Throwback Thursday: The Duel – Test Drive II

The “Test Drive” series always seemed to take a backseat from the “Need For Speed” franchise, even though the first game in the “Test Drive” series was a introduced 7 years previously. The game of the series that I am reviewing today is “The Duel: Test Drive II”, the first of the series to be offered not only for the various computer systems of the day, but for home consoles as well.

The version that I am going to be more bias on is the edition for the Sega Genesis, since that’s the version I grew up with. (An SNES version was also available.)  Released in 1990, “Test Drive II” was finally an opportunity to drive cars, that chances are, you will never be able to afford. Seriously. How often have YOU gotten behind the wheel of a Ferrari F40, a Porsche 959, or a Lamborghini Diablo? And not only that, but even if you ever DO get the chance to drive or even own one, let’s face it. How often are you going to be able to get them to go as fast as they are capable of going? (At least legally in the US?) This game was the perfect simulation of the time, since you could crash them as often as you could, without the expensive repair costs. The most “money” that you’ll ever put out in this game is when you have to stop for gas at the end of the race. (I think stopping at a gas station was a very interesting way of saying the term was over, instead of just crossing a finish line. With names like “Gas In A Flash”, it’s more realistic!)

I use the term “simulation” for a very simple reason. Unlike most first person car driving games of the era, where you are either on a race track doing laps with other vehicles, or going from point A to point B on a single stretch of road, where all the cars are driving in the same direction, “Test Drive II” gave you a (for the time), quite realistic driving experience on a typical roadway, complete with vehicles driving in the opposite direction, bumps in the road, street signs on the side of the road, the ability to drive an automatic or manual transmission, and of course, the police. Getting pulled over by the cops (if you can’t outrun them, that is,) will cause time to be lost in the race, as well as a lost life. (I don’t care if it’s in a game or in real life. There’s no downer quite like getting a speeding ticket.) Of course, with the built in radar detectors in all 3 vehicles, you should have no problem learning where they are! (And if you get caught, you won’t have to drive over the radar detector like you would have to in Virginia!)

The first time I played this game, I remembered how it was a very amazing game. Just like driving a real car, you will not want to take your hands off of the controller. I can recall having to scratch my nose doing 200 kPH in a Ferrari, and crashing because of it. I crashed into oncoming traffic, and the looks on the faces on the other car, where a fantastic combination of shock and annoyance, just like in real life. My mother even told me that you always need to pay attention, and never take your eyes off the road. At that point at the age of 13, I was thinking to myself that the DMV should be requiring that people play this game instead of taking an actual road test! Just replace the Genesis controller with an actual steering wheel and pedals and you’ll be all set.Looking back however, it looks like I may have been slightly shortchanged with the title. For the first time, recently, I was given the opportunity to play the Super Nintendo version of the same game, and I have to say, it seems to over shine the Genesis version in a few aspects. The Genesis version frame rate, when compared to the Super NES edition, is terrible. The SNES game plays a lot more smoother and makes it a better experience in that aspect. However where the SNES offered more smooth rapid paced graphics, the Genesis scenery backgrounds looked much more realistic to me. The main issue with the Genesis graphics is when you accidentally fall off of a cliff. (Who the hell decided not to put guardrails up?) When you fall off a cliff, you just see beige. No detail whatsoever. Yawn. So you’d have to make your own decision on which is more important: Better graphics (other than tumbling to your death) or smoother game play. And if you can’t choose between one or the other, ponder this one: The SNES version also includes bugs that get smashed on your windshield!

The music for the Genesis version is bountiful and always playing in the background, whether you like it to or not. Whereas on the SNES version, there is only the sounds of the cars engine and the radar detector. The game just goes from one major extreme to the other! The music from the Genesis version is perfectly fine, however the loop plays continuously from the time that the game title screen starts up to the time that the game is turned off. Eventually you hear the same music over and over again. An option to turn the music off would have been a nice touch. (Heck, even “Rad Racer” for the original NES had 3 different “radio stations” to pick from… Why couldn’t that have been done of the Sega Genesis version?) Same situation, music should have been an option for the SNES cartridge. There’s only so much gear shifting you can hear before you start wishing you could drown it out with the cassette deck playing some Technotronic.

Like I said at the beginning, this was the first version of the game series that was offered on consoles as well as computers. “Test Drive II” was also made available for computers such as the Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS based PCs, Apple II and the Commodore Amiga. I personally have never played any of the computer versions. (However, being the owner of at least a few old Macs, an Apple IIGS and an Amiga, I really want to try them out now.) From what I’ve seen, it would appear that out of the computer versions, the Commodore Amiga is where the game really seems to shine. Excellent graphics and response times, music emulation that comes from one of the very best when it comes to computers of the time, and of course, the ability to expand. The console versions have 3 cars and 4 sceneries, where the computer versions come with 2 cars and 1 scenery. But, expansion packs to increase those figures to at least 10 cars and 5 types of scenery were released on diskette. Obviously, these aren’t an option with Genesis and SNES versions.

The “Test Drive” series is about to enter it’s eleventh game of the series next month, with the release of “Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends”. Over the years, graphics have gotten photorealistic, the music is actual music that you could hear on an iPod or CD, the controllers have more buttons to give it more of a muscle car feel, etc. However the original charm of the first few games of the series are just nothing short of amazing. All in all, if you are looking for a fun game to pass some time, would like the chance to drive a car that can cost you more than a mortgage, or want to practice your police evading skills (gaming only, of course), then “Test Drive II” might just be your ticket (no pun intended). There was a time in the mid to late 80s where the computer companies were trying to disuse the word “game” and move it over to the word “simulation”, since computers “Weren’t supposed to run games, but instead run simulations”. Call it what you want, this is one of the most realistic of the era. (Just, don’t scratch your nose like I did… No reason to crash the Ferrari because you can’t help yourself.) Buckle up!

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