It's been almost five years since Eden Games and Atari reinvented the steering wheel by bringing us massively open online racing with the original Test Drive Unlimited. In such a competitive genre, it takes a lot of innovation and character to stand out. With TDU2, Eden took their MOOR to a new level by blurring the lines between single- and multiplayer. Although this release is missing a fair amount of polish, fans of the original will certainly get their money's worth in Test Drive Unlimited 2.
The crux of this game revolves around the Solar Crown championship series. Spanning across the disciplines of off-road, classic, and asphalt, you're challenged with building up your image to be the most glorious racer on the islands of Oahu and Ibiza. The story does feel tacked on and it's almost painful to listen to the voice acting at times, but it's still a nice touch to be able to put a face on the drivers that you will consistently compete against.
Taking a page from the Gran Turismo series, TDU2 features a mandatory license mode that requires you to pass a handful of tests before you can earn some serious dough from the competitions. Instead of being able to earn all of your licenses at once, they are only offered to you right before a new competition becomes available. In a few select cases, the license mode helps explain some mechanics that you might not pick up on otherwise, but most of the time these missions don't add a lot of substance. For example, at the off-road school it was helpful to practice maneuvering around 180 degree turns and navigating hilly terrain, but too many challenges involve nothing more than going from Point A to Point B.
In addition to competitions, there are several other types of challenges scattered across the TDU2 world. A simple flash of the high beams is all it takes to initiate a race against another driver. It's best to play this game while connected to Xbox Live so that you can challenge other human players while seamlessly progressing in the single-player career. The cooperative “Follow the Leader” mode allows racers to work as a team in order to post the best time for a series of checkpoints. Only one racer at a time knows where the next checkpoint is, so players need to work together to be successful. There's also a chase mode that challenges you to evade police if you've commit too many crimes, and interestingly enough you can actually pursue other drivers if they tally up enough infractions. Modes like this are great to see because they add a welcome change of pace. Unfortunately, the interface isn't always straightforward, there are still connectivity bugs, and sometimes it can be hard to initiate a specific race type when you want to. Still, once you manage to actually set everything up, it's certainly entertaining to try out the plethora of challenge types.
As far as the actual driving mechanics go, this title seems to be lacking a strong identity. There isn't true simulator style racing like that of the Forza Motorsport series, and at the same time there isn't a blistering-pace arcade feel akin to Project Gotham Racing. Instead, the cars feel awkward at first and take some time getting used. Even with three different options that influence driving assistance, performing a basic maneuvers such as drifting just doesn't feel comfortable. Furthermore, a great racing game will almost make you fear for your life when you're flying through a crowded city at breakneck speeds, but TDU2 doesn't deliver this type of rush. Turning responsiveness is pretty jerky, the vehicles seem to be light and lacking substance, and overall you won't find yourself with sweaty palms nearly as often as you would with some other driving games. To top it all off, the computer AI isn't responsive to the player's driving at all, and once you get ahead of the pack the race might as well be over. This isn't to say that TDU2 is terrible, but it is missing a high level of immersion while racing.
To go hand in hand with the mediocre driving mechanics, the audio-visual is also far from breath taking. For starters, frame rate issues are a lot more common than they should be. Most of the models have bland designs and jagged edges, and the lack of detail in some of the textures is evident. The damage system is underwelming—the actual amount of damage done to a car is minimal. Occasionally, there will be times when you're cruising along the coast in sunny weather and the lighting will really bring the environment to life, but as a whole the visuals don't come across as impressive. Similarly, the engine sounds don't make you feel like you're ever in command of hundreds of horsepower, and the car horns are downright obnoxious. From a technical standpoint, this game won't be turning any heads.
In the original, players could purchase dozens of cars and even real estate in order to expand their net worth. The role-playing elements have been taken to a new stratum with this release. Players can now earn experience points in four different categories - Competition, Social, Discovery, and Collection. Earning experience and leveling up unlocks new content. It's obvious that the developers worked hard to make this game feel as personal as possible. Whereas other games typically have you unlock cars in a menu, here you actually walk around in a showroom before picking up your latest ride. Even simple touches such as being able to roll down your windows or take the top off of your convertible add an otherwise overlooked sense of realism. A pretty hefty selection of car tuning upgrades and appearance customizations are available. As if that wasn't enough, you can even visit a cosmetic surgeon to update your avatar! Overall, gamers that love exploring every last nook and cranny will have a field day here.
As a whole, Test Drive Unlimited 2 isn't nearly as exciting as it had the potential to be. The concept of a racing game that effortlessly integrates multiplayer looks great on paper, but the execution just doesn't cut it. While there is an incredible amount of content available here, the lack of finesse and polish will turn some gamers away. If you enjoyed the original, then chances are you will still like this release, but sadly this isn't the kind of driving game that will make your heart beat out of your chest.
Racer in the first Test Drive Unlimited game? What did you want to see happen with the sequel? Prefer arcade action or sim simulation? Flash your highs at us on Twitter @gamers_hell