Xbox 360 and Xbox Live’s introduction opened the door for game developers to test the limits of online interactivity. Of the 18 Xbox 360 launch titles debuting last Fall, only Bizarre focused their efforts and creativity on taking advantage of the platform with “Project Gotham Racing 3’s” Gotham TV. Since that innovation, there have only been a small handful of features, like “Burnout Revenge’s” rival tracking and replay leaderboards, which tread new online territory. One of the next big breakthroughs ironically enough also comes from a vehicular racer.
Atari’s “Test Drive Unlimted” is banking on our desire to not only want to get the behind the wheel of cars most of us could never afford, but do so in a dynamic environment open to the entire world of Xbox Live gamers. M.O.O.R. (Massively Open Online Racing) technology automatically places a player on a Hawaiian island alongside upwards of a thousand other players upon boot-up. The 8 closest players appear visually at any time, but any player on the entire island can be challenged for a competitive race via a GPS map interface. Unlike racing games of old where signing into a separate racing environment is required, M.O.O.R. takes advantage of Xbox Live’s automatic sign-on to immediately thrust players into a living, breathing community. Along with Xbox Live comes upwards of 42 Achievements ranging from miles covered driving the island to reaching a pre-determined number of cars collected.
My hands-on time began with accessing the main GPS map that appears as a small HUD map in the lower left portion of the screen while driving. The main map covers the entire island – which takes upwards of 5 minutes to complete a lap around – and its 1000 miles with every player online at that time appearing as a blip. Zooming in on a specific area reveals Gamertags attached to each blip, any of which can be clicked to challenge for a race. What sets these races apart from traditional competitions is the starting point and finish line are both completely customizable. If cruising the island is fancied instead, clicking anywhere on the miles and miles of road will transport the car to the selected spot for immediate driving.
The hands-on driving experience is on par with other simulation racers, most notably last Fall’s PGR3. Some neat differences I either encountered or was informed of include the ability to go off-roading wherever the opportunity presents itself ” including the beach where I did some sweet 360s, an in-car view with a movable camera, windows that can be raised or lowered for different 5.1 audio effects and destructible NPC cars. Obviously the player-controlled cars do not take damage per licensing agreements, so to compensate a police chase mechanism activates one of three warning levels when drivers become either too erratic or smash up too many other cars on the road. A police pursuit can only be outrun; however, if caught a hefty fine will be imposed.
Aside from paying speeding tickets, currency plays a significant role in TDU, blurring the lines between racing for sport and participating in an ongoing automotive role-playing tournament. Money is collected by winning races in single-player mode, selling or auctioning old unwanted cars or wagering with pals on Xbox Live races. A sweet addition would have been the ability to wager on other peoples races via a Gotham TV-like interface but that currently isn’t in the cards. The ability to put your friends to shame and build bank at their expense should be incentive enough to keep the online community alive and kicking many months after release.
Players with fat wallets will be able to shop for new cars at official manufacturer dealerships. Here, cars can be browsed and judged by opening their doors, rolling down the windows and even sitting in the drivers seat for a look around the interior. Initially only 8 purchased cars can be stored in a player’s default house mega garage, but with a sizeable influx of cash it’s possible to visit a real estate office and purchase additional properties; thus exponentially increasing the number of parking spots for new cars. These houses also serve as home bases where driver characteristics including clothing and physical features can be customized so every car zooming around the island doesn’t have the same schmuck behind the wheel.
I find myself becoming bored with progressive car games where you race the same tracks over and over in hopes of being able to purchase new rides and swag. TDU’s marriage of traditional racing, RPG character/car management and always-on integration with fellow racers on Xbox Live might keep me hanging around for more than a few additional runs when it releases this Fall.