I f you usually go off to make a cup of coffee while waiting for games to load, get the kettle on well before you boot up Test Drive. You do not want to miss the loading screens on this one. Never have I encountered a program where the introductory screens made me want to play the game as much as this one.
The object of the game is to select one of the five cars, and test drive it up a winding mountainous road to the top, avoiding oncoming cars, highway patrols, oil slicks and potholes. The faster you do it, the more points you score.
The program falls into two distinct parts: car selection and driving. The flipping through the selection screens, you get a picture of each car and a detailed and accurate technical specification of its performance: acceleration speeds, tyre types, dimensions, braking distance, etc. This is the drooling bit.
Having chosen your car, you take to the road, with a driver’s seat (left hand drive, since it is an American game) view of the dashboard and the road ahead. You also have your rear-view mirror, a radar display to warn you of approaching speed cops, and your gear box. Would that I sat in any of these cars long enough to be able to tell you how accurate the dashboard layout for each car is – from the attention to detail in the selection screens, I would imagine they are fairly faithful reproductions.
Driving is controlled by keyboard or joystick: left and right for steering, directional movement (with the fire button pressed) related to the gearbox layout for changing gear. Run over oil slicks, and you will get mucky marks on the windscreen; potholes affect the steering slightly. With the highway patrol, you can either slow down within the speed limit (there are road signposts as well) which will lose you points, or speed up to try to shake them off.
Assuming you do not crash into anything, or go over the edge of the road, you will automatically pull into a gas station for status reports at various stages. Here, you will generally get a sarky comment such as, “What’s the matter – couldn’t find second?”, your average speed and time, and a points score. If you do crash you experience the game’s most disappointing moment, the screen simply cracks unrealistically. Even if you drive over the edge. No sound effects either. Very disappointing. Given the beautiful graphics of the cars’ exteriors and dashboard, the road is drawn slightly less impressively.
Each car really does handle differently in the driving screens. On paper, the Porsche and Lamborghini have the best acceleration (0-60 mph in 5.0 and 5.2 seconds respectively), and when test driving each this is borne out; they were definitely nippier than that cheapskate Corvette (0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds and a puny $35,000 to buy).
The traffic police, oil slicks and status reports mean that you can play Test Drive as a straight race against the clock, and very enjoyable it is too, but it is equally, if not more interesting as a simulation. However, there is an is-that-all-there-is feeling that abounds in the game. Something is missing, like a tough Out Run style challenge.
CU Amiga, January 1988, p.p.90-91