Reviewed: September 14, 2004
Reviewed by: Arend Hart
Release Date: August 24, 2004
Growing up in a rural farming community in Michigan, there was a real lack of entertainment for kids. Other than the dozen or so high school dances which followed the dozen or so home football and basketball games, the rest of the school year was pretty much a wash. And as for summer break – for a bunch of farm kids, summer just meant more work…hot work. Whether walking behind the trailer picking the zillions of football-sized rocks every spring, or stacking and packing razor sharp bales of hay – it’s not long before you’re wishing for school to start up and end the misery that is summer.
Thankfully, for us farm kids – we always had one summer event to look forward to – the week they called the County Fair. It was our chance to finally get credit for, and relief from, the blisters and slivers and sunburn that accompanied farm life. A full seven days’ respite from the normal world – we would eat, sleep and live the county fair, all the while tending to our horses, cows, or pigs which were on display in the 4-H barns on the west end of the fairgrounds. (For the record – I was a horseman).
So what does any of this have to do with Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction? Plenty. You see, the County fair ran for seven days: kicking off with the Sunday morning animal shows, and building steam throughout the week until the big Friday-Saturday Grandstand Blowout featuring – you guessed it – “Two Nights of Car Crunching Demolition Derby Action!”. Friday was usually reserved for bowl-type demolition derby; Saturday was the Figure 8’s. They were the two hottest tickets in town, and if you didn’t score your tickets by Wednesday, your only hope to see the show was landing one of the few available concession or clean-up jobs.
Sitting in the Grandstand on Saturday night – with only a twelve foot high chain link fence separating you from a veritable sea of crunching sheet metal and fire – you were overcome with a certain bittersweet euphoria; the surreal excitement of the moment suddenly quelled by the realization that this spectacle marked the close of the County Fair for yet another year, and in a matter of hours it would be back to farm life as usual.
Well, it’s fifteen years later now – I have a wife, kids and a real job. We live in the city and the days of the fair are long gone. So when GameChronicles offered up Test Drive: Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction for review, the farm boy inside me jumped at the offer – and I’m sure glad I did. Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction is by far the most authentic representation of the dirt track demolition derby experience to hit a console, surpassing even the great Destruction Derby series of PSone games. Sadly, it just doesn’t hit the heights of some of the other big-name racers hitting the shelves right now, and Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction will more than likely fill more bargain bins than it ever will consoles. Still, I have to root for the underdog.
Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction features two modes of play – Action and Career. Action mode is your standard Arcade-type mode allowing you to choose an event (or number of events) and play as you wish.
The real meat of the game lies in the Career mode – where Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction places you in the roll of the up-and-coming driver trying to get a big break in the derby circuit. Your only choice towards character development is the nickname by which the announcer will refer to you by throughout your career. For obvious reasons – I chose “Hitman”.
You are given a pseudo-open environment to explore and “earn cash”, but it mostly serves as a cheap façade over a menu hub. Your choices are few: Buy a car, fix a car, paint a car, challenge a local, run a time trial through the infield quarry, or join an “Eve” – a series of three or four derby events taking part at a particular site – usually some form of county fair. Every so often, completing an Eve will unlock something – usually a very, err, interesting FMV featurette showing a pit-row look at the Derby culture.
You start off with your grandmother’s beater, and slowly work your way up through the thirty or so vehicles. Each vehicle is fairly unique in control and durability, with certain vehicles suited better for certain situations – so making intelligent decisions is a must. For instance, using a front wheel drive “compact” in a race will generally give you better handling and speed, not to mention a lot less wheel spin making it a great choice for a Jump Race (think: motocross). However, in a Whip Around race – where pulling quick 180’s is a requirement– a front wheel drive compact doesn’t have the ability to swing the rear end around like a rear wheel drive sedan does, nor does it have the fortitude to withstand any number of head-on collisions common to this type of race.
There are around twenty five different race types represented, from real world events like the Forward-Backward, Stop-And-Go, Whip Around, Figure 8, Figure 8 Jumps, Jumps, Derby bowls, Push-outs (think 12-man sumo in a single ring), Gauntlet races (featuring one hearse running laps against a half dozen or so combatants going the opposite direction), even School Bus, Trailer and Chain Races. There’s even a bevy of fictional and fantasy events including variants on soccer and car combat (using exploding chickens of all things).
Needless to say, with the multitude of race types, there’s always something new being thrown your way, and each venue’s events differ in track layout from similar events held elsewhere. A Figure 8 in one arena might be a large, looping flat track, whereas a different arena might offer a tight, banked course. Still, even with all the variety thrown your way, there does come a time where the arenas events begin to feel a bit repetitive – and that’s when you go home and challenge the locals to “infield races” for cash. Sadly, the racing the locals is an unbalanced affair – most of the racers pose no challenge whatsoever, yet suddenly you find one who is unbeatable. Given that you bet your money before racing, happening upon that one impossible racer can be an expensive affair. Thankfully, the developers have allowed you to pause and restart without penalty as long as you haven’t already crossed the finish line.
The actual control mechanics may seem a bit dodgy and sluggish compared to most street racers, but that is to be expected when you’re limited to dirt tracks and bald tires. Given that, steering does prove to be a bit trying, with lots of unwanted drift. That drift, coupled with the nearly catastrophic environmental collision detection, which will toss you helter-skelter from something as insignificant as a wall rub, and you become your own worst enemy. You will find that you do more to slow yourself down by rubbing walls and snagging fences than the other racers will by trying to run you off course, and that’s a bit of a problem. Nothing is worse than running one of the many pre-Eve one-on-one challenge races against a competitor and losing a half-mile lead because you got turned around by a chain link fence you happened to brush up against.
Still, all told, the handling seems fairly realistic – but maybe to a fault, as the process is not nearly as fun as it should be. I wouldn’t quite call it a controller-smashing experience, but frustration does set in when you drop from first to tenth just shy of the checkered flag because you miss-landed a jump or got into an uncontrolled powerslide. Thankfully – for your records’ sake – it takes until about half way through your career before the AI challengers begin to pose any real level of difficulty other than just getting in your way and these problems begin to spring up.
I wasn’t much impressed with the control scheme either. While it did allow for use of either buttons or analog stick for acceleration and braking, and even included a hand-brake – reverse was given a separate button which, in a world where racing games tend to use the brake button for reverse once stopped, proved to be more confusing than you would expect. Especially when using analog stick controls. It’s obvious that they did this to allow the fast forward/reverse slamming of the demolition derby bowls, adding the extra button just left me fumbling from stick to button and back again, and missing hit after hit.
One gripe I have about the Eve structure is that – unless I missed something in the setup options – when you choose an Eve from the menu, you go into the first event blind, using whatever car you happen to be driving at the time. As mentioned earlier, vehicle choice is important for each event, and not knowing what you’re going into makes it a bit of a gamble.
But even with my nitpicky complaints, I can’t deny that Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction packs some top-shelf excitement. The barely-in-control nature of the racing lends to some truly edge of your seat moments, and the rush you get when the game freezes in a Matrix-style moment, just milliseconds before your car is T-boned by a rusted-out Vega, is unsurpassed. They developers did a great job of building anticipation and excitement, then slamming you back into the ugly reality of the situation.
Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction looks surprisingly good for a PS2 game – bearing a strong overall resemblance to Reflection’s Stuntman, but with smoother lines, better reflections, cooler shadowing, and less slowdown. The nighttime arenas look absolutely spectacular, with beautiful lighting and crowd effects – and the daytime environments, albeit a tad sparse, look better than expected on the aged PS2.
The damage modeling conforms to the Need for Speed school of visual styling, where the car model appears almost like a hollow shell with a single skin applied; crash the front and the bumper, headlights and grille all deform in predefined textures as if they were one single piece of material instead of individual units. The look is a bit lackluster at first, especially after seeing the likes of Codemasters’ and Reflections’ work on their respective Pro Race Driver and Driver series’ of games. Still, there are some commendable visuals to be had.
There are a number of industry standard viewpoints available in Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction; far behind, near behind, in-car, hood, and bumper views. The “behind” views serve the purpose well, allowing you the necessary peripheral vision to avoid broadsides and sideswipes – the stuff you can’t see from the bumper, hood, or in-car views. Interestingly, the in-car view lacks any representation of drivers’ hands, and the field of view is so limited it makes one wonder why the developer included the view at all. And as for the hood view – usually my choice for racing games – Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction’s version lacks any representation of hood, engine or transmission…seriously, there is nothing there except wireframe suspension system, a pair of tires and the ground. Freaky! It makes you wonder why, when it must take some chunk of CPU memory to calculate these views and make them available at the press of a button, they even wasted the time to make the half-assed attempt, when they could have used that chunk memory sprucing up the environments a bit more.
Again though, save for the few minor gripes, Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction looks great and the developers should be applauded for their work.
First off, let me say that Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction features seven of the most grating songs I have yet to hear on a game soundtrack. All apologies to fans of Sum 41, Thrice, and Hoobastank and the other bands featured, but much like the cookie cutter tunes on ATV Offroad Fury, the songs here are definitely not the best choices for a racing game and induce more irritation than excitement. Those playing the Xbox version will certainly appreciate the custom soundtrack support.
Thankfully, you can turn the music off and listen to the well recorded in-game sounds, with realistic and unique engine sounds, an announcer who calls you by your chosen moniker throughout each race, and crowd roars that blow the doors off most sports titles.
What I haven’t yet mentioned about Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction is its truly addictive nature. The career mode gets you hooked and won’t let go. Sure, I may have said that the races eventually become repetitive – but really, what hooks you is the anticipation. The anticipation as you push to finally see your first Gauntlet race, your first School Bus race or the first Trailer Race – you find your self saying “Just one more and then I’m going to bed…” There’s serious excitement to be had, and the package is well worth the ticket price.
My one true wish is that Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction would have some form of online mode. Nothing would be better than crunching your buddy online, and the lack of that alone will turn gamers onto the upcoming Burnout 3: Takedown and Need For Speed: Underground 2 that promise robust online modes.
I was pleasantly surprised by Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction. In a world of copycats and sequels, it’s nice to see developers taking a stab at the road less traveled once in a while. And while the whole demolition derby thing may have been done before, it has never been done this well – with this much care. Like a Stuntman you can actually enjoy (and progress through), Test Drive: Eve Of Destruction blows the doors off it’s competition with a fresh new take on the racing genre. And while I wish that the game had more substance, and maybe a bigger hometown to tool around in, I have to give it props for keeping me up late more than a few nights.
Eve Of Destruction is like a kick-ass race car that needs just a little bit of work under the hood to put it in the top five. Maybe with an online mode, some tweaks to the control scheme and little leniency in the wall collisions, this racer would surely rank with the best of them. I’ll recommend it for a definite rental, but you may want to wait for some of the other racers to hit the shelves before you slap down the full sticker price.
Oh, and in case you care, it looks like the farm boys in Shiawassee County still get their Demolition Derby every summer…