (as in the objectives) adds nothing new to the table. It's basically Test Drive 5 all over again, but much less difficult. It's fun but it's just there. Not bad, not good. Just there. Looking back on it, the whole feel of the game is too fast, and that's odd saying that about a racing game. Maybe it's because Test Drive 5 was fast enough, but restrained. Test Drive 6 is just slippery fast, as if you don't have much time to plan. You just go.

Graphics? Those were heavily criticized, unlike its predecessor. Test Drive 6 is very slick, but a lot of car designs are a little too blocky and the textures aren't as good. So it looks and feels like a toy, brilliant. Some of the vehicles don't even resemble their real-life counterparts, such as the Nissan Skyline (which looks like a bunch of cardboard boxes with wheels and a spoiler!) and the Dodge Concept, which has distractingly oversized headlights. (That is, if you're very familiar with the actual design of the vehicle.) The locations are detailed, but they're not as interesting this time around. Pretty basic, especially the night driving and weather effects. It's basically Test Drive 5's graphical scheme, been there, done that.

That all being said, I loved this game when I was young. While I was a PlayStation kid growing up, I actually owned the Sega Dreamcast version first.

It must've been late 1999 or maybe early 2000... The Dreamcast was at my father's house, as he had bought it when the console was new. The poor Dreamcast, it was actually a really good system. I had many good memories of the console and its games, and Test Drive 6 actually wasn't one of the first games we got for it. That came later. I knew it was out, and I kept thinking in my head, "There's a Test Drive 6?! I gotta get that!" Then boom, my father surprises me with it and a copy of Sonic Adventure, another game I played religiously growing up.

Dreamcast version.

Later on, I got the PlayStation version. The Dreamcast version got the most negative reception, while the PlayStation and PC versions got mixed reviews at best. The Dreamcast version, to me, has a better framerate and the load times aren't as long (from what I can remember, my PSone copy sadly went missing). The night driving stages are weird, because they are lit differently and the cars don't sport their headlights graphics! The rain and weather effects around there either, also strange! The PlayStation version is superior in terms of sound, with varied sound effects for the cars. In the Dreamcast version, they all have the same sound, which tempts me to turn down the SFX volume while playing.

Speaking of sound, Test Drive 6 is basic. Nothing crazy or anything, just the typical engine sounds, cops siren and crashing effects that sound like fragile objects being destroyed. Test Drive 4 had fairly good wrecking sounds, ditto Test Drive 5. This feels like I'm racing through a china shop. The soundtrack itself is once again good, and the songs match the game's tone. This time, we get more electronic music rather than the heavy industrial tunes from the last game. Among the artists are Lunatic Calm, Empirion, Fear Factory, Gearwhore, Kottonmouth Kings, Qburns and Cirrus. Stuff you probably never heard of (sans Lunatic Calm), but these games introduce you to those kinds of artists and bands out there. I always liked the tracks growing up, and I have a few of them on my iPod. Finding the rest weren't so easy. The full tracks with lyrics and all play during the races, unlike the looped instrumentals used in the last game.

In the end, Test Drive 6 is a less challenging Test Drive 5 with some touches of Gran Turismo in the game's career mode. It's a fun, harmless racer that didn't bring anything new to the table when it was released. Video game critics certainly felt mixed about it, but for me, it's a guilty pleasure.

On the whole, I think the PlayStation-era Test Drive games appealed because of what they had, rather than the gameplay. I mean, what kid couldn't resist all those cars, those features, those tracks and that music? Before YouTube came about, I remember looking up the old IGN and Gamespot reviews for these games, and was astounded by the low scores most of them got (particularly Gamespot). Of course, this was back in 2004. I thought I was alone, until people uploaded videos of all three games. I was happy to see that other 90s kids loved these games as well, even Test Drive 6, the one the reviewers really seemed to trash.

I guess if I was a 20-year-old video game critic back in 1999 who was enjoying Gran Turismo and Need for Speed, I'd probably be critical of the Test Drive entries. Or maybe not, they have a lot in them that warranted some praise. I'm sure a lot of critics picked up on that, but the gameplay issues didn't hold us kids back from playing. No matter how many times I failed at Test Drive 4, I continued to play it just for the cars, music and tracks. I'd always play the Masters Cup just to try out the reverse courses that I hadn't unlocked at the time.

Test Drive 4, Test Drive 5 and Test Drive 6 all have their faults. At best, they are solid racing titles that boast impressive vehicles and a good atmosphere. They may not have reached the heights of the biggest racing games of the era (again, Gran Turismo and Need for Speed), but they had enough in them to warrant a purchase back in the late 1990s. All three games have a sizable fanbase, and that's good to see.


Did you play any of these three games growing up? What do you think of them? Sound off in the comments, and let me know what you liked or disliked about these games.

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