Video Review: Test Drive 4

Andy waxes philosophical with breakfast metaphors and phallic innuendo in this review of the late 90’s arcade-style racer Test Drive 4 for the Sony PlayStation.

Review transcript:

Cheesy low-resolution intro video? Check. Awful, generic techno music? Check. Narrowly avoiding a certainly fatal head-on collision with a semi truck? You’re goddamn right!

It looks like a late-90s racing game. It certainly sounds like a late-90s racing game. It is a late-90s racing game! It’s Test Drive 4 for the Sony PlayStation.

It’s actually hard at this point to remember a time before Gran Turismo, a time when racing games were extremely shallow, a time when you didn’t get the hundreds of cars and the dozens of tracks. Well, actually that time does exist again unless you want to pay $50 for DLC (I’m looking at you, Forza Motorsport 5).

But this is not a review of Forza 5; this is a review of Test Drive 4. And the reason I review this game is because this is actually the first console game I ever owned in my life. You see, when I turned 11 years old, my parents finally agreed to buy me a Sony PlayStation, and brought me to the store to get the PlayStation and any game that I wanted. I could have picked Final Fantasy VII. I could have picked Crash Bandicoot 2. I could have picked Tomb Raider. But I picked Test Drive 4.

And I want to say that Test Drive 4 kind of breaks away from the identity of the series, but then again, I think about it, and the Test Drive series, although it’s been around for decades, never really has had an identity. It’s just kind of a vague, nondescript label that whoever happens to own it throws on whatever sort of game the put out at the time.

Saying that you’re a fan of the Test Drive series is like saying that you’re a fan of bread. Okay, you like bread, but what kind of bread do you like? There’s whole wheat bread. You could go with white bread, or honey wheat bread. I don’t really know. You need to be more specific. Test Drive 4 is like this old, crumbly, piece-of-shit bread that you find in the back of your cupboard late at night. When you’re drunk. And just want toast. And then you realize that you don’t have any jam. Hell, you don’t even have any peanut butter. Test Drive 4 is like a dry, burnt piece of toast that somebody made drunk and made you eat.

To start, the controls are awful. It’s nearly unplayable at points, especially with the D-pad. And oh, there is analog controls, but it does this weird thing that… it maps your throttle and your braking to the right analog stick, which kind of is novel — it gives you analog control over your acceleration in a time when they didn’t have analog triggers, but it just feels weird and makes the whole thing just feel like a damn mess.

And if the controls weren’t a big enough obstacle for you to overcome in this game, the game is absolutely cheap as hell. You’re opponents can run you off the road, spin you around, or flip you over with ease. Oh, and after that, a cop’s going to pull you over and make you sit in place for a while. Still haven’t had enough? Well, guess what? You’re about to bump into the back of a compact car and send yourself flying into the countryside as a fiery wheel of steel and death and gasoline.

I believe it was Reese Bobby who, in the movie Talladega Nights, said “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” I disagree. If you ain’t first, well, you’re probably playing Test Drive 4.

But, to the game’s credit, it does look pretty good overall. The environments are kind of cool. The scenery is decent-enough-looking. The car models aren’t terrible, and for the limited amount you get, the ones they did add into the game are actually pretty awesome. You’ get the Shelby Cobra. You’ve got the Dodge Viper. Who didn’t love that Dodge Viper back in the late 90s? The Jaguar XJ220 is there. But sadly, no forklift. Trust me, I looked.

And as limited as the cars are, the game modes are even less plentiful.You get a Single Race, you get Championship, and you get a Drag Race. And while it is kind of stupid, it actually does serve a purpose, being it’s the only race you can actually win in the game, which you need to do in order to enter cheat codes. And this game has a cheat code that, through all the other things in gaming that I’ve forgotten, going back to my first console game, I remember this code. And it’s SAUSAGE. And I don’t know if that’s a Freudian thing — I mean, trust me, if you asked me the Konami code, I’d probably get it wrong most of the time, to be honest. But damn it, I remember SAUSAGE. And SAUSAGE unlocks a bunch of cool extra cars. Well, I think like four extra cars… But you do get this cool Pitbull car, named after the developer of the game. And it goes really, really fast, and it’s fun to do barrel rolls with over the hills of San Francisco.

And, damn it, at the end of the day, despite everything that’s wrong with it — despite the awful controls and just… there’s so much that’s wrong with this game — I still had fun playing it. And I don’t know why. I never won, the game is extremely cheap, and there really isn’t any reason to enjoy this game, but I did.

And in that way, I think Test Drive 4 is sort of a metaphor for life. If you can just get past the inherent horribleness of it all, make peace with the fact that you’re never going to win, that it’s going to be full of disappointment, well maybe you can still have a little fun along the way. And if not, you can at least piss off a few cops along the way, fly through the air haphazardly in a vehicle shaped like a dog, or you could drive like a maniac through a Japanese mall on your way to an early grave. Or maybe this game will just make you angry. Or sad.

Or maybe I just like SAUSAGE.

It’s Toast Drive — I mean, Test Drive 4 for the Sony PlayStation.

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