Test Drive Unlimited 2 – the PS3 Attitude review
Describing Test Drive Unlimited 2 to someone who hasn’t played it is a challenge. Eden Games has created something that is decidedly different from any other racing game; in fact, only a small part of its package is racing. It is set in an open world platform across the islands of Ibiza and Hawaii, where there are 3200km of unexplored roads and a further 900km of dirt tracks just waiting to be cruised on in the finest performance cars around.
With its sprawling setting, TDU2 bears more similarities to Grand Theft Auto than, say, Gran Turismo. If you want to enter a competition, you drive to its location. The races even take place on the streets so you will often have to dodge Sunday drivers. Should you not fancy racing, you will always find plenty of other distractions, whether it is discovering the sights or shopping for clothes or getting to grips with TDU2’s many social tools.
These social tools set TDU2 apart from the competition. In essence, it is a massively multiplayer online. The roads of Ibiza and Hawaii are not reserved for you; you will share them with the tens of others who are playing on the same server. You can instigate challenges, have a race, or join a guild with them – alternatively you can just ignore them and continue with your singleplayer game. Crucially, you can play in the way that suits your mood.
This community engagement can (and should) be very exciting, but so far it has been disappointing. The first Test Drive Unlimited was riddled with server issues and we are sad to say that the sequel has just as many. Before putting the game down to write this review, we were unable to get into clubs or even start an online event. The phrase “This session is now closed” has been frustrating us all week.
Normally, we are reluctant to mention bugs and server issues in reviews because they are often fixable. We would not want to put off anyone buying the game several months down the line because they picked up a review that warned of issues that were no longer relevant. However, in its current state, online play is near impossible so people need a warning. Nevertheless, we are reassured by Eden Games’ response to the situation. There is constant interaction with the community over Twitter and on the TDU2 forum. They accept that there are problems that have to be resolved and they are working round the clock to do just that.
Should Eden Games get on top of these bugs, we would not have any problems promoting TDU2’s impressive online features. The challenges are especially good. At any place on the map, you can place markers for where you want your event to take place before choosing a game mode. These challenges are accessible to everyone through the community station. There is even some light gambling involved, which adds some spice; depending on the conditions set by the creator, a challenger must put down a stake before they can take part. The rewards are greater for those who the enter competitions that request a higher stake.
As many of the online modes have been out of reach, we have spent a lot of time dabbling in the singleplayer sections. TDU2, unlike its predecessor, has a proper narrative and story, and it even has cutscenes and an out-of-car first-person mode. The story is not particularly noteworthy for its quality, but it is good to have that narrative driving you through the game.
TDU2 begins at a party – your birthday party – where a group of trendy millionaires can be seen dancing and looking very photogenic (or so they would if their avatars were not so flat and plain). It is the sort of party where you bump into Paris Hilton and engage in an in-depth discussion on the philosophical implications of splitting the atom.
As it is your birthday, one supposedly attractive person has a surprise for you: a brand spanking new Ferrari. You are a lucky boy – right? Well, no actually – after a short and wonderful trip down the road, it soon becomes clear that you were dreaming all along. You are a valet and not a millionaire. You have fallen asleep in a Ferrari. It belongs to that kind female friend you were dreaming about, but it turns out she’s not that kind after all – actually, she is downright horrible and shallow, and you will probably grow to hate her as the story progresses.
She does a favour for you on this occasion, though: instead of firing you, she asks you to get her to the next big race, quickly. If you succeed, which you will, you will be able to take part in the “biggest racing competition in history” – the Solar Crown. She also hooks you up with some of her friends, who will find you a caravan for you to call your home and give you some small change (in the tens of thousands bracket) to spend on a second-hand car. If only that is how life really worked.
Here, you are stepping on to the driving/social ladder, and we doubt you will be surprised to know that you will become successful and part of the elite. Your success will bring you wealth, and you can spend this money on many thing – but mostly cars, we presume. There are over 90 available from launch and these vary from the Land Rover to the Bugatti Veyron. There are also classic cars available such as the old Jaguar E-Type. The general rule is that the more expensive cars are better drive
You will soon realise that your caravan does not have much in the way of space; therefore, the estate agents will likely be your next destination, and you may spot a fancy seaside hotel. Afterwards, you will probably want to buy new furnishings, and you may notice that your avatar isn’t dressed for the occasion; a trip to a designer clothes shop and to the hairdresser may be in order.
TDU2 is possibly the shallowest game of 2011. Everything is showy, shallow and completely lacking in self-awareness. We hope the writers were aiming for humour (taking inspiration from the satirical writings of Gran Theft Auto) and are actually aware of how wretched their characters are. Either way, the writing is not as sharp as we would hope it to be, so what you see is a celebration of a cold vacuous lifestyle.
On some occasions, Eden Games nail the humour; for example, you can get plastic surgery and completely revamp your face. Afterwards you will walk around with bandages covering your face. It is a funny sight and you will probably take a picture. However, some of the other occasions are just cringeworthy. If you go to a car wash, you will have a bunch of bikini-wearing “sexy” models seductively clean your car. It is just weird.
Our first few hours in TDU2 were spent doing driving licences, racing in the first competition and answering calls from people who wanted to meet us. It is unlikely that you will venture far away from the main narrative at first. You may take part in the odd event; possibly pick up a person, who needs their supercar taken for a service, or pick up a man, who wants you to tail his girlfriend who he suspects is cheating on him – the usual sort of thing you would normally ask a passing stranger.
The game keeps a hold of you in the early stages, but this is a sensible move. If you were thrown straight into the world, you would probably find yourself lost and confused by it all; it is good to have your hand held until you understand what is going on. It only restricts you for a couple of hours, and after that, you are free to go down your own paths. You will likely choose the route that leads to the most experience or money.
When you complete small objectives, you gain experiences. The objectives are split into four self-explanatory categories: competition, collection, discovery and social. Your collection level will rise as you buy more cars and homes, and your competition rank will rise once you win a few races. There is also a global rank, which takes into consideration your scores in each of the four categories. The ceiling level is 60.
It is very easy to gain experience – if you are not, we would presume you are just standing still. Even driving on new roads adds to your experience in the discovery rank. It is a well-tailored system. The mode rewards you no matter how you choose to play the game. You do not have to be play competitively to get ahead.
Money is a little harder to come by, or at least to keep hold of. The best way to earn money is to win races. Once you have the appropriate licences and cars (competitions are specific to certain car and licence types), you will want to get involved in the tournaments as soon as possible. In each competition, you will have different race types. Some will be looped races and others will be time trials, but there are more interesting modes, such as the speed races (where points are awarded for sustaining high speeds on the roads) and speedtrap races (where a player’s speed is measured when they pass through speed cameras – the player with the highest average wins).
We must make this clear: TDU2 is not a game for racing purists. Its handling model is famously unwieldy. The cars are equally prone to wild movement and frustrating oversteer – they don’t behave as you would hope. Neither do they have a devilish streak, as cars would in the best arcade racers. What you are left with is something that is functional (it does the trick) but lacks personality. Only once we could afford top end sports cars did we start to enjoy racing.
In addition, because of the game’s open design, which has races happening on the streets, you never get those special racing moments. It is unlikely you will ever grow to love specific races in TDU2 because of their seemingly random nature. You never feel compelled to return to them and learn the breaking points.
Though competitive racing is not TDU2’s forte, it does not mean that it is a failure. The races feel unpredictable – you will often have to rely on the map to guide you in the right direction, and as well as having to worry about taking the wrong turns, you will have to dodge the oncoming cars. It is completely hazardous – and that can be very exciting. It is even better if you can get other humans involved. Flash your headlights at another player to instigate a challenge, and if they accept, you will be instantly thrown into a competitive environment.
In the end, the competitive play is not what appeals to us when we play TDU2. Our greatest moments have come when we were simply driving along unexplored roads and taking in the sights. Its graphics are not impressive – very much early generation quality – but the settings are very appealing, especially the sun-kissed lands of Hawaii. Hawaii also boasts some incredibly long, straight, roads that you can cruise along at 150 mph. These moments are a complete joy. The game runs on a real-life day and night cycle and has a dynamic weather model so the world around you always feels dynamic.
There is also a fantastic risk-reward system in place when free driving. You will gain money should you have a near-collision, an impressive drift or even a take-off. It is not much but it encourages you to drive on the edge. Nevertheless, here is the twist. You can either bank the money or keep hold of it (i.e. build an accumulator). You can earn a decent amount of money if you drive on the edge, but the slightest collision will reset your money to zero. Inevitably, you will probably find yourself losing money regularly. It usually happens when a hedge (seemingly made from titanium) pops up from nowhere. You will probably blame the driving physics.
There are reasons why you could be disappointed in TDU2. There’s no doubt that it’s a game that has many flaws – driving, narrative, server issues etc. – but it’s also an incredibly ambitious game. Few developers would even dream of merging the racing and massively multiplayer online genres, and for the most part the team has succeeded at creating a compelling and exciting experience. It is unlike anything else out there so we can excuse its rough edges. That does not mean that it is not without its joys either. Frankly, just cruising along unexplored roads in our new Ferrari was a pleasure and we hope to be enjoying these simple joys long into the future.
We just hope that the servers will be up and running smoothly again soon so we can start building guilds and get back to cruising with our mates. After all, it may be fun playing TDU2 on your own, but it is designed to be a social experience. That is when it really comes into its own.