Test Drive Le Mans Review
By Chad Montague |
Slapping "Test Drive" in front of the name makes me leery, but still sweaty. In 1875, motor sport pioneer and maniac Amedee Bollee took his steam-powered horseless carriage, which he had named "Obeissante" ("Obedience") from Le Mans to Paris, sparking a passion for automobiles and from that moment on, their manufacture swung into high gear. By 1924, motorcar racing had gotten quite popular and a man named Georges Durand revived a "preposterous" idea for a 24-hour endurance race and the 24 hours of Le Mans was born. I'll bet he would roll over in his grave if he knew I was racing the Sarthe circuit in my living room.
You don't have to be a freak and race a real-time 24-hour race though. TDLM offers the speed junkie in you the option of arcade racing with no pit stops, set up or qualifying. If you are looking for more of a challenge, you can play a full championship season of earning points for your selected team, which, if you have the skills and desire, winds up with a shot at the coveted 24-hour title. Or you can be a freak (it's ok, I understand) and jump right into the full 24 hours of pulse pounding, high stress racing. Don't worry, you don't have to miss work because you are on lap 2 billion -- there is a save option for those of you with "real" jobs, families etc...
Three classes of cars (GT2, GT1 and Prototype) grace this sim just as they do in the real races. There are 20 different race teams that will ask you to join their ranks in one of 50 cars, and you can hold out for a good offer. TDLM gives you the much needed option of toggling brake assist and traction control which will make things a little less hairy out on one of the eight tracks in the game.
TDLM is a simulation at heart, and it doesn't disappoint. Full tire wear and the possibility of a blowout haunt you at every turn. Blow your transmission and you'll be watching from the pits in despair. Speaking of pits, you'll have to get a handle on the whole strategy of pit stops which can make the difference between glory, glamour and chicks or defeat, humiliation and an intense desire to huff petrol. Keep your eye on your fuel gauge and oil levels, which deplete as the laps tick by. The visible damage could have been a little better. Sure the cars get damaged and fenders cave in, but I haven't seen any parts come flying off my car.
Be sure to check the weather forecast before you race too. Rain effects are fairly good and make the track nice and slick. Mr. Million-dollar-auto, please meet Mr. Crash-barrier. I don't mean to nitpick here, but when in the rain, you can see the reflections of your opponent's taillights even when they go over a hill. Also, the tracks left on the wet roads as your car rips by look all wrong and blocky. These are VERY minor problems, but still worth mentioning.
The cars are absolutely beautiful. Makes me want to get out of the video game industry and become a racecar driver. My favorite part about the cars is actually being able to toggle the headlights. I find that most headlights in games look really fake but these seem to sparkle from the front of the car like starlight casting a fairly decent beam down the track. A good job by those folks at Infogrames. The rest of the dynamic lighting is also really good, from ambient to static, to moving; nothing really stands out so that is great as far as I'm concerned because it means that the immersive qualities have not been compromised. If you want to see the fastest day/night fade, you can set the time for a 24 hour race to as little as 12 minutes. It's pretty neat having the sun drift across the sky.
Graphically TDLM screams along without any pop-ups or slow downs even with a surprising number of opponents on the track. There is not as much eye candy along the track as other games, but at breakneck speeds, who has time to look anyway? Plenty of muffler pops and flares will keep you satisfied as well as the red-hot glow from your rims as you apply the brakes. I can't help but compare this game to Sports Car GT which in my opinion is the best touring car sim yet. Where the comparison comes to a head is in the physics department. Now I've never driven a high performance vehicle at 280km/h, I think I would poop my pants, but it just doesn't feel right to me.
In the end TDLM pulls together to give racing fans a true Le Mans experience in the comfort of their own homes, and while it might not be the absolute best, it is still worth a look from even the most discriminating gamer.
-- Jeff Shoults