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In fact, you may be so gobsmacked by the whole affair that there’s a danger that, in the early stages, you may be underwhelmed by the racing itself. It’s not the fault of the cars, which handle well, nor the sensation of speed, which is excellent, but more an overall feeling that TDU lacks any real racing spirit. The first events are, by necessity, easy, but they also feel gutless, without the grit of Forza or the manic, car chase intensity of NFS: MW.
Just give it time. For one thing, the game isn’t restricted to straight races. There are girls who need a lift home, couriers that need packages delivered, and speed camera challenges that ask you to race through police patrolled streets at breakneck speeds. All of these demand concentration and nerve, particularly the game’s somewhat stroppy beauties, who give you a hard time if you’re too slow, and demand you stop if you drive too dangerously. Still, if they don’t reward you in quite the way you might hope, at least they’re generous with the clothing tokens.
And after the first few races, the AI shrugs off its sleepy demeanour and starts dishing out real competition. With their aggressive manoeuvres and gutsy cornering, these guys are anything but the racing-line drones of Gran Turismo – something made clear by their tendency to whack you from behind or spin off course. And as the game goes on, TDU leaves you feeling that it’s not all about learning the tracks or buying a faster car, but about developing the skills and intuition to tackle whatever the road can throw at you, whether its sudden turns, rapid changes of elevation, or just a whole lot of traffic getting in the way.
In fact, what starts out looking like the game’s Achilles Heel becomes its biggest asset because, just as the shine is beginning to wear off the vast game world and its house-buying, smart-dressing mod cons, you start falling into its trap. Like any great racer, you end up racing to win prize money to upgrade or buy new cars, so you can race and win some more, and while TDU can’t match Gran Turismo or Forza for cars and upgrade options, the models on offer are numerous and desirable enough to keep you going for some time. Are you really concerned that there’s no Mazda or Toyota when you’re racing a rare E-Type Jag along the Hawaiian coast at sunset? Thought not. And the online component only makes thing worse. After all, do you want to mooch in with a Mustang when everyone else is packing Lamborghinis and Ferraris? Well, you’d better start bringing home the loot.
So, is this the new benchmark for racing games? Well, opinions are going to differ wildly on this one. There’s no doubt that PGR3 and Gran Turismo 4 still have the edge on cars and handling, while Burnout: Revenge and NFS: MW offer more in the way of easy thrills. Yet, for my money, this is the most absorbing, engaging racer of the moment; I can’t think of anything else in ages that has left me so impressed within the first two hours of play, and so utterly addicted as the next few days flew by. In other words, TDU is something of a revelation, and Forza 2 and NFS: Carbon have their work cut out– it’s going to be hard to top this.
Much, much more than superficial eye-candy, TDU is the most exciting driving game in ages, and a hot new benchmark for next-generation racers.