One cannot merely start playing Test Drive 5; they need to be prepared. Prepared for the audio and visual onslaught about to commence. Not from the game itself, but rather from the fervid introductory video.
One and a half minutes of loud guitars, quick cuts, and automotive glory bombard the screen. Screaming engines and squealing tires laid over modern and archival automotive footage are mixed in with a music video for Pitchshifter (whose song Genius is playing). The hype build is real. I want to take this video and inject it into my veins.
The car nerd in me needs to point out at this time that a few of the cars featured in the archival footage weren’t actually in the game. But there were still 28 cars available, split evenly between classic muscle cars and modern sports cars.
Beauty vs Beast
Dodge Vipers, Saleen Mustangs, and Nissan Skyline GT-Rs, were mixed in with classic muscle cars like the Pontiac GTO, Shelby Cobra, and Dodge Charger Daytona. Two of the best all-around performing cars in-game were the 1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL1 and Camaro ZL1; they were absolute killers.
That was until unlocking some of the supercars that became available as the game progressed like the TVR Speed 12, Jaguar XJ220, and Nissan R390 GT1.
The vehicle selection screen was quite detailed with full featured specifications. The Lateral Acceleration numbers were fabricated and at times, quite hilarious. A 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6, with a boat anchor of a V8 hanging over the front wheels, pulls 0.98g on the skidpad? Yeah, ok.
But I guess it wasn’t as crazy as the Nissan R390 GT1 that was listed at pulling 3.0g of lateral acceleration – triple any other car in the game.
Sights and Sounds
The graphics were a tale of two games. The racecourses and background scenery looked good, but the car modelling was terrible; even for the standards of its day. Look below at the 1997 Camaro or the 1998 Nissan Skyline as prime examples. They look like something a grade 3 student doodles in their notebook.
Compared to Test Drive 5’s contemporaries at the time, Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit and Gran Tursimo, it’s apparent how far behind TD was in car modelling.
But for the company’s misstep in sights, they made up for it in sound. The game’s music was comprised of a group of electronic and industrial bands that kept the intensity up. Pitchshifter, Fear Factory, Junkie XL, KMFDM, and Gravity Kills were all on the soundtrack. I was so enamored with some of the songs, I bought a few on CD singles (remember those?).
Arcade at its Core
The gameplay was decidedly arcade-like, just with real-world vehicles. The overall presentation was similar to San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing, but less cartoony. The courses were more sophisticated in appearance and interesting with changing surfaces and elements.
The game play was decidedly arcade-like with cars smashing, crashing and bouncing off walls. For each race, the computer AI would all perform the exact same way, regardless of what vehicles they were driving. It was a preset speed/ability dependent on the difficulty level of each race. It took some of the fun away as the Skyline GT-R was going to accelerate, corner and brake the exact same as the Shelby Cobra. Other elements to the game were less than realist like a Dodge Charger Daytona ripping it up on a snow-covered road at ludicrous speeds.
Accolade and Pitbull Syndicate’s Test Drive 5 was a fun game with a limited shelf life. I’m pretty sure I beat the game, as I did with all racing games back then since I was a high school student with too much free time on my hands. The fact the intro movie still sticks in my mind more than the game, should sum up my overall feelings for the game. It’s a shame really, because the concept the developers were going for with that intro movie never translated properly into the gameplay.