Test Drive Unlimited. It’s always been a bit of an escape for me. A door that would close the current world just once seeing the loading screen. It would open the door of possibilities. The door of my dreams. A world where I would own beautiful houses, in the most beautiful places on Oahu, and where I would spend my time driving throughout the island, simply cruising behind the wheel of my dream cars, the 1971 Lamborghini Miura SuperVeloce, or the 1986 Ferrari 288 GTO. For a very long time, I wished Test Drive Unlimited had become my real life. I wanted to live in Test Drive Unlimited. At one point I spent so much time in the game, I could barely say I was living, and it was becoming very dangerous. I failed my first year at my university partly because of TDU. But I am and will always be grateful of the Atari developers for designing such an amazing game. So, it was without any doubts that for my last week-end in the United States, I took a direct flight to Honolulu, in the quest to see how is Test Drive Unlimited in real life. Text: Mickael B. © Photos: Mickael B. ©
I didn’t want to do the average tourist. I wanted to live the experience I had had in the game.
First of all, I must confess. I know Hawaii is a surfer’s paradise, and a privilege region of the world for several rare animal and plant species, but sadly I don’t surf, and I am not very interested in plants nor animals. I was going to Oahu with the pure petrolhead’s mind. I was going to Hawaii to experience the scenery throughout cruising, driving, hoping to see maybe some of the interesting cars I used to find in Test Drive Unlimited. I was staying at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, at one end of Honolulu’s most famous beach, Waikiki, but had decided not to do like an average tourist, which usually stays in Waikiki and eventually drives up to the North Shore on the few highways of the island. I wanted to explore, I wanted to go to all these places I went to in the game. I wanted to live the gaming experience I had had for hours. Diamond Head State, the airport on the top north west end, my big house in Honolulu, the amazing classic Ferrari dealership on the eastern shore, and so on. And mostly, I wanted to do the complete Island tour, discover this place that I had dreamed about for so long…
My rental convertible Chevrolet Camaro SS turned out to be yellow. What better coincidence for a Transformers enthusiast like me ?
I had rented a brand new 2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible, which turned out to be yellow. As a Transformer’s enthusiast, what better coincidence could it be ? Equipped with the 6.2 liter V8 developing 400 horsepower, because it was fitted with the automatic 6 speed gearbox. Weird when you think that opting for the manual gearbox will bring you an additional 26 horsepower, and will even decrease the fuel consumption. Still, plenty enough normally for loads of driving fun. Well until you look to the curb weight, which is close to 1750 kilograms. Not too much of a ballerina, not too much of an elephant, but more likely to a sumo. Not the kind of person you would choose to run the 100 meters. Nevertheless I was very happy to find this car after my long eight hours flight from Dallas and jumped in.
The Camaro SS weight is not too much of a ballerina, not too much of an elephant either, but more likely to a sumo. Still not the kind of person you would choose to run the 100 meters.
As I was driving a 2015 Mustang Ecoboost in Texas, immediately I compared it to my rental car here in Hawaii. Damn ! No keyless entry ! Damn ! The interior doesn’t look as good ! Damn ! What’s this big ugly gear-lever ? While Ford has made a lot of efforts in terms of interior quality, specifically since the 2015 model year, the Chevrolet feels almost ten years behind. Where the seats of the Mustang feel inviting and protective, the Camaro’s aren’t just as good. And it’s a bit like that for everything. You just feel once you’ve driven the Ford that the Chevy is not just as good as it could and should be. The touchscreen feels not just as big, the steering wheel does not get in hand as well as the pony, there is no automatic air conditioning, and the sheer interior finish does not feel as welcoming as it does in the Mustang, both in terms of materials and ergonomics.
You just feel once you’ve driven the Ford that the Chevy is not just as good as it could and should be.
Now let’s get to the driving. Well. Sadly, thanks to the Hawaiian speed limits which are mostly 25 miles per hour (40 km/h), I can say that the Camaro SS climbs to that speed rather fast. If there were at least a few passing zones to play with, I could at least have had a little fun overtaking and see what was really in the guts of that V8, but I couldn’t find any almost. Even most of the highways are limited to 45 miles per hour. That’s 70 km/h, not even the minimum legal highway speed in Switzerland. So let’s say it was frustrating. Very frustrating. So I enjoyed my time cruising at 25 miles per hour, and when I was bored of driving like a 70 year-old granny, I started driving like the most horrible maniac, slowing down to something close to walking speed and then flooring whatever I could until I hit traffic again. And once I had been too shaken by these huge accelerations and braking, I would simply get back cruising, which, given the fact I had the convertible, was easy and very enjoyable.
Thanks to the deadly slow speed limits in Hawaii, I started to drive like the most horrible maniac. And as soon as I got bored, I simply went back cruising, which, given the fact I had the convertible, was very easy and enjoyable.
Temperature was warm for a beginning of a September, but it was very humid, and with some huge rain moments, where you would get properly showered. I went to do a few hikes, starting at the Diamond Head State Monument where I used to have my main home in Test Drive Unlimited called Kuilei Beach Grand View, and I have to admit that the view is simply mind-blowing. The hike is a few dollars and takes around 20 minutes for a good walker, but is definitely worse the trip. Once at the top you get an overlooking view of all Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, the whole Diamond Head Volcano and surrounding mountains. There are several points and hikes to do in Oahu, but being alone, and for a very short amount of time I stayed on the main ones, and went to the most south-eastern point of the island where another amazing hike gives you great views of Maunalua Bay, Makapu’u Beach and surrounding islands. I went as well throughout central Oahu on some trails but got lost and was very surprised of how badly people living there reacted when I simply told them I was a tourist and wanted to know my way : “Go back home”, “You don’t belong here”.
I was genuinely surprised by these reactions, which must have been from true Hawaiian people, as most of the people working in the tourist areas, such as Waikiki, were either American or Japanese. And I have to admit that throughout my adventures in Central Oahu, where I saw the situation of the real Hawaiians, I was deeply surprised of how poor and how bad their situations were. Even inside Honolulu, while I was simply looking for one of the homes I had in the game around Kakaako Beach, I stumbled across a small shantytown… And as it wasn’t expected at all, I really wanted to help these people. Why were they in such situations ? Probably because Hawaii has no real industry and because its government wants to protect its wildlife and flora, so the result is that true Hawaiians, which have very little education, can only go work for tourists or keep their original fishing activities.
There are several great easy hikes in Oahu, such as the Diamond Head State Monument or the South Eastern Point of Oahu, which should not be missed.
One of the other reasons maybe why there is so many poverty in Hawaii is that the United States Army has still a consequent amount of military bases that occupy quite a lot of space. A space which of course is not accessible if you are not accompanied by at least one military personnel. And I was very disappointed to learn that the very fun mountain road I used to take in the game with the stunning views from Central Oahu to the western shore, called Kolekole road is in the Schofield Barracks military base. I tried all gates, sneaking around a way to get in with the car to see the view from the Kolekole pass but remained unsuccessful throughout the week-end. I don’t know how much territory do the United States Army occupy in Oahu but it truely impressed me. So my advice is, if you come to Oahu and want to really visit the most of the island, bring in one of your friends from the US Army or Marine.
Ideally if you want to enjoy fully the Hawaiian islands, try to be accompanied by an US Army friend.
Apart from the Kolekole mountain pass, another typical Test Drive Unlimited thing I wanted to do was the complete island tour, which used to be a quite tricky and long race on the first edition of the game. But sadly, again it is not possible. While almost everything is actually feasible, the top northwest point is not accessible by car. So the best tour you’ll be able to do, starting from Honolulu, is reaching first the southeast coast, by going along Waikiki, Diamond Head State Monument, then towards Kahala Avenue, where there is sadly no beacon as in the game, but only parkings, then following the Kalanianaole Highway. Afterwards, head North to Kahuku on the same highway, passing Waimanalo Beach, and Kailua. There is no access to the Kaneohe Bay as it as a US Marine base. Continue on the Kamehameha Highway through Kualoa and finally reaching Kahuku. All TDU fans will instantly recognize the Kawela and Turtle Bay entrance with its two golfs, which have been remarkably well modeled in the game.
You can then continue to Haleiwa. Haleiwa is very famous for all its shrimp trucks, shrimp restaurants, and picturesque surf shops. Be sure to taste the classic butter garlic shrimps and the coconut shrimps, while looking at the professional surfers doing tricks on the waves. North Shore is much wilder than Waikiki and less crowded, which makes it truely perfect for a noon break. From Haleiwa, you then have two options, either hit the dead-end of the Dilingham Airfield, which you will immediately recognize, or hit for Central Oahu. It is very sad that there is no passing point beyond the airfield, but I think it is still worth the trip to hit that dead-end just once. Getting back to central Oahu, you can reach very easily by the highways the south west point in Ko Olina, where I used to have a house too in the game, but is in reality a golf club and resort. Then you can either choose to head back north on the western side using the Farrington Highway, hitting the dead end around the Satellite Tracking Station Road, or head back to Honolulu.
The North Shore is all about shrimp trucks, shrimp restaurants and picturesque surf shops. A great place to go to avoid the crowd from Waikiki.
The developers from Test Drive Unlimited did a phenomenal job modeling as precisely as possible Oahu, while still transforming it into what it should really be: a petrolhead’s dream place.
During the four days I stayed in Oahu, I did probably five complete tours of the island, trying different itineraries, but what truly impressed me was how some places already look extremely familiar to me. The first night I was in Honolulu, I lost myself in the city but found my way back without turning in my GPS because of my excellent souvenirs of Test Drive Unlimited. The level of details that the game designers had incorporated in recreating Oahu is simply phenomenal and I think one truly captivates this work while going the first time to this island. What I admire today even better is the way they transformed subtly the real Oahu into a petrolhead friendly Oahu, with passing zones, accessible wide roads and highways, hiding as well the real problems of the island with the poverty and military bases, while still keeping the essence that makes the charm of Hawaii : the sceneries and the relaxing atmosphere. The experience brought by Test Drive Unlimited was really unique and I have to admit I still haven’t find it back in any other game yet.
Test Drive Unlimited was a blend of perfection. The cars, the roads, the houses and your friends. What else did we need ?
Test Drive Unlimited was a blend of perfection. The roads, the cars, the houses. Your friends. Now it’s time for us to turn the game into reality, by continuing to perpetrate the TDU legacy. Living the automotive way…
Would I go back to Hawaii ? If I was more into surfing, shrimps or nature, definitely. But is quite far from Europe for a petrolhead, and California or Florida are probably better places to spend some nice automotive holidays while still enjoying the joys of the sea, and all the benefits of the United States.
Check out here below a small preview of our trip finding out what Test Drive Unlimited is like in real life, on the southeast shore of Oahu, and our complete gallery.