Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: December 9, 2000
In the racing world, one event makes every other seem weak kneed. The 24 Heures du Mans, usually translated as the Le Mans 24 Hours, is the Iron Man competition that puts all others to shame in the duration category. Racing teams from around the world compete in this grueling event to see which car can cover the most laps in a non-stop race that lasts one complete day. With variable lighting conditions, changeable weather and a high probability of mechanical uncertainty, the Le Mans 24 Hour is a true test of driving prowess. Now, Dreamcast owners are being offered the chance to participate in this grueling event with the release of Test Drive Le Mans.
One might wonder at the decision to tack the Test Drive name onto this title. For one thing, the age-old formula typical of the series is absent from Test Drive Le Mans. Instead of simulating races in rural or urban areas, the Le Mans courses are controlled race tracks accurately modeled after the real thing. Of course, Infogrames might simply be hoping to cash in on the success of the Test Drive name by using its appellation for this title, similar to the use of the Descent name in Descent: Freespace. This strategy, however, requires a solid fan base and a long history of top-notch gameplay to be successful, and the recent Test Drive titles have been somewhat lacking in this department. Ultimately, it’s best to look at this product as a new phase for the franchise and ignore its lineage, because Test Drive Le Mans shares little more than a name with its forbearers.
Rather than simply letting the track define the intricacies of the course, drivers can also alter the parameters of the race itself. With individual options for each racing mode, the player gains the meteorological super power to control the weather by specifying that races are run dry, take place in the rain or in variable conditions that can switch over time. Similarly, fuel consumption and tire wear can be set to take place quickly, at a realistic rate, slower than normal, or not at all. Because the settings are event specific, rather than global, the quick race may be set up as an arcade event, while the championship mode on the same system is steeped in realism.
The course, however, will be less important to many players than the vehicle they choose to drive and its configuration. Initially, Test Drive Le Mans lets players choose from a selection of twelve vehicles, most of which are based on the GT class of cars. Based upon actual entries, fans of the Le Mans circuit will find racing teams such as Audi Sport UK and Team Augusta among the line up. For those participating in a quick race, each of the cars is rated in four categories: speed, handling, braking and acceleration. In the championship rounds, however, the vehicle’s ratings are determined by the configuration set up in the workshop. The mechanics can lower the initial fuel level, making the car lighter and faster, but compromising the vehicle’s duration in the race. Similar speed trade offs are made with each choice, improving handling with down force, or minimizing wear with harder tires. In the end, the player must balance their car to match their driving style without sacrificing too much speed or acceleration in the process.