The Test Drive series of games is one of the oldest ongoing series when it comes to racing games, in recent years though it has been surpassed by titles such as Forza, GT5, and Need for Speed. Eden games with Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) attempts to compete with great titles in the racing world and have constructed a game that emulates what made the first Test Drive Unlimited great. But sadly what we get is a formidable online racer wrapped in a horrible story. That hampered with some dated visuals and cumbersome car handling may make this a hard sell in today's gaming landscape, but the online component is worth half the price.
Touted as a new feature, the story in Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) is abominable. Once a lowly valet, your character races in the Solar Crown championship and becomes a fixture in the vapid Ibzia social sphere. Your racing earns money and fame. Rival racers taunt and attempt to intimidate you. The problem here is the whole world has the feel of Playstation Home. Your character and the rivals you race seem like they where ripped straight from a social MMO or chat room. They have a very artificial feel and fail to convey the luxury or realistic atmosphere of a genuine high-society racing affair. Mix this lacklustre environment with a bland story and the you end up with a bunch of sequences you’d rather skip.
The concept of owning a Yacht or a mansion on Ibiza after winning circuits is appealing, and adds a dimension to the rewards system so beloved in the original title. Your house is fully customizable, placing furniture to the style of the decor. That paired with over 90 cars to view, buy and drive giving you an extensive range of driving machines to explore Ibiza with although not nearly as many as seen in other driving titles. Character customization is available via in game plastic surgery, further cementing Unlimited 2’s single player as designed for the hedonist in us all.
Beyond the luxury advantage in owning a house it grants players access to garages, and therefore to mass collections of cars. With so many different classes of circuit you will need various cars, from off-road SUV’s to supercars. Each car pertains to a specific event. For this reason the game forces you to take advantage of the real-estate market if you want to enjoy the single player in any aspect beyond the first few series of events.
The controls in TDU2 are serviceable but not near the precision the genre has come to expect. There is the ever handy driving line when needed that allows you to understand how the cars take a corner or handle a hair pin. There are three modes for control (full assist, sport or hardcore) The only problem is none of these modes really get the job done well. They all feel a bit like you are driving on water and vehicles lack proper weight. When placed next to Gran Turismo for comparison, the controls in TDU2 fall far short of the mark.
The licensing events - half training, half challenge - are determined more by trial and luck rather then skill. Also many of the things learned could be pulled off in much simpler ways when in an actual race, rendering the learning un-necessary. That being said it was good to see some sort of tutorial mode thrown in the game. It is often a failure on the developers end to assume a game is self-explanatory, without some direction many of a game’s deeper challenges can be extremely difficult. In Test Drive Unlimited 2, the developers have thought hard about accessibility.
This brings us to the online - where the game really has a chance to shine. With an online world that boasts the ability to handle thousands of players at the same time, and the freedom to drive virtually any road in the Ibiza countryside, the online is vastly superior to the single player. Once the basics are learned the game actually becomes fun again. I was able to race against real people and bet on the odds, making it more Fast and the Furious and less Redline. Basically it is an MMO with driving: the races are there to get you started and the real world people are there to keep you coming back for more.
This online world comes with a price though. The visuals of the title leave something to be desired. Despite newer racing titles looking absolutely beautiful (Need for Speed, GT5) this title looks like it is stuck in 2005. Most of the environments look flat and lifeless, and the character models look wooden. The cars shimmer and shine with real world reflections, but the game is graphically inferior to many racing games out now.
The island world of Ibiza is a refreshingly open world to explore. If you just want to get into your favorite car and drive, this may be the game for you. With over 3,600 KM of road to explore there are hours of racing just to see the island itself - also with 900km of off-road track it is like Metropolis Street Racer: Ibizia Edition. It is a shame the level of detail in the visuals is lacking since a second coat of visual polish on the world would enhance this game profoundly. I found myself exploring the world for hours seeing what new paths I could explore or what new way I could find to escape the police in the game, but I was constantly disturbed by the cardboard foliage.
TDU2 does many things but the problem is none of them are done to perfection, it often feels that features were added yet never finished. The off-road sections are nice but simply feel like a bumpier version of the on-road game. The car damage is only visual and does nothing to effect driving and the police seem like an after thought that can be avoided completely if you never happen to ram into an officer during your exploration. Overall these added features do little to elevate the title and instead hamper it’s ability to deliver a great driving experience.
This is a title that will miss achieving mass market appeal because of various technical mishaps. If you are a driving fan that wants to explore the world of European luxury this will be your title, but if you are a casual gamer that just wants to jump into races quickly without any extras added this game will stand in your way and may be worth a rental before you slap down the $50 for it.