Sometimes gamers ask where do certain game mechanics and aesthetics begin at. And a lot of them actually began as simple computer games that revolutionised the genre in such a way that they’ve become immediate classics. It’s always fun to look back and see the origin of a certain mechanic or genre.
This week, we’re going to revisit one of the games that revolutionised the racing/driving simulation genre and introduced a lot of the mechanics commonly found nowadays in said genre. I’m talking about Test Drive.
Test Drive was developed by Distinctive Software and published by Accolade. It was originally released in 1987 for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and DOS. It was re-released a year later for the Apple II and in 1989 for the PC-98.
And the cover shows immediately the 1st reason why this game was successful:
Yup, in this game you can drive 5 iconic sports cars and this cover shows them all. There’s even a car key to emphasize the driving aspect. One curious fact is that although this game wasn’t Accolade’s first success, they made sure everybody knew that it was their game. How? By slapping its name four times on the cover.
Also, Accolade’s name is the first thing you see on screen after booting it:
The intro is pretty simple as you can see, although I do like the animation of a guy smiling at the screen before taking off. The story is also very simple: you choose between 5 sports cars and take one for a test drive from the bottom of a mountain pass all the way to the top.
The sports cars you can choose are; a Lamborghini Countach, a Ferrari Testarossa, a Porsche 911, a Lotus Esprit Turbo and a Chevrolet Corvette C4. You can even look at very detailed stats about each car before choosing one:
And although the inside of each car is different, they all drive more the less the same. As far as I know, I haven’t detected any difference between each individual car’s handling.
And the driving simulation tries to be as realistic as possible, with a 1st person perspective behind the wheel (which was new at the time) and a manual gearbox. Yes, that’s right! Unlike most arcade racing games where the gear can be automatic, in Test Drive you have to change the gears yourself while accelerating. But be careful! If you rev up your engine too much, you end up breaking it (and the windshield too for some reason).
The game only has one course, the aforementioned mountain pass, with a cliff on the right and a sheer drop on the left. So, that’s all you see while driving, apart from the rest of the cars and the road itself.
The game is divided into 5 stages and your objective is to avoid all the traffic and reach the gas stations at the end of each stage. Seems easy, right? Well, you have a time limit for each stage and you have to go beyond the speed limit to successfully end each stage. But the Highway Patrol is always on the lookout for speed infractions. Luckily, you have a radar detector in your top-left corner which will sound every time you pass a police radar.
And then you have the option to either reduce your speed to avoid the radar (which might penalize you after you reach the gas station at the end of each stage) or try to outrun the patrol cars. But if a patrol car overtakes you, you’ll end up with a speed ticket and lost time. Too many tickets and/or crashes and is game over. Also the faster you drive, the more points you earn at the end.
Graphically speaking, the DOS version isn’t very colourful, despite using EGA graphics. The controls could be better. Sometimes they’re a bit unresponsive and other times, they’re overly sensitive. It’s possible to turn too much while in a curve or not enough while avoiding other cars. Using a gamepad is slightly better than the keyboard, however.
And apart from the title theme, which isn’t bad, there no more music in the game, so get used to hearing the engine’s sound while playing. Which gets grating really fast!
But Test Drive was groundbreaking when released, because of the array of choice in cars and the behind-the-wheel POV, which were all new features at the time. It had an enormous success by being praised by critics and sold more than 100,000 copies. It solidified Accolade’s name in the computer game industry to the point of becoming synonymous with quality simulations.
And along with Sega’s OutRun, Test Drive would inspire other driving simulators like the Need for Speed series and The Crew, among many others.
Still, because of subsequent driving games that came after Test Drive, it was quickly surpassed by its own sequels and other driving simulations.
If you want to experience the grand-daddy of all computer driving games, then go here to play it in your own browser. It even received a fan-made remake by Anton Gerdelen here, based on the CGA version.
Lastly, some parts of the Rocky Pass course in Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit were inspired by the mountain pass course as a homage.
So, there it is. Did you enjoy this review? If so, like and comment below. Next week, we’ll take a look at a title among many, many others in a very big franchise that began outside the videogame realm and defined a very popular genre. Till then, put the pedal to the metal and keep on playing!