Racing Game History: Test Drive 4 (1997)

Gran Turismo (1997) was still a month away in Japan and longer still in the rest of the world when Test Drive 4 hit the original PlayStation. Along with a mud-slinging variant for the series in the form of Test Drive Off-Road, Test Drive 4 was meant to reinvigorate the series that had been spinning its wheels since Test Drive III: The Passion launched on MS-DOS in 1990. 

Test Drive 4 was the debut work of England-based developer Pitbull Syndicate, a team who would go on to create the next two numbered releases in the series in addition to games like 2009’s Wheelman starring a fresher-faced Vin Diesel in all his polygonal glory. 

For Test Drive 4, Pitbull Syndicate kept many of the gameplay mechanics that set the original apart from its contemporaries back in 1987 though now displayed with all the early three-dimensional graphic prowess the PlayStation could muster up. Players would choose from a list of real-world super cars including the 1998 Dodge Viper, the 1966 Shelby Cobra, or the 1995 Nissan 300ZX to name drop a few of the playable vehicles. These cars would race each other on tracks based on real-world locales San Francisco, Washington D.C., Keswick, Bern, and Kyoto. 

We may deduce that like the original game, this quest to become the world’s best racer is clearly an unsanctioned globe-trotting grand prix as the road is littered with non-super cars going at embarrassingly slow speeds just to get in your way. What’s more, police in the game’s various locales are waiting to pull you over should you be slow enough to get caught but fast enough to attract their attention in the first place. 

The realistic depictions of actual super cars and handling that feels might have you thinking that this is a realistic racer deserving of a garage spot next to games like Gran Turismo. While true that Test Drive 4 is a far cry from the fire-spewing out of the exhaust, wackiness of racers like Cruis’n USA (1994), a realistic racer this ain’t. It’s true that the handling is a bit loose, making it easy to spin out and crash if you take a corner too aggressively. But with no real damage incurred by your vehicle, ricocheting off the competition or even the side of the mountain can give you the burst of speed you need as long as your headlights are pointed in the right direction. 

As a series, Test Drive has seen numerous sequels since 1997 for just about every gaming platform. Test Drive Le Mans brought the series to the famous French race of the same name on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000. Test Drive: Eve of Destruction took the series in a more destruction derby direction starting with the original Xbox in 2004. The most recently released game in the series was Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends in 2012. 

Well, buckle up racing game fans. And now, after a twelve year hiatus, Test Drive is once again set to return to a living room near you with a brand new game. Keep your engines warm for Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown from KT Racing, due out on all platforms later this year.