It’s been four years since Eden Games essentially pioneered the M.O.O.R. (Massively Open Online Racing) genre with Test Drive Unlimited. The Test Drive series, which has been with us since the 8-bit era, has become all kinds of irrelevant and was in dire need of a massive engine overhaul and a shiny new paintjob. To an extent they succeeded. The game was moderately successful, and perhaps benefited from being launched when the Xbox 360 was still swaddled in diapers, and there simply weren’t many racers available in the “next-gen” market at the time. It certainly was a unique arcade-racer, with over 1,000 square kilometers to explore on the Oahu Island , jump-in competitive multiplayer racing, and a dollop of Sims-like management thrown in for good measure.
Fast forward to 2011, and TDU2 has finally been allowed to leave the starting grid after spending a sizeable amount of time in development hell. Will it pull away from the pack in a haze of burning rubber and receding tail-lights, or will it choke to a stuttering halt on the first straight? Find out after the jump.
After spending several hours with Test Drive unlimited 2, I think I’ve come to a conclusion. There’s a fantastic game hidden in here, almost begging to burst out from its various trappings, inadequacies, and technical deficiencies. The game constantly straddles the meridian between being brilliant fun and being generally frustrating that its wasted potential just becomes so much more apparent. If Test Drive Unlimited 2 is one thing, it’s ambitious, but whether due to budgetary or time constraints, those ambitions are never fully realised.
Wish you were here. Kind of.
There are many fantastic additions – 1,500 square kilometers, with the amount of roads totaling over 3,000 kilometers, featuring the (somewhat) faithfully recreated club-haven Ibiza and the wonderfully picturesque Hawaii. Day/night cycles and changing weather conditions are truly a sight to behold and provide genuine authenticity and flair to the islands’ personalities. Driving in the rain on a muddy dirt road, overcast with dark clouds, and backlit by roaring thunder and crackles of lightning is easily one of the most atmospheric moments I’ve experienced in a racer. Car damage is once again only cosmetic with mostly dents, scratches, and the occasional loose bumper, but environmental effects are wonderfully implemented, with splashes of mud and grime steadily building up while driving on dirt roads, before being slowly washed away by a sudden rainstorm.
A less fantastic addition is the forced story mode, although I’m tempted to think that the entire lifestyle simulation aspect is Eden Games’ tongue-in-cheek attempt to highlight just how empty such a club-hopping playboy lifestyle would be. It’s all so camp, cheesy, and over-the-top that I simply refuse to believe they’re taking themselves seriously with these sections of the game. As an example, the name of the first mechanic you meet is Jude, while your guide greets him with a deadpan, “Hey Jude”. If that’s not a trolling attempt from Eden I’m not sure what is. There are many more examples like this, and since you can’t skip the cut scenes, I found some solace in finding little gems like this, whether intentional or not.
Well at least the gameplay rocks, right?
Progressing through the game will require you to level up through four main categories (Competition, Social, Discovery, and Collection) to increase your main global level. There’s definitely not a shortage of content here, and completing everything from racing challenges, to collecting cars and real estate, to making friends in the game and joining various clubs, this game has some serious legs. The variety is also one of the game’s saving graces. Regardless of areas the game may fail in, the pursuit to reach level 60 is an addictive experience, one where you’ll easily forgive some of the game’s many bugs (hey, I’m driving an invisible car!) in your quest to become the ultimate socialite, snappy-dressing racing machine.
With just over a 100 cars it’s not exactly an exhaustive list to collect for automobile enthusiasts, but there’s hardly any filler here, and cars range from the Audi Q7, to an Aston Martin, and the classic Shelby GT500.
Being an arcade racer, you’re expectations are also immediately tempered. You’re not expecting the almost zen-like precision and painstaking fidelity offered by the likes of Gran Turismo or Forza. Instead this is traded off for a more casual experience, where liberties are always taken with regards to the handling and performance of the cars you’ll be racing with. And this is another stumbling block for TDU2. Vehicles do offer general differences in their handling, but they all share the same overly sensitive twitchiness to its controls. Contrary to how I normally play racers, I found the best setting to counter this was to have all the assists on, but you’ll still turn corners with slight flicks to the analogue stick since pushing it just too much will often result in immediate oversteer and the rear of the car sliding out. You’ll learn to adapt though, but a good racer hardly needs to have you adapt to its shortcomings. This is true of the newly added SUV classes as well, although to a much lesser degree, and I found myself having much more fun with the off-road races compared to the tarmac challenges.
The great wide open
Props must be given where it’s deserved though, and Eden Games have once again created a beautiful world for you to race in. Test Drive Unlimited 2 is gorgeous to look at, and the beautifully rendered environment is certainly the star of the show. This is doubly impressive considering that it’s an open-world game. Yes, some pop-in occurs but it’s hardly noticeable against the impressive vistas and cityscapes you’ll be cruising through. I often found myself driving for long stretches along a coastline at sunset, simply to soak up the beautiful scenery. Pity then that only 2 radio stations are available to accompany you on your long treks across the islands, and after hearing the same songs repeat for the 3rd time I permanently just switched it off.
Much like its predecessor, multiplayer is seamlessly integrated in your single player experience. Drive by created waypoints and up to 8 players can immediately join the race in question, or if you have enough traffic violations, other players will have the opportunity to chase you down as would-be cops. It’s a great experience – when it works. A patch is desperately needed to sort out the myriad problems the online portion suffers from. Not being able to join races, randomly bumped from a session, or not being able to invite friends are just a few of the many issues currently plaguing the game.
It’s a shame, since these initial impressions will do the game no favors. In fact, considering the rather large amount of drivel you have to wade through before you get to the good stuff, the game gives a horrible first impression. But patience truly is a virtue where this game is concerned. Stick it out, and you will be rewarded with a racer that really is unique, that has a distinct personality, and has enough content to keep you entertained for a very long time indeed. The sum of the various somewhat half-baked parts somehow manage to coalesce into a rather enjoyable whole. If you’re willing to meet the game on its own terms, and embrace some of its oddities (including the douchebag simulator), you won’t regret it. 6.5/10.