Test Drive Unlimited 2
Resident Citizen Game petrolhead Joe Barron takes Test Drive Unlimited 2 for a, er… test drive.
In 2006, the original Test Drive Unlimited blew gamers away with its incredible open-world, great choice of cars and surprisingly well-designed “Massively Multiplayer Online Racing” (MMOR) concept. TDU2 has been a long time in development and the expectations of die-hard Test Drive fans are high, but something of the original game’s innovation has been lost in the sequel. After Burnout Paradise, Forza Motorsport 3 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, the world of console driving games has changed and TDU2 often fails to keep up with the pace.
TDU2 takes place in a huge open world, starting in the Mediterranean island of Ibiza before moving onto the Hawaiian island of Oahu, which was originally used in the previous game. Ibiza has a distinctly European feel which makes driving the new roads a very enjoyable experience. Like Oahu, the new location features long straight highways, twisting mountain roads and small urban areas. Unfortunately, in choosing Ibiza, Eden Games have ended up with a location which just isn’t different enough to Oahu and it’s also significantly smaller, around half the size. Most of the single-player game takes place on Oahu too, so Ibiza ends up feeling like an expansion pack, rather than a new game.
Graphically, the open-world islands are stunning with incredible amounts of road-side detail. TDU2 also manages to make the locations far more believable than the first game by introducing variable weather conditions and a day-night cycle. The game looks its best at night with your headlights accurately lighting the road ahead and reflecting on other cars and objects. The wet weather visuals though are poor. The wet road textures seem to be either on or off, with no gradual build-up of puddles or drying of the asphalt. In the cockpit camera, the wipers don’t even come on and you have to actually strain your eyes to notice the miniscule drops of rain hitting the windscreen. TDU2 fails to introduce pedestrians to the series too, so like the first game, the urban areas feel like ghost towns. There is also some very noticeable pop-in and the draw-distance in some of the larger open areas is very poor.
The visual standards of the car models are far more consistent, with highly accurate designs that never fail to impress. Simply walking around your garage to admire your collection is one of the most enjoyable parts of TDU2. In the cockpit, cars are modelled right down to accurately coloured stitching, though digital instrument displays on some cars don’t function correctly. As in the first game, you can still operate the windows while driving using the d-pad and this has now been extended to include using your car’s indicators (which is a little pointless) and operating the electric roof mechanisms on modern convertibles. Watching the roof retract on your shiny new Ferrari California is mightily impressive as the complex folding mechanism must have taken a lot of effort to animate correctly.
However, while it’s great that TDU2 includes passionate attention-to-detail in some areas, other aspects of the game feel neglected. Car handling in particular has not really moved on since the first game. Despite claims of a completely new driving engine, the handling has changed very little, to the point where it is very difficult to spot any difference from TDU1. Damage is now included, but is only cosmetic and it takes several high speed crashes before you actually damage the bodywork beyond a scratch. Even then, nothing can actually fall off the car. The most damage you can do is to make the front bumper hang a little loose. All of this said, TDU2 still captures the magic of open road driving in a way that no other game ever has. Though the handling and damage are a little primitive, dodging traffic at 150mph on long desert highways, speeding down tight mountain roads and blasting through tunnels is what this game was designed for. If you come into TDU2 expecting a simulation you’ll find it comes up short, but its twitchy arcade handling does a reasonably good job.
The single-player game in TDU2 is one of the lengthier driving experiences on consoles, taking around 20-30 hours to complete every event. Rather bizarrely, Eden Games have attempted to shoehorn a narrative into the game to make it more compelling. Your character is a valet who after dreaming of sun and supercars is whisked into Ibiza’s “Solar Crown” street-racing tournament through a chance meeting with the host of a TV show covering the event. There’s a full story complete with some very odd cut-scenes acted out by some slightly robotic looking characters with some of the worst voice-acting you could ever hope to hear. There really is some “so bad its good” presentation during the narrative segments of the game, including some unintentionally hilarious dialogue during the build up to races. “Oh no! The Wilder Brothers are squabbling with Stewart again!” It’s as if Eden Games looked at Need for Speed: Most Wanted and tried to create a hipster version of that story with characters based on annoying “socialite” celebrities. It is very weird, but you will certainly get a few laughs from it.
The gameplay content of the single-player events is very similar to TDU1, with standard races, time trials, top speed challenges and elimination races where the person in last drops out at the end of each lap. Early progress is slow with a reliance on classic cars and 4x4s, but after the first 2 or 3 hours you’ll be enjoying the likes of Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes, before wrestling with some true monsters later in the game. TDU2 really is a game for hardcore car fans, offering some great vehicles which you simply won’t find in Forza 3 or GT5, such as the Ariel Atom 500 V8 and the Ascari A10. Off-road racing is also introduced this time around; though don’t expect to be drifting Subaru Imprezas and Mitsubishi EVOs on rally stages. Off-road in TDU2 involves SUVs like the Range Rover Sport and Audi Q7. It’s an interesting change of pace that doesn’t appear in any other modern racing games, but after your third hour-long championship in these cars, they begin to overstay their welcome.
There are plenty of single player side-missions which encourage you to explore more of the islands. Like the first game, many of these involve helping out NPCs, by giving them a lift, taking thrill-seekers for joy-rides, or delivering cars to different destinations, receiving rewards based on the car’s condition when it arrives. There’s plenty of variety here and the different events appear on the map at different times of day so there is almost always something to do, on both islands. You can also hunt for wrecked cars on the islands. If you find all 10 in a given area, the local second hand dealer will provide you with a secret classic car as a reward.
Of course, even with all these side missions it still wouldn’t be a Test Drive Unlimited game without some crazy customisation options and a ton of stuff to buy. There are around 100 cars to add to your collection and you’ll need plenty of garage space to accommodate them. Buying houses is still the core of the economic system in TDU2 and there are far more to choose from this time. You can even buy furniture and customise the decor to impress your online friends when you invite them over. You can also walk around your house and other social locations in first-person, interacting with other players via text and voice chat.
Of all the weird things in TDU2, the oddest is the avatar customisation. In the first game you were immediately able to design your character in whatever way you liked. In TDU2, you can’t even get a new haircut until a couple of hours in and it takes even longer before you are invited to visit a “cosmetic surgeon” to modify your avatar’s facial appearance. Not only does it take far too long before you can do this, but once you choose your facial options you leave these menus with your avatar’s face covered in bandages! It is one of the most surreal aspects of attention-to-detail in any modern video game, forcing you to wait for quite some time before the bandages disappear. It’s difficult to fathom how this feature was deemed important enough for the final product when more time ought to have been spent on the game’s core driving mechanics and improving the visuals.
Thankfully, for all of the utterly mad design decisions made throughout this game, the “Massively Multiplayer Online Racing” (MMOR) elements are still fantastic. TDU veterans will feel instantly at home with the familiar instant challenge feature, allowing you to flash your headlights at any driver you bump into online to start a quick one-on-one race. You can also still create and join clubs, with the additional incentive this time of “Club Cars;” exclusive models which can only be driven my club members, including amongst others, the Lotus 2-Eleven and Ferrari FXX. Like the houses, you can walk around your club’s HQ in first person, interacting with other members. The MMOR aspects of TDU2 are by far the most innovative part of the game. Bumping into other players in the open-world is still a very unique experience and helps the whole game feel far more alive and interactive than it would be as an offline only title.
Alongside the MMOR gameplay, there are some more traditional multiplayer modes which mirror the race types found in the career. These don’t offer anything that you haven’t seen in other racing titles before, though they help to keep the spirit of competition alive for motorsport fans. There are also club vs. club races for people who want a more team oriented challenge.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is one of the most unusual, one-of-a-kind experiences available on the current generation of consoles. From the innovative, to the downright bizarre, it really has a lot to offer to anyone who is interested in racing games, open-world exploration, or MMOs. There is a sense of freedom and community in the game which is unmatched in the world of racing games; however it should be noted that the single-player experience and the handling of the cars have many flaws. If you’re only interested in simulation then you might want to stick with Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. However if you’re searching for a more relaxed driving experience and are interested in online social gaming and exploration then TDU2 is most definitely the driving game for you.