Test Drive Unlimited 2 Review

As a big fan of driving games, I was delighted to find out about Eden Games’ new project, Test Drive Unlimited 2. I have not played the previous Test Drive Unlimited game and so I was looking forward to a new driving experience that wouldn’t feel as familiar to me as the likes of Forza 3, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit and Burnout Paradise, the promise of an MMO racing game was also a prospect that I just couldn’t miss out on. I wasted no time in purchasing a copy of the game on its release and getting right into it.

When starting the game I was prompted to choose my character from a choice of several at a pool party, I didn’t actually like the look of any of them though and as there isn’t an option to create your own character, I was left disappointed. As Test Drive Unlimited 2 encourages you to customise your character and make him/her look to your liking with clothes and hairstyles, I feel that it should really have just let me design my character from scratch in the first place so that I could truly be satisfied – there is hardly even a range of skin tones to choose from which should be the bare minimum in terms of customisation. Nonetheless I managed to pick a character that looked similar enough to me (he was also standing next to the pool whilst everyone else danced around him – definitely me…) and proceed with the story. After talking to some friends that also own the game, I managed to work out that even though you get to pick from several different characters, none of them actually differ from each other in any way apart from appearance as they all have the same voice (unless they are a different gender…that would be weird) and same lines of dialogue.

Once I had overcome the whole issue of choosing a character I liked, I was delighted to see that my character had been treated to a shiny new Ferrari for his birthday… of course this was too good to be true and it wasn’t long before my character awoke from his dream and was brought back to the harsh reality of his valet job. It was no biggie though because no less than 30 seconds after sleeping on the job and being a breath away from unemployment, I was driving the host of the brand new “solar crown championship” to a studio to film a TV advert as a reward. It was after I had been announced as a new competitor in the tournament that I began expecting my character to wake up again, I just couldn’t believe that this ridiculous story could actually be real. Unfortunately it was. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece from TDU2, but is something at least slightly believable too much to ask for? From this point onwards you can choose to take part in events from the Solar Crown Championship whenever you want, thankfully they pay well which is pretty much the only reason I continued to do them – it certainly wasn’t for the dialogue!

Speaking of dialogue (no pun intended), lines are repeated a lot throughout the game to the point of insanity, if I hear about “the Wilder brothers squabbling with Stuart” one more time before starting a race, I think I’m going to cry. I actually find the voice acting in the game to be pretty good otherwise, you rarely get to hear your own character’s voice in the game but each of the other characters all sound noticeably different and the voice actors do a great job in bringing them to life.
The cars in the game all sound unique and fantastic and as anybody that loves cars will know, the sound plays a big part in the appeal of a vehicle when driving, this game then is not one for disappointing in that department.
On a disappointing note, there is only 2 radio stations to choose from and precious few songs on each, there is therefore not much variety to listen to when driving and I was forced to play music from my hard drive if I didn’t want to simply get bored of the soundtrack whilst cruising.

When driving around the city you can take part in various events in order to earn yourself a little extra money, an example of one of these comes from when I was taking my shiny new Audi R8 out for a spin one night and I stumbled upon someone that asked me to follow his girlfriend’s car as he had suspicions about her. The event that took place then was the typical “don’t let them get away/don’t get too close” game that rears its head in every sandbox release. Not exactly new and exciting, but fun nonetheless. Other events in the game consist of “driving convoy” events in which you must drive someone else’s car from point A to point B, causing as little damage to it as possible, and taxi events which see you picking up random pedestrians that are too tired to walk anymore and driving them home. These events are certainly a nice addition to the game even if they do suffer from the ridiculous storyline bug that the devs seem to have caught… It’s worth doing them anyway just to experience the hilarity of your character smiling and giving thumbs up after witnessing a man crying about his broken relationship! Or maybe that’s just me.

Another way of making some extra cash in the game is through the use of the “Free Ride Instant Money (F.R.I.M)” system installed into each of your owned vehicles. F.R.I.M rewards you for driving dangerously just like the system in the Burnout series. TDU2 builds on this however by adding a banking system much like that of The Weakest Link’s, which sees you making a choice on whether to bank your money and add it to your total, or risk losing everything you earned by continuing on for a larger prize. F.R.I.M somehow manages to make cruising around the islands even more enjoyable than it already is, and you can easily find yourself becoming addicting to challenge of stacking your reward using it – I know I did (although if you too are a rubbish driver it’s best to bank early to save yourself from disappointment – I’ll never forgive that bus driver…)

Graphically the game isn’t great – in fact it looks horrible. Being that we are in 2011 I expected to see a good looking game when I put the disc into my xbox, instead I found myself having to check that I hadn’t somehow time travelled back to 2006 when developers were still getting used to the new hardware. It has to be said however, that the cars themselves do look pretty nice – not amazing as those in so many other games released in the last few year,s but they definitely stand out when compared to everything else in the game.
At one point whilst clothes shopping, I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror which allowed me to see the terribly out dated animations. I was shocked to see my character simply walking on the spot whilst moving in various directions on the shop floor. It’s therefore probably a plus that you can’t choose to walk around in third person or actually see your body when out of a car (besides in an above mentioned mirror of course.)
The draw distance is another huge issue with the game visually, as when driving through the islands it is a common sight to see trees and buildings materialise in the distance as if there was some kind of Time Lord invasion taking place. It is somewhat understandable due to the size of the maps, but still disappointing as it really looks horrible and serves to make an already ugly looking game worse aesthetically.

With all of that being said, the bad graphics in the game don’t actually bother me too much, one thing that does however is the physics. I was pretty disgusted when my 2 ton Bugatti Veyron soared through the air and then proceeded to barrel roll no less than 5 times upon landing after jumping from a very small hill, several other occurrences have also had me spouting the words “That just wouldn’t happen!” at my screen whilst pressing the B button a little too hard so that I could respawn. Such physics just don’t seem necessary in a game that tries so hard to be realistic and it baffles me as to why they were included.

Something that I absolutely love about this game is the sheer scale of it, my jaw literally dropped open the first time I zoomed out and saw how much land I had to drive around in – and that was only in Ibiza, Hawaii is much larger! There is variety in the terrain on the islands too thanks to this, and whilst playing I’ve been treated to events on hilly mountains, urban cities and through off road tracks that really do justice to the phrase “eat my dust.” The variety really does do a great job at stopping the monotony that could arise from being forced to take part in the same style of events repeatedly, and as a person that gets bored pretty quickly with games I was surprised to find myself still fully enjoying taking part in different events consecutively several days after release.
The dynamic weather system also plays its part in stopping Test Drive Unlimited 2 from becoming boring. When the heavens open in-game there is a noticeable difference in the road and your car’s handling, so much so that I actually had to wait until the terrain had dried up before I could complete certain events. Day and night cycles are also present in the game and the times of day is even differ on the different islands in-game – a nice touch.

It’s no secret that the main attraction of Test Drive Unlimited 2 is its online play which is seamlessly woven into the single player experience so that you are always connected to other players around the world in the style of an MMO. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to experience this on the launch day due to the servers not functioning, the main problem with this was the fact that the game will not allow you to play at all unless it can connect to the servers. This is an incredibly stupid idea and I can only assume that whoever thought of it was absolutely smashed when they did.
It is still possible to play the game offline, but to do this you need to actually disconnect your console from Xbox LIVE. This annoyed me the most because I should’ve been able to play TDU2 whilst talking to my friends in a party as I normally would with any other game, but instead I was condemned a solitary gaming experience that I didn’t enjoy as much. Once I could actually connect to other players thanks to the servers finally co-operating, I quickly discovered that the online function of TDU2 is quite simply fantastic. It’s extremely exciting to see other players driving around the city with you or viewing cars in a dealership simultaneously as you do, and I’ll never get tired of challenging people to wager races with a simple press of the A button to flash my lights at them. It is also possible to officially host a lobby (the standard “player” or “ranked” options are available) and then choose a game type to play from any of the events available in the single player championships. Despite server problems at launch there was no noticeable lag when playing online which is always good news as laggy servers could have very easily been game breaking, especially on such an online focused game.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 manages to sustain a very likeable charm from start to finish with its immersive nature and seamlessly integrated online features. I find the game to be much like a Pug – not very good looking at all and maybe quite annoying at times (the newspaper is there for a reason, use it!), however it still remains to be loveable nonetheless and TDU2 can offer countless hours of entertainment for any driving game fan.

Aston Martin DBS Coupe

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