20813 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Cupertino, CA 95014
Reviewed by Scott Wasser
Scott Wasser has been a daily newspaper reporter and editor for the past 12 years and has been interfacing with computers for the past four. He has written columns and feature stories about computer hardware, software and home electronics, and takes pride in writing fair and thorough evaluations of the software he tests for ST-Log.
For some people there's nothing like the thrill of getting behind the wheel of an exotic sports car and tearing up a stretch of twisting, winding road. Test Drive tries to simulate that feeling, but comes up just a little short.
Not that it isn't an entertaining program based on an original and intriguing idea. But contrary to claims on its packaging, booting-up Test Drive and taking it for a spin on your ST doesn't really provide the same feeling as buckling yourself into the driver's seat of a Lamborghini Countach and hitting the highway.
But Test Drive will provide ST owners with a novel and enjoyable way to spend a few hours. It is a driving simulation with a twist. Instead of racing against other vehicles, you race against the clock. And instead of being plopped behind the wheel of any old computer-generated gas burner, you can choose to drive any one of five different sports cars: a Countach, a Chevy Corvette, a Ferrari Testarossa, a Lotus Turbo Esprit or a Porsche 911 Turbo.
You select the car from one of the most impressive menus ever created for a computer game. After the copy-protected program loads, you see a split-screen featuring a beautifully drawn sports car on top and a "spec sheet" on the bottom. Pushing the joystick up or down changes the car and the spec sheet, which shows pertinent data such as acceleration times, horsepower, stopping distances and cornering ability.
After studying the spec sheets and admiring the beautiful automobile images, pressing the fire button selects the car you're going to test drive. A few seconds later the screen changes, and you're in the driver's seat of that car. Looking out the windshield, you see an instrument panel, the top half of a steering wheel and a stretch of narrow mountain road.
The dashboard's graphics are stunning: well-detailed and realistic looking. During your test drive you'll need to constantly monitor your instruments for maximum performance. A single joystick is used to accelerate, brake, steer and shift the car.
Once you get the hang of accelerating and smoothly shifting through the gears, the object is to keep the car on the road while going as fast as possible. That's no easy task, since any of these cars can easily be pushed to over 125 miles per hour, and the road in question twists and winds its way along the side of a mountain.
A slight jerk of the steering wheel can send you crashing into the mountainside or tumbling off it. There's also oncoming traffic and slow-moving vehicles to contend with. Finally, you need to watch out for "Smokey," who'd like nothing better than to nail some smart aleck in a fancy sports car. The radar detector mounted on your visor will let you know when Smokey is around, giving you the option of slowing down or trying to outrun him.
Slowing down will, of course, wreak havoc with your average speed for a given leg of the test drive. You're awarded points for each of five legs based on your average speed during that leg. Being pulled over by the highway patrol or slowing down to avoid a speeding ticket means it will take you longer to complete a given leg. So the best drivers will put the pedal to the metal and outrun Smokey.
Of course there's always the danger that you'll wreck while trying to outrun him. That also drastically lowers your average speed. Also, if you wreck five times during a given leg your test drive ends. Every time you complete a leg, the screen changes to show your car pulled up to the pump of some hick gas station. There you find out your average speed for the just-completed leg and see comments such as: "Did you pass any low-flying planes?" or "You drive like my grandmother."
If your average speed was laughable, you'll be told "You drive too slow to have a sports car," and the test drive will end. Otherwise, you'll find yourself back out on the same mountain road ready to start the next leg. Each leg is more twisty and filled with more traffic than the last. Complete all five legs and your points are added up and, if they're high enough, they'll automatically be saved to disk.
Although animation during the test drive is good, it's not quite up to the standards set by state-of-the-art graphics. While the road scrolls smoothly, conveying a real sensation of driving down a highway, the rest of the animation isn't as good. For example, other vehicles sometimes seem to hop towards your car rather than steadily approaching.
Another complaint is that Test Drive's options are limited. The folks at Accolade say they plan to release additional disks with different cars and roads. Let's hope so. The five cars are good to start with, but it doesn't take long to get tired of driving them down the same road all the time. I'd also like to have the option of saving a game in progress or restarting a test drive at the point where the fifth crash occurred.
I was also slightly disappointed in the feel of Test Drive. There just didn't seem to be that much difference in performance from one car to the next. Some cars did seem to accelerate faster or corner better than others, but the differences just weren't all that noticeable. The excellent graphics and smooth-scrolling road make you feel like you're actually in the driver's seat. If it weren't for the different dashboards, though, it would be difficult to tell just which seat you're in.
Maybe the program designers were a bit too ambitious when they set out to create Test Drive. It is, considering its payability, price and concept, a very good ST program and a truly unique one. But it's difficult for any program to succeed when it aspires to do something so ambitious. It's not hard simulating the look and sound of being in a sports car blasting down a stretch of road. But capturing the seat-of-the-pants feel of that thrill is something we probably don't have a right to expect a computer game to do.