Test Drive: Eve of Destruction
System: X-Box
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Monster Games
Released: August 2004
Genre: Racing
Capabilities: Memory Unit compatible, Custom Soundtracks

Review Written: October 18, 2004

The Test Drive games are usually known for their high-speed, fight for your life races. The same cannot be said for the next installment under the Test Drive label, Eve of Destruction. EoD is set in the tracks of local fairgrounds where rusty older vehicles past their prime demolish the heck out of each other much in same fashion as in the Destruction Derby games. This racer comes from the folks at Monster Games, the same people who brought us NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona, but since EA now owns the NASCAR license for video games, Monster Games are now throwing their hat in the ring in other fields of racing games. Minus a few shortcomings, and this ends up on of the top Demolition Derby racers one the market today.

Unfortunately DD racers don’t get as much credit as they deserve, most people unfairly compare them to car combat titles like Twisted Metal and arcade racers such as the recent Burnout 3. EoD is a completely different type of racing game that contains no special weapon pick ups, or damage multipliers. This is as real as it gets when it comes to DD racers, and that works out in both good and bad ways for this title.

I personally love this type of racer, and EoD captured some of the flair of its predecessors that made this sub-genre so much fun for me. The big hits, seeing cars rollover endlessly after delivering a knockout blow to them, and having the atmosphere feel like you are right there in the middle of the event. It’s just too bad that for everything EoD does right, there is something else it does wrong. The major thing that sticks out here is there is no sense of speed. Granted, the action in real life DD events never really gets that fast, but previous games like Totaled and Demolition Racer exaggerated the action to make it seem the races were that much more exciting. My average speed in races was a blistering 50mph. If the developers would have upped the tempo of the gameplay than things could have been a lot more satisfying.

EoD controls rather easily that anyone can pick up and play within moments. It handles almost exactly like the latest Grand Theft Auto entries (minus the drive-by shootings of course), and if you’re experienced in playing the Deathring mini-games in Vice City, EoD will become second nature to you. Demolition Derby events are a blast to play, and Monster added one thing to them to make it more challenging and fun where you are penalized for camping to avoid taking damage for a extended period of time. On the bottom of the screen there is a hit meter that slowly builds up as you yield blows to your opponents, once it is topped off, weather it be from a crushing T-Bone, wicked side swipe maneuver or just a simple love bump to the fender all you receive is a message that says “Hit x1.” It would have been great to get rewarded with the aforementioned moves with some kind of recognition for the move, or even an instant kill like in Demolition Racer, so performing death-defying moves is pointless.

To shift things onto a more positive note, the Career mode in EoD is surprisingly longer than I expected and has a little more than meets the eye. Start off at your home driving your clunker of a car, and drive around your little hometown to visit one of several locales. These locations give you access to purchase upgrades, access a simple paint tool to add some designs to your ride, buy new vehicles, and challenge other opponents to mini-races for some quick cash. The main draw to career mode is going out of town and participating in “Eves of Destruction” which is an evening consisting of several events from the plethora of event types that EoD has to offer (more on that later).

The damage your vehicle accumulates is retained in each succeeding event in each Eve, there is the option to repair it, but you cannot repair it to the 100% health that it was before. So after several eves, you’ll be forced to purchase a brand new vehicle. This is actually a smart move by the developers so you can keep on par with the improving competition. The ultimate goal in career mode is to reach #1 overall rank, and you start off at number 100. After every ten ranks, you unlock video clips of various DD events and other certain gameplay-changing cheats. It took me only eight hours to plow right through the competition and be crowned the best. I wish the Career mode could have been a little bit more non-linear, you really can’t go off course and explore as either invisible walls magically appear that will catch you off guard or a “get back on course” message appears that will automatically teleport you back on the track if you have said message displayed for more than five seconds. It is a shame too since this would have been the perfect game to drive off into the country to find some extra hidden challenges. The extra mini-races you can participate in are a nice little extra, but seem tacked on as a cheap excuse for variety. Despite those drawbacks, the Career mode was still fun while it lasted.

Now when you read there are a lot of event types in EoD, how many did you have in mind? 10? 15? Think again, as EoD has an astounding 25 different events for the pickings. Some of them are of the self-explanatory DD nature like “Demolition Derby” and “Figure 8 Race.” Some just mix in certain stipulations in races like momentarily stopping in a designated area in a race or spinning around and driving the lap you just completed backwards. Then there are some modes that are more exciting like the “Figure 8 Jump Race” where two pairs of ramps from opposite directions are placed on the track, and every jump involves a risk of colliding head-on with another opponent. Another favorite of mine is the Suicide race where a field of 14 cars is split up where both drive around the track in opposite directions of each other. Expect lots of crashes and only a handful of vehicles to make it out alive.

Then there are some match types of the more absurd nature, like one that has a trailer attached onto each vehicle and your objective is to knock off your opponent’s trailer. Another one that is even weirder has vehicles that shoot explosive chickens, yes chickens, at each other, DD will never be the same again. There are also multiplayer focused modes like Capture the Flag, and even a Soccer option that is quite fun to play. Regrettably the developers forgot to include the biggest multiplayer option there is, online play. This could have been the perfect online game to battle it out in all the different match types, but it ends up as a missed opportunity where the four player split screen support will have to suffice instead.

Graphically, EoD looks a little dated, even when compared to Monster’s last game they made two years ago. The visuals are about on par with a Dreamcast game, as the vehicle textures lack that degree of polish that is expected. Even the environments look rather haphazard as the buildings and terrain are quite lacking in detail. The animation is decent at best. Panels and hoods fly off the vehicles as they take damage, but damage modeling could have been far better as nothing really sticks out that makes me go “wow that car looks ****ed up” like the latter GTA games did. What is with the weak explosions when a vehicle blows up? It barely even seems like I defeated an opponent, when I vanquish my foe I expect a big explosion with lots of flames leftover for that added sense of achievement like in Destruction Derby and Totaled. As it is, I can barely tell apart a defeated vehicle from one that is still active where the only thing that differentiates them is a slightly darker shade of smoke coming out from underneath the hood. This can make Demolition Derby events sometimes frustrating to play.

EoD has the common annoying announcer that populates almost every type of racing game today. This one actually sets a new low; the fact that his one-liners repeat almost every race is irrelevant as his extremely squelchy voice sounds like it is raping your ear. Mercifully, you can mute him out. There are some impressive names on the game soundtrack like Hoobastank, Thrice, and Rob Zombie, but the playlist only contains a meager seven licensed songs. There are a handful of instrumental stock tunes for a hair of added variety, but those beats will get repetitive in no time. Thankfully, there is custom soundtrack support which irons out that little drawback. The rest of the audio effects are what you expect from this genre, with all the collisions and engine revs sounding the same as they’ve always been for this generation.

In the end, this Test Drive installment ends up a disappointment for the average Joe Gamer. The lack of sense of speed, no online play and dated graphics all are major drawbacks. There are a boatload of gameplay modes and plenty of unlocks so the casual gamer should get the most out of this with a rental. However, if you love your DD games like me and was very disappointed with this year’s Destruction Derby Arenas than you will be in heaven with Eve of Destruction.

Graphics: 5.9
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 7.7
Replay Value: 6.2

Overall: 6.5 - but the best damn 6.5 rated game ever! ;)

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