When it comes to racing games, there seem to be three camps; those who like arcade racers (such as the Burnout or Midnight Club series), those who prefer the simulation games (such as the Forza and Gran Turismo games), and the people who just stay away from them altogether. Sometimes a game will come along and blur those lines enough that it has the potential to bring in fans of both crowds without fully alienating either group. This is where Test Drive Unlimited 2 stands, even going so far as to throw in a dash of The Sims in to draw some of that third group in as well.
Merging arcade and simulation racing together isn’t anything new however, and the resulting blend has failed in the past. Does Test Drive Unlimited 2 mesh these together well, or is this racing Chimera just a mutated mess?
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is something of an enigma. From the games opening moments, it’s very clear that this is going to be a little different than any racing game you’ve played recently. The reason for this is that the game opens up during a rooftop rave, where you select from a couple of the dancers who will be your player character. The choices are safely enough, a male or female white, African American or Asian character. Smooth.
From there a series of events take place which end up seeing you invited to take part in a big racing competition called Solar Crown, which is where all the races in the game take place. As far as excuse plots go for why you’re racing around an island, this one’s not too bad. To get you started, you’re given your first car for free and sent off to driving school to learn how the game works.
There are a multitude of racing licenses in the game, separated by Classic, Asphalt, and Off Road racing styles. For each one you’ll have to pass a number of tests at driving school which help get you familiar with that class of car. Some of these tests are easy things such as rounding a corner and stopping within a certain zone, but some are on a strict time limit or reduce points for going off road or hitting things and can be a little tricky. All said though, the tests do actually help you learn how that car class handles and teach you some useful tricks. Once you’ve passed the test you’re able to buy cars in that class, which you’ll have to do if you want to enter any of the races.
Your first experience with driving school is likely to be slightly frustrating, as the tests afford little room for mistakes. Until you come to terms with how the cars handle and the mechanics of the game itself, you’re probably going to find yourself sliding too hard into corners or slamming into walls at an alarming rate. This can be a little discouraging at first, but a little persistence will pay off as you progress and learn that the brake is more important than the gas pedal, you’ll find yourself taking first place more often than last.
In between races and driving school everything takes place in an “open world” environment with no restrictions. There are two islands in the game; Ibiza and Oahu, and while you’re initially stuck only on Ibiza the entire island is open right from the start. Depending on which licenses you have available a variety of events will be scattered around the island, and you can access them in any order you want. There is a fast travel option which is handy when you want to buy a car on the opposite side of the island, but that choice isn’t available until you’ve driven to that area and discovered it, so it doesn’t take anything away from the game.
Much like the mythical hydra, it seems the more stuff you attack in TDU2, the more stuff you now have available to you. Winning one cup might open up two more licenses, which will open up two more races and five more car dealerships. For somebody like me who hates seeing “new” next to anything in a game, it can seem overwhelming at first to have all these unexplored areas begging you to investigate them. But this turns out to actually be a point in the favor of the game, as all of this stuff can be completed in the order of your choosing.
Aside from buying new cars and driving them around, there are a multitude of options available that directly affect your avatar. The most important being clothing shops, hairdressers, and plastic surgery. Knowing this part existed in advance, I intentionally chose a female avatar because if I’m going to play dress-up, I’m at least going to do it with to a chick. What you’re able to purchase is directly tied to your performance in races and more importantly your exploration of the area. You want that “barely there” mini-skirt? Better drive around the island some more.
Speaking of exploring, not only is that how you find all of the races and stores that make up the main game, but there are also hidden wrecks scattered around the islands. You unlock a metal detector on your car fairly early on that flashes an icon and beeps when you’re near a wreck, growing in intensity as you get closer. All you have to do is drive close enough to it to unlock it. Unlock all of one particular wreck and you get a special car.
What would a racing game be without the cars? I suppose it’d be more akin to something you’d see at the Olympics, or the end of Talladega Nights. But don’t worry a bit on that one, because this game has plenty of cars for you to drive. Separated by the license class required to drive them, the game features a large variety of vehicles from Porsche, BMW, Alfa Roméo, Audi, Ferrari, Ford and Chevy among many others. The selection can be a little overwhelming as you purchase your first car in a particular license and although there are very large performance differences between even the cars in the same license, you can perform well enough with whatever you choose that it’s not something to stress over.
As with updating your avatar, there are car garages scattered around the island to discover which offer performance upgrades to your vehicles. These are usually specialty shops that only work on off-road SUVs, American Muscle cars, European imports, etc. so you have to find the right one for the vehicle you’re currently driving. Also similar to the character shops, these upgrades are directly tied to your exploration of the island. Want that speed boost? Better find some more roads, shops and wrecks.
The meat of the game however is of course performing in races, and there are quite a large number of these to hold your attention. There’s a variety here to keep your interest ranging from standard races and timed check point events, to the more unusual. Speed Trap events have checkpoints scattered around the course that you must pass as fast as you can with the highest average speed from all the checkpoints being the winner. There are also events which require you to drive over a certain speed to gain points. The faster you go the more points you get, and more likely you are to win.
Just like with driving school, these can seem overwhelming at first when you’re not used to the game mechanics, or when you’re doing your first race in a new car or license class. But once again the name of the game is persistence. There’s no penalty for losing so you’re welcome to retry events as many times as you desire to get first place. This gets easier to do as the game progresses, but while there is thankfully no rubberband AI all it takes is one mistake to throw you into last place. This isn’t the end of the race however, as the computer drivers are just as likely to mess up as you are, allowing a come from behind victory to happen for any driver on the course.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 like many games today is not all about the single player however. Your single player game can be played online which will inhabit your game world with other real people from around the world who are playing the game. You’re able to wreck into them and they into you, though thankfully this only extends to the exploration area. When you’re in an actual race there won’t be other people on the track.
However should you decide that you do want to throw down with another racer, all it takes is a flash of your headlights and you can enter into an online game mode with them if they accept. At least, that’s the idea in theory. With my experience with the game, I was never able to actually get this to work and my game world was very rarely actually populated with other drivers. There’s a problem with the servers that has at the time of this review prevented me from playing any online matches of any kind, including the social Clubs which inhabit the single player world. This is rather unfortunate, though a patch is on the way so hopefully this will be fixed soon.
While there are many cars to drive and many dresses to try on, all of these things cost money and they are quite expensive. In addition the house you start out in only has room for two cars. If you want more vehicles you have to purchase more houses. You might find yourself struggling at the beginning of the game and finding that after buying your first car you don’t even have enough money for those wonderful pink high heels you’ve been eyeballing in the store. Races will be your main source of income, and completing a full cup will net you quite a bit of money if you come in first place.
Early on however the game introduces you to the “FRIM” system; Free Roam Instant Money that is. Basically this rewards you for driving creatively and doing awesome things like driving close to other cars, making a sweet jump or drifting around a corner. Each of these that you perform is added to a bar at the top of the screen which you’re able to “bank” at certain points to add your current score to your money. The longer you wait the more money you get, but the higher risk you have of losing everything you haven’t saved yet, as a single brief impact with a street sign or another car empties the progress. It’s a very “risk vs reward” system and is a welcome addition to help keep free roam more exciting.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a very large and very ambitious game. In addition to customizing your character down to such minute details as how thick their freckles are, your cars can of course receive the same treatment. Sticker Shops are spread around the islands which allow you to repaint your car using a variety of finishes and colors, and decorate it with what seems to be an infinite number of stickers. Utilizing all the shapes and figures available you can come up with some pretty intricate decals. I found myself heading here with every new car I bought to see how awesome I could make my ride. Simply painting the car is fairly cheap, but to add stickers you have to purchase a page of them which are fairly pricey. Thankfully you only have to purchase each page one time and it’s available at each shop for every car, so you’re only a small investment away from that amazing dragon decal riding around the hood.
Variety is the spice of life and the largest key to the success of this game. From the races and cars to the dresses and paint jobs, there’s plenty of stuff here to keep even the most dedicated of racing fans occupied. Unfortunately the game is currently marred by the practically unavailable multiplayer component, though hopefully the upcoming patch will right all of that and add even more to the life of this game. TDU2 is a racing game that I feel can appeal to simulation and arcade fans equally. If you’re a fan of racing games at all, don’t look past this one.
- Game: Test Drive Unlimited 2
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: Eden Games
- Publisher: Atari
- Release Date: Available Now
- MSRP: $59.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.