February 11, 2011
Everyone's version of paradise is different. For some, it's dressing in rubber and having their nipples hooked up to a car battery. For others, it's sitting in their pants with a Pot Noodle in front of an episode of Jerry Springer. But for the people who inhabit Test Drive Unlimited 2's versions of Ibiza and Hawaii, everyone's dreams and goals are exactly the same: get rich, look beautiful and drive cars. Lots of expensive cars reserved exclusively for the wealthy elite. If you drive a car that doesn't cost over $100,000, then you're just fodder to be rammed into a verge or a wall.
There are no hatchbacks for the shopping run in Test Drive Unlimited 2; this is all about racing in real sports cars in a sun-kissed paradise, where your only real concern is accumulating enough cash to purchase more cars to cram into your garage, or buy another property with a lovely sea view and more space to store your ill-gotten gains. Of course, you can also play interior designer with your real estate and fiddle with the wall decorations, upholstery or even buy yourself a new coffee table if you're worried that the one you currently own doesn't quite match the curtains.
Not that those trivialities will be your primary concern. There's a big wide world out there, and it's just waiting for your burning tyre rubber to mark its miles upon miles of roads. In fact, there's well over 3000 square kilometres to cover in TDU2, with terrain ranging from arid deserts, to posh palm tree-lined suburbs, small urban pockets with shopping districts and acres of lush green grass, spotless beaches and crystal clear oceans. Which is all well and good, but you'll be too busy trying to gain momentum by grabbing as much money as you can, to start a car collection and get on the property ladder.
So, collecting and acquisitions are very much the order of the day in TDU2, as you climb the social ladder and become increasingly famous amongst your fraternity of vain and shallow racing peers. Although your race rivals are moronic and as deep as a puddle, the same can't be said for the game itself, as it's truly immense and unfathomably deep. You'll have to cut your teeth as a pro racer by first earning licences before entering tournaments based upon TDU2's three classes – A (Asphalt), B (Off-Road) and C (Classic). These licence test start off easy enough, but soon become frustratingly tough as you progress, making them an inconvenient impasse to getting into the meat of what TDU2's single-player races have to offer.
But then there's always plenty to do outside of grinding through thankless licences and fun – albeit slightly too easy – races, and it's all laid out for you through TDU2's slick and colourful interface, which shows how you're getting on with levelling up via completing discovery, collection, social and competition challenges. Yet, while the menus are undeniably neat and accessible, the lack of specific statistics is a pain, especially for a game that encourages so much collecting and grinding. It would have been nice to be able to keep tabs on how much you've done with raw numbers, rather than with vague percentages and progress bars.
You might not know what to do next given the amount of stuff presented to you in Test Drive Unlimited 2. It can be somewhat overwhelming at times and when you can see a driving school or a real estate agency at the bottom end of the map, about 30 miles away from your current position, it can be annoying. Accessing races and other events requires actually driving to the designated location, but once you've unlocked the road by driving along it, you can fast travel there any time. Long drives are helped by a couple of fairly decent radio stations with tongue-in-cheek banter and music, but until you've actually taken the time to discover a stretch of road, there's no fast way of getting around, meaning that speeding around and simply unlocking long stretches of highway and smaller winding roads is a necessary evil.
Thank goodness that TDU2 handles well then, with each of its many cars feeling and sounding as different as they should do, and handling in a nice solid manner that strikes a happy balance between arcade accessibility and straight-laced simulation. You're offered the option to pick a style of handling that suits you best, from a casual, easy model to a fun but exacting sports model (which we opted for) or harder, more realistic handling for the hardcore petrolhead. Whichever you plump for, you'll find that the game's cars – whether it's a Jaguar, Ferrari, Zonda or a Volkswagen - are responsive and enjoyable to throw around, meaning it's never a chore just driving around aimlessly.
Not that you'll ever actually be driving around aimlessly, as even when you're not focused on a single-player goal, there's wrecks to discover (finding ten grants a free bonus car), the FRIM which rewards reckless driving with cash or the lure of online challenges seamlessly integrated into the game, providing you're connected to Xbox Live, of course. These range from straightforward instant challenges issued by flashing your headlights at another player to a range of compartmentalised multiplayer modes such as races, follow the leader, speedtrap and speed challenges.
From a single-player perspective, class-based race tournaments are the crux and these are mostly very enjoyable by virtue of being so incredibly simple. It's possible to completely run away with a race, providing you're lucky enough to get a good enough boost off the starting line. We found that rival cars invariably ghosted into view in front of us, causing weird collisions before the race had even got under way. What's more, time trials are marred by your car seemingly being stuck in neutral for valuable seconds when the game is telling you to GO! “I'm trying to go dammit, but you're not letting me!” Still, races are great fun and fantastically varied, which is a plus in our book.
It's entirely possible to get swept up in simply playing online, with clubs (or guilds, if you like) to join and custom challenges to sample and rate or create yourself for others to try. You could conceivably play TDU2's online aspect forever, but the single-player campaign will keep tempting you back for more, as you continue your quest for money and notoriety. Besides, online can often have you banging your head against a brick wall, as other players are reluctant to accept when you throw down the gauntlet, and when they do, you usually find that they have a much better car than yours. This isn't the game's fault, but it's still a bugbear. Hopefully this will change when more players find their way online.
And let's hope so, as a lot of the game's achievements rely on being able to find your way into multiplayer modes, such as playing 20 challenges with your face wrapped in bandages fresh from a recent cosmetic surgery, or completing numerous objectives over and over again. As a list, there's far too much grinding involved, meaning that reaching the full 1000 Gamerscore will take hours on end to reach, with an inordinate amount of collecting and accumulation. It's a painful achievement list all told, that is severely lacking in creativity and imagination, simply consisting of 'get this many things' or ' do this X number of times' achievement parameters. It's a list that's both disappointing and well, a bit rubbish really.
Aside from that, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a good, solid sequel, with a strong and inviting single-player complemented by what is arguably its core. TDU2's social multiplayer component, which adds an almost infinite amount of gameplay is the biggest draw here, giving you the chance to show off your best cars to the world and engage in countless racing events. If however, you're only interested in playing alone, it does run counter to the game's ethos, but there's more than enough to keep you occupied with bite-size missions, licence tests, racing tournaments, cup races, real estate to buy, garages to fill with cars, boutiques, salons and cosmetic surgeons to discover, and much more besides. Test Drive Unlimited 2 is absolutely massive then, and it ticks all the right boxes, meaning that racing fans will be in petrolhead heaven.
Voice-overs are a bit naff, but the rest of TDU2's soundtrack is decent enough, with a range of satisfyingly throaty engine noises and in-car radio stations that are perfectly fine. Overall, this is serviceable audio with nothing particularly special about it.
TDU2's graphics are an improvement over its predecessor as you'd expect, but given the sheer scale of its game world, the attention to detail is rather impressive. Everything is draped in a sheen of gloss, which is entirely in keeping with the game's aspirational leanings and the weather effects are nothing short of brilliant. Car models are uniformly shiny and excellent too, apart from the slightly glitchy pedestrian cars.
Fun and accessible in equal measure, TDU2 is a real crowd-pleaser. Handling is enjoyable, enabling you to pull off powerslides and full-throttle wheelspins with ease, whereas the off-road class brings a welcome slice of dirty, gravel-based twisty-turny racing. Getting a haircut, a nose job and then dressing like a moron is also a good laugh.
A lack of motorcycles is offset by the introduction of 4WD off-road vehicles and there's a brain-melting wealth of events, missions and collectibles to unearth. Ibiza and Hawaii are sprawling, and offer loads of stuff to do. You'll be playing for months, if not longer.
TDU2's cheevo list relies far too heavily on grinding to be any kind of fun to pursue. The majority are based upon collecting X number of items, acquiring X number of cars, driving X number of miles or completing X number of objectives. It's a largely dull list bereft of invention or any thought as to what might be enjoyable for the player.
Eden Games has successfully built upon the solid foundations laid by the first TDU for Test Drive Unlimited 2, creating a genuinely inviting and gratifying racing title, online or offline. It surpasses its predecessor with fantastic visuals, hundreds of extra miles of roads to speed along and more cars and races than you can shake a gearstick at.