Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 127 / MARCH 1991 / PAGE 54

Test Drive III: race at high speed through rain, snow, and dark of night, facing realistic hazards with unsurpassed graphics and sound. (game software) (evaluation)
by Wayne N. Kawamoto


What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Lamborghini? Exquisite styling? Extraordinary handling? Exhilarating performance? Or maybe excruciating insurance bills? Accolade's incredible new driving simulation, Test Drive III - The Passion, gives you all of these (except the insurance bills). It transforms your computer into the ultimate driving machine.

At the wheel of a truly exotic sports car, you race to win on northern California's challenging roads. With graphics like those of a high-end flight simulator. Test Drive III is the most realistic driving simulation I've played. The game's outstanding animated perspectives and simulation of high-speed card handling give a feeling of driving motion and speed. I developed a real passion for Test Drive III.

But those are just the preliminaries. Test Drive III generates unprecedented and innovative driving conditions for a simulation. Since your car is equipped with working headlights and windshield wipers, you can find yourself driving through the night or rain-and snowstorms. Watch out for cows in the road, crossing trains, other cars, and - the most hazardous of all - state troopers.

Test Drive III offers a fleet of true dream cars for your driving pleasure: The Lamborghini Diablo, the Chevrolet CERV III, and the Pininfarina Mythos. If these cars are mere transportation, then the Grand Canyon is a big pothole, and Lake Michigan is a puddle in the road.

The Diablo has a 48-valve V-12 with 485 horsepower and a top speed of 202 mph. The Mythos, a definite looker with an innovative adjustable rear spoiler, can be yours for a mere $2,516,250. Finally, the Chevrolet CERV III (Corporate Experimental Research Vehicle III) is an exotic and ultrapowerful cousin to the Corvette. Choose your wheels. The other two cars become your race opponents.

Test Drive III offers outstanding graphics. The opening segment has almost photograph-quality images on the VGA screen. The actual racing portion was excellent scenery (roads, mountains, and trees), and the car interiors are dazzling.

The graphic scenery changes from daytime into nighttime. You can use your headlights, but I found I could see just fine at night without them.

The adverse weather conditions are quite impressive. Suddenly rain starts falling. Drops accumulate on your windshield, obstructing your view until you turn on your wipers. In the mountains, it even snows.

As you drive, you can't anticipate what you'll run into next (literally). Cows and stand on the roads at the most inopportune times. Trains casually cross your path. Once, far behind the other cars and with an oncoming train, I went for it. I slipped under the cross bars and raced across the tracks, narrowly missing the train engine. It was like a scene from an action movie, a maneuver no sane person would ever attempt in real life.

Although racing in Test Drive III is a reckless thrill ride, don't drive too roughly. Speeding over those hills will wreck your suspension system, and you can easily knock your front wheels out of alignment. Fortunately, at each checkpoint Test Drive III repairs your car.

Each of nine levels offers its unique challenge. You can race against computer-controlled cars, the clock, or two other human opponents.

You have five cars in the beginning, and you get two more for every checkpoint you reach. Although this may sound generous, I found that when I decided to go all-out to win, I often crashed. Fortunately, as in any simulation, you can walk away from the worst crashes and start all over.

The race consists of five separate legs. You start along California's central coast, move toward Monterey, and eventually end up at Yosemite National Park. The terrain subtly changes from oceanfront at the beginning to mountains at the end. Although you hardly have time to look, the scenery includes tunnels, lakes, traffic signals, the ocean, working lighthouses, houses, barns, power wires, trees, and readable signs.

Contrary to what you might think, you and your fellow road warriors don't own the road. You can get stuck behind other drivers poking along within the speed limit on singlelane roads.

Also, the state troopers - who do own the road - are watching for you. You have a radar detector to warn you, but the authorities only have to get close enough to take a picture of your license plate, and - click! - (say cheese!), you have a ticket. It's fun to try to outrun the authorities. But watch out; these guys will go as far as to set up roadblocks.

The game's fine details are impressive. Once, when I was speeding along, a black-and-white passed by in the other direction. Looking in my rearview mirror, I could see the car making a U-turn, and before I knew it, I had a ticket. ("But officer...I was only going 182 miles per hour.") By the way, Test Drive III is fair - the computer-controlled cars also receive tickets.

Sometimes the state troopers just follow your to keep you down to a legal speed. (Driving an exotic car seems to send the subliminal message Ticket me.)

To add to the realism, and the game has multiple routes to each destination. In fact, you're free to go in any direction that you wish. Make U-turns, go off the road - it's up to you. There are typically two main roads to get to any destination, and there is a hidden shortcut in every leg.

Test Drive III provides adequate maps, but if you turn the wrong way, you can become hopelessly lost. Multiple routes and navigation add another dimension of fun to the game.

The game's instant-replay feature is also striking. Instant replay gives you can outside view of your moving vehicle. You can look from any angle - a full 360 degrees. You can also zoom in and out to get as close as you would like. I found it particularly fun to review crashing my car, flying over hills, and bouncing in the dips. I've never actually driven a car at 150 mph, but I thought the realism and detail were remarkable.

Controlling the car isn't difficult. Of course, no one drives a real car with a joystick or keypad (can you imagine typing in commands on the highway?), but you quickly learn the game's controls. Although the game supports a joystick, If found that I preferred the numeric keypad.

The program supports Ad Lib, MIDI, Roland, and CMS sound boards as well as Tandy for nice audio effects. Testing the Ad Lib, I found the rousing rock music made me feel as if I were driving one of those curvy mountain roads in a sports can commercial. You can also change the radio station to listen to pseudoclassical music or country music.

With the sound board, the engine noises, sirens, and crashes were quite good. After you drive a while, the songs can become tiresome. If you use the PC's internal speaker, the engine sounds are all you'll hear during the race. I think this was a wise decision on the part of the programmers.

You can also adjust the detail of the graphics to the speed of your computer. If you have a slower computer (Accolade recommends that you have at least an 8-MHz computer), you'll want to use less detail to keep the action from becoming ponderous. In high-detail mode, you'll see more trees and mountains, and you'll be able to see objects in the distance sooner.

The game is very easy to learn (you won't spin your wheels). The documentation, written to look like a trip planner from an automobile club, is clear and explains everything. Also, the program was simple to install.

Copy protection requires that you type in a number for a code wheel. Although software publishers must protect their products, the car keys you have to match on the code wheel aren't always easy to differentiate. Sometimes it took a couple of tries to get it right. Copy protection should not be ambiguous.

Test Drive III is the culmination of an evolution. Unlike movie sequels that get worse with each new number, the Test Drive series gets better.

I can vividly recall how impressed I was, years ago, with the first Test Drive. It let you race the clock on a twisting mountain and road and featured a radar detector and cops who would give you tickets. The second in the series, Test Drive II - The Duel, improved the graphics and let you race other vehicles. Now. Test Drive III - The Passion, with its graphics, sound, and action, just plain blows your doors off.

Accolade offers disks with extra cars and scenery to supplement Test Drive III. The add-on features the Acura NSX and the Dodge Stealth R/T Turbo in a race through New England in the fall. Starting at Cape Cod, the race ends at Niagara Falls (I can hardly wait to drive my car over the falls to see what happens).

Just keep in mind that it's only a simulation. I found that it was easy to get caught up in the action, and I'm a 55-mile-per hour kind of guy. There is indeed something very alluring about fast cars. Just don't get any ideas about lead-footing it down the expressway on your next (real world) car outing. It's a hard habit to break.

With excellent graphics, sound, and realistic action, Accolade gives us our minimum daily requirement of excitement and one of the best driving simulations on the market. I highly recommend Test Drive III - The Passion, and I wouldn't steer you wrong.