It was a game-stroke-social phenomenon. Later this year, Test Drive Unlimited returns for a sequel. We've had a sneaky peek - and it looks, well, pigging awesome, frankly.
As the man from the games company said, Test Drive Unlimited caught the makers by surprise. "We kept hearing people tell us 'I used to hang out there with my mates and drive the coast road,'" he explained.
Clearly, this social aspect had to feature in the revamped game. That wasn't the only thing that people liked from the first one though, oh no. There was the seamless switching between multiplayer and single player campaigns, the open world, the instant access to challenges and races...
Judging by this early preview, all of that is here... and then some. TDU, the original, came out in 2006. A lot has happened game-wise in the intervening four years, and much of it appears to be here.
The handling, an always enjoyable mix of arcade fun and sim-style accuracy has been rebuilt for TDU2 - not least because you've now got a lot of off-road challenges to face, not to mention a second island. That means 600 plus challenges - including a new co-op mode - and more than 3000km of roads and dirt tracks.
The old location of Oahu is still here but you start in Ibiza. Once you've broken level 10, you get access to the airport and can fly to Hawaii. Later on in the game, when you've amassed enough cash, you get a luxury yacht and sail there yourself...
That brings me to the luxury angle. This is not so much a driving game as it is complete lifestyle title. The open world environment doesn't just apply to the driving, it applies to you as an avatar. You can get out of the cars. You can hang out in your luxury apartment. You can furnish said apartment. You can buy new clothes and change them several times a day if you're so inclined. And - you ready for this - you can hang out in your apartment with up to 31 of your mates. You can take them to your garage and show them all your trophy cars. You'll probably want to as well, because the car graphics are, even at this early stage, some of the most stunning I've seen.
Indicators work. Soft tops can be taken down and raised. Electric windows open and close with a spot on hum and click. And the metallic finishes look like metallic finishes while carbon fibre looks like carbon fibre. Oh, and get your 4x4 or prize sporty number muddy and the dirt will wash off when it rains.
While the level of realism is quite superb (down to certain levels of damage), the makers are keen to stress that they're not slaves to authenticity: "it's meant to be fun" has been their philosophy when it comes to the handling and the islands' geography.
The fun quotient isn't in doubt when you see the roster of vehicles available. You can get a Zonda. The Bugatti Veyron is an option (eventually). There's even the Aston Martin One-77 which, given that there are only 77 being built, is most likely your only opportunity to get behind the wheel of one.
As you wander around the car showrooms, you can interact with other customers and, while initially you're limited to manufacturer colours, paint shops are unlockable allowing full - and I mean FULL - customisation of your garage.
As well as the single and multiplayer games, you've got a Club option. You and several mates can team up and challenge other clubs to races. In order to boost your chances, you can even spend your individual winnings on your club.
The game play isn't limited to the standard race challenges either. Hang on, do I sound like I'm gushing yet? If I do it's with good reason... Where was I? Oh yes, the other games. Because they discovered people liked to drive around looking at the scenery, there are wrecked cars to find. Spot them all and you get a new vehicle that can't be unlocked any other way. You can also pose with your car at certain points on the islands to complete another raft of challenges.
Favourite touch though? Your avatar is customisable. Yes, I realise that's not original but wait. You want to change the way your character looks? You can - by visiting a plastic surgeon. Then, after they've tweaked your nose or jowls or whatever, your avatar gets to wear a bandage for an hour. How long from release until pics of 32 mummified people in one apartment materialise on the interactive hub?
I know it sounds like I'm gushing but seriously, if Test Drive Unlimited 2 is half as good as this demo suggests, we may have a new paradigm for racing games. It's funny, immersive, slick, clever, challenging and appears to neatly straddle the worlds of fun and accuracy. It's out later this year - and I'm counting the days...