Test Drive Unlimited 2 Review

Test Drive Unlimited 2 [Available on 360, PS3, PC)
ESRB Rating: T
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Eden Games
Release Date: Feb 8, 2011

Every game needs a hook; the competition is too stiff otherwise.  On the racing front, your options are varied: Gran Turismo, Forza, Need for Speed, Burnout, DiRT…some games that just involve cars.  A few years ago, Test Drive returned in the form of Unlimited. Many interesting concepts helped it stand out: a new type of online integration, a big and open world, and non-racing content.  Now the sequel’s here, and while not much has changed, there’s plenty of noticeable expansion and refinement.  How does TDU2 fit in with the rest of the genre?

The Great:

Great variety. I said games need a hook, and with Test Drive it’s total player freedom.  Drive around to explore the islands, race against others online, compete with the AI, customize your cars/characters, etc.  The premise is that you play a valet who, thanks to a privileged client, enters a reality TV racing series called “Solar Crown”.  I think that’s a terrible name.  You take on the other racers on the show for big cash prizes, which of course mean faster cars and nicer houses.

The cars are still the stars, but like before, there are Sims elements here.  You can buy clothes to customize the appearance of your character.  You also need real estate to store all those cars, and it’s customizable too.  You go from living in a trailer to vast mansions and the like.

 

The Good:

+ Two islands are better than one.  In Test Drive, a complete recreation of Oahu, Hawaii [and its roadways], was your high-speed playground. This time Ibiza is the starting point.  It isn’t as large, but you ultimately enjoy more space to romp around in because upon reaching level 10 you can jet back to Oahu and bounce between the two on a whim. Combine the two and you have plenty of high-speed freeways and twisty scenic ocean-view roads to blaze down.  TDU2 throws in dynamic time and weather to keep things more interesting.

+ Online integration with new events. Along with open environments, TDU did well to integrate online play.  If connected to the internet, you’d occasionally pass other online racers, and by flashing your lights you could instantly challenge anyone or jump into organized races.  This functionality is back, and joining it are new co-op races, like follow-the-leader challenges. Plus there are clubs and challenge boards to test your skills and mingle with other racers.

Unfortunately the execution here is a little glitchy. Technical problems make it difficult to remain connected with friends after finishing races.  Even playing normally I often stopped seeing other players, as if the game dropped my connection.  As of this writing, the developers promise these issues will be resolved. While this does mar the experience, you have to admire their ambition.

+ More cars and new racesTDU featured a laundry list of fantastic cars; the sequel adds plenty more greats. The lower class options are lacking, but unless you avoid the races, their use won’t be necessary for long.  Many great marques are represented: Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Ford, Lotus, Pagani, and Ferrari—just to scratch the surface. The selection is European-heavy, which is OK save for one glaring bull-shaped hole from the list of manufacturers. I’m assuming it’s due to licensing.

Along with the cars are plenty of new event types: sprints, eliminators, speed trap challenges, and time trials. The SUVs open up new off-road races, which add to the variety, but they’re a little out of place.  I’ve never seen someone take their shiny Q7 off-road. Ever.

The So-So:

± Still-funky handling.  The driving physics held back TDU, and hold TDU2 back as well.  It’s really too bad, given how important racing physics are.  The handling is significantly improved from before, but it’s still not as good as it should be.  TDU is dragging behind the competition here.  Even similar cars vary widely with their handling. Some are difficult to drive at low speed.  An all-wheel-drive R8 should not be as slippery as it is.  Once you learn the game’s quirks the experience improves, but that shouldn’t be necessary.

± Inconsistent graphics. The cars are the stars, and they look fantastic.  There’s detail in the models, and the interiors are fleshed out.  The rest of the game isn’t the best-looking out there. There are technical restraints due to the sheer content, but that doesn’t help the generic character models, trees and buildings.  Plus there is a lot of asset pop-in as you drive.  You literally witness trees dissolve on the hillsides. TDU2 isn’t bad-looking, and the weather effects are nice, but it doesn’t stand out either.

± Easy. This is good or bad depending on your bias.  TDU2 is a more casual racer than most.  It eventually becomes way too easy to dominate the AI.  They aren’t bright to begin with, so challenge is lacking.  You’ll only find that online, but at least AI races score you good money.

The Bad:

Annoying characters. You will want to punch every character in the face.  You’ll wish TDU2 featured cars and nothing else.  The characters reek stereotypes and sound stupid.  Every persona looks similar, with minor differences in their cookie-cutter design. The bonus jobs you can pick up around the island are the worst.  Though you get a different character each time, the premise of the challenges is always the same, as is the acting.  The saving grace is that you can skip those scenes.

TediousTDU2 encourages exploration and rewards your driver for it, but it feels forced.  Most shops must be found without guidance.  Even if you know where a place is, if you haven’t been there at least once, prepare to drive.  I once spent several hours just to find the right tuning shop for my vehicle.  Bonus challenges also appear for a limited time.  I missed out on big extra cash simply by not being able to drive to the challenge in time, which is unsurprisingly frustrating and tiresome.

The Lowdown

TDU2 does a lot, and is unique.  However, it fails in key areas.  It’s a great overall package where the sum is greater than the parts. The freedom and exploration, exotic cars in exotic locales, are the high points.  Spending time can help you overlook the flaws too.  Since there is much room for the franchise to improve, this is one that you should probably try before you buy.

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