Driving around the island itself is fun (and can earn you achievement points), and the GPS means navigation is never a problem. Press right on the d-pad and the overview map is brought up, on which you can set waypoints and target certain events or buildings. If you're feeling lazy you can even teleport straight to a location, assuming you've been there before. Filters can be applied to show where real-life online players are cruising, but this is only part of the online integration.
It's not technically an MMO, but TDU certainly has similar elements. If you're connected to Xbox Live you'll see other drivers on the roads (although you can't see everyone), and a simple flash of your headlights sets up an instant challenge. You set the destination point and you're off. Other locations on the map are already set up for online races, and there's a great system that lets you create and enter user-created challenges. For example, you create a time trial event, but other players need to pay to enter, with the winner taking a big prize and you a small cut. There's also a nifty club system (which of course costs money) and the ability to trade cars online. It really does feel like you're part of an exclusive car loving community.
But it's not just cars - you get to buy and race in bikes as well, and these can be mixed and matched in online races. It might be a personal thing, but I found the bikes a little awkward to control. In fact, control in general will be the biggest area of concern for most gamers. TDU uses a somewhat realistic driving model, but the result takes a little getting used to. This isn't Project Gotham, but it's not Forza either, and finding out how far you can push the vehicles will cause more than a few spin outs for the first few hours. Tweaking the steering sensitivity and turning off the driving assists helped improve things, but at times you'll wish you were cruising around in cars that handled like they do in PGR3.
For a free-roaming open world game, TDU looks rather beautiful. The island environment is one of the most pleasing to the eye ever seen in a video game, and when bathed in sunlight it looks truly stunning. Car models are equally impressive, with some fine attention to detail on the exterior and interior, complete with working dashboards and animated gear changes. Had the frame rate remained smooth and pop-up not been a problem it would have been a showcase title for the system, but things bog down now and again and objects pop into view fairly frequently. That said - it's still a game to show off your HD TV with.
Maniacs will be disappointed to hear that crashes have no affect on your car, either performance or appearance wise. NPDs (non-playing drivers) get into all kinds of trouble though, and their cars aren't immune to the laws of physics. After a rather badly timed overtaking manoeuvre you can ram headfirst into an oncoming car, which will react and dent petty realistically. We're not talking Burnout levels of destruction, but the effect is more than good enough. Sadly, the NPDs frequently demonstrate near suicidal levels of intelligence, turning blindly into traffic, or simply ramming into each other for no reason. If you're a motorway driver you'll also find their incessant lane changing a nightmare, especially during the high risk delivery missions.
Little details go a long way, and TDU is full of them. The radio can be controlled entirely using your left thumb (not advisable while at high speed), the GPS is complete with voiced instructions by a calm sounding lady, animals can be seen in the forest areas, you can get tickets from the police and spend time in jail, and stats are tracked for just about everything. The achievement points tied to the game are also used brilliantly, in a way that makes every moment in a car worthwhile. Simply driving a certain number of miles (one achievement requires you to have driven 5,000 miles!) gives you points, while progression in all of the game's main events also earns you points.
The strange thing about Test Drive Unlimited is that it grows on you without you really noticing. Before long you'll own numerous properties, be part of a club, be thinking about buying your tenth car, and you'll have clocked up a thousand in-game miles. Its faults are there to be seen, and some - like the frame rate and lack of tuning options - could be seen as game breaking faults, but if you're not bothered about the technical side to driving, Test Drive Unlimited is simply wonderful. It's a breath of fresh air to the racing genre and features some of the best online integration to date, meaning it'll remain in your 360's disc drive for quite some time.