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The Duel: Test Drive II (DOS)

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Written by  :  5u3 (197)
Written on  :  Dec 18, 2007
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars

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Summary

A rare example of a good sequel

The Good

The predecessor Test Drive brought refreshing new elements into the driving game genre, which, along with the good presentation and simple gameplay, made it a very successful game.
Test Drive II kept the good things and introduced many new features to make street racing in exotic cars even more interesting.

Most important: New scenery to drive through. The notorious cliff road has a prominent comeback (now with swapped sides - wall of death to the left, plunge of doom to the right), but there are other landscapes like deserts, lush plains and sunny beaches to release the tension a bit.
The difficulty level can be adjusted in fine steps, so rookies get an automatic transmission, while pros can sort through the gears manually - but be careful, because over-revving results in a smoking engine. Which leads me to the next new thing: a simple damage system. Drive over one little rock, and nothing much happens, drive over several, and your steering gets out of whack, or your transmission drops the gear you're currently using.
And, of course, the feature that gave the game its name: The Duel. You are not alone against radar traps and sluggish holiday traffic, some other rich kid wants to see who's fastest. Unlike other racing games, the Test Drive II opponent AI does not resort to cheating in order to be an adequate rival, it has to evade police cars and weave through traffic just like the player, often with hilarious results.

The Bad

The Duel is not only about player versus computer opponent, it is also matching the most exclusive street-legal supercars of the eighties against each other: Ferrari F40 vs. Porsche 959. No lesser vehicles may apply, unless you purchase the expansion pack.
The scenery, although more interesting than in the previous game does get repetitive after a while, especially the almost identical stages towards the end of the race are long-winded and seem to drag on forever.

The keyboard controls have been improved since the last time, the input routine now recognizes two (!) keys pressed down at once. Which is still not enough if you want to accelerate through a narrow curve and shift up at the same time.
The game only supports PC speaker sound, which is understandable, because in 1989 not many people had a sound card. However, in order to make more than one sound (like engine sound and police siren) audible simultaneously, the game toggles the speaker on and off in rapid succession, resulting in a nerve-wracking experience. Maybe this is intentional, but after half an hour of gameplay, it makes my ears ring.

The Bottom Line

This is one of the best early racing games for the PC. Nice graphics and good sense of speed set new standards for its time. The balanced AI and straightforward gameplay are still missing from other driving simulations almost two decades later.
Shame about the lack of variety in cars and scenery though. At least add-ons were available, unfortunately they can be rather hard to find nowadays.