Fancy cars without the fancy price.
From publisher Atari and developer Eden Studios comes a game that brings new features to the Test Drive Unlimited series and the racing genre. Bringing together social racing through their Massively Open Online Racing (MOOR) feature to a role playing game (RPG) style interface, Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) harnesses all of the customization features players want and openness game users deserve.
The story takes the gamer on a path to racing stardom. Unfortunately for you and as in real life, you have to work – or in this case, race – your way to the top. At the start of the game, you get to pick your character at a very nice house in Saint Vincent, Ibiza, a little island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Valencia, Spain. From there, the character meets a woman by the name of Tess Wintry who is the host of a new racing show, Solar Crown. It has come to the attention of Tess that one of the featured drivers, John Evans, on the circuit, is not able to race due to an injury in a prior race. That is where your character comes in. After deciding to take Mr. Evans’ place in the circuit, you begin your journey to become an Ibiza racing legend.
First and foremost a car racer needs, well, a car. Ms. Wintry introduces you to Todd Bishop who takes you to his good friend, a used car dealer, so you can get your first car. You have the choice of picking between a red Delta Evo, blue Lotus Espirit S3, or a black Ford Mustang. I ended up choosing the blue Lotus. It is faster than the Mustang, but slower than the Evo by only 1 mph. Once you have decided which vehicle you want and the color that fits your style, Mr. Bishop’s friend installs a F.R.I.M. This contraption is called the Free Ride Instant Money device and it allows you to gain much needed currency in the TDU2 world. To gain money, you can drive very fast past passing motorist, but if you hit them, you lose the money. Once the F.R.I.M. bar is full, you can bank the money. The more tricks or spinouts you do, the more cash you can bank. After completing that, you now are able to get your licenses, which are needed to race the different circuits in the Solar Crown. You have three different licenses you can obtain. After passing all of the tests, like driving through obstacles or hairpin turns, you can obtain your Classic, Asphalt, or Off Road license. Once you have your car, home, license, and income, now you can begin your journey into Solar Crown stardom and win the crown for Best Driver.
Once you complete the basics of Test Drive Unlimited 2, now you can focus on winning races, side quests, or explore the island. If you decide to start racing you have to make sure you pay attention to the type of race it is and make sure you have the appropriate vehicle to use in that particular race. For example, in the first race, you go against your rival, Miami Harris. The reigning champion and very saucy racer drives a pink Ford Mustang in the Classic 4 race, or C4, which is displayed on the map. Each challenge has a winning amount of $2,000 or more as well. This is how you earn the majority of your cash – winning races. You have other circuits you can race as well such as asphalt (A), classic (C), and off-road (B) races. Keep in mind; to race in each race, you have to earn your license for each circuit.
Another way to make easy money is doing side quests, which are displayed on the map. I remember an odd quest was when I picked up a total stranger to take him to his employment. Do this quest without crashing and I could earn an easy $2,000 to add to my Bugatti collection fund. During the trip to his work, which the destination is displayed on the global positioning system (GPS), he constantly berated me to drive faster. When I would slide or come close to spinning out, he wanted me to slow down. It was part of the game, I guess, but very annoying. If you don’t feel like doing side quests, you can always just explore the island of Ibiza. On the map, all of the roads you have been on will be highlighted blue and parts of the map become unlocked. Find new car dealerships to sticker shops and picture taking points in the more open part of the game. This is where I had a blast. Finding new areas was especially fun because it opened up more places to buy cars. Sticker shops allow you to customize your car with designs and color. You can customize your hotrod however you want, but this does come at a price, so be careful as to how much you spend. There are other places to customize as well such as the hairdresser or shops that allow you to change the look of your avatar that was chosen at the beginning of the game. I was especially excited when I found the U.S. dealership and bought a Bumble Bee style Camaro SS. Whatever you decide to do, this game provides the style of vehicle for all players.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 also comes with multiplayer capabilities. As mentioned before, this game is a Massively Open Online Racing game, which means you can play with people online (if you have Xbox Live) throughout the map. Those of you who have played Fable III know what I am talking about. Online racers are identified by icons above their vehicles. Some of the game modes featured are Follow the Leader and Chase Mode. I gave Follow the Leader a shot where we work as a team to get the best time. A player is randomly chosen to lead the pack. Once picked, it is up to everyone to follow the driver in front of you to get the best time. Passing through each checkpoint, a new leader is picked until the course is over, or you fail the challenge. This game type was fun, but took a few rounds to get used to. I would either go too fast or fall behind. Finding the right speed is key. The online games were fun, but I preferred the role playing portion of the game more enjoyable. Winning races to earn money in hopes of buying a Bugatti is the goal for this driver.
When “driving” the vehicle, however, I found certain parts of the game to be annoying. One of which, and quite frankly the main one, is the right thumb stick, which acts as the camera. Moving the camera around just seemed jerky and not fluid at all. It was so bad; I ended up not even using it. Some parts of the game it was less annoying such as when you find a place to take a picture or if you’re sitting in a new car checking out the interior. Using the camera while driving seemed impossible and more often than not, I usually just ran off the road deeming the camera useless.
Another flaw I didn’t expect was if you happen to get a little too cocky and slide off the road, it was difficult getting back onto the asphalt. It seemed as though the car wanted to stay in the woods as opposed to its natural habitat of the open road. This is a minor gripe, but it was very frustrating at certain parts of the game, especially during timed races.
Most people in real life hate traffic circles. You have to slow down and sometimes the signs are just confusing. In TDU2, the AI is no different. I recall one part in town where I made my way around the traffic circle only to be stopped by a traffic jam. I eventually went around it, but this would have been a problem if I were in a timed race. Normally I would say that this was not an issue, but it occurred more often than not. Often times, art imitates life and, apparently, this game is no different.
While playing this game, you can’t help but notice the attention to detail that Eden Studios have taken to make this game as authentic as possible. Specifically, the picture spots along the coastline are especially impressive. The different colors used to differentiate the depths of the water are insanely accurate. The most impressive thing about this game is the attention to detail the developers used to get the graphics perfect on the vehicles. From damage to the paint to speedometer and odometer details, it feels like I am actually driving a bright cherry red Ferrari. In fact, I have seen the inside of a real Camaro and the TDU2 version matches the interior perfectly. From the dashboard to the interior seats, nothing was left to chance in the aesthetics of this game.
That being said, there were a few disappointments. Crashes! It is inevitable and driving these fast and luxurious cars, taking curves too fast will eventually land you horse shoeing a tree or light pole. However, in this game you wouldn’t notice it. When you run into things such as buildings, poles, and trees, you just bounce off of them like a super ball. The only damage noted to your vehicle is paint damage and maybe a warped door – nothing major like I thought it would be. Driving the Camaro SS, for instance, I ran head-on into a bus at 160 mph. Now in real life, I’d be dead. Even with a complex game such as this, I expected my car to explode or at least have major damage incurred at that speed. Instead of my Bumble Bee-looking car exploding like peanut brittle hitting the floor, it just bounced off the bus and spun off the road. Fighting to get back onto the pavement, I eventually go back to exploring. With only paint damage, I just go back home and when I head back out, the vehicle is magically repaired. Another flaw in the game was the damage to the environment, or lack there of. Driving into a building should not only damage the light pole, but it should damage the door, windows, and, in most cases, leave you and your car inside the building. Not in this game. You just hit the side of the building and you can keep on going. Very reminiscent of Midnight Club II from the original Xbox, very fun at first, but eventually gets boring and I would love to see more building and vehicle damage to bring more depth to the game. Even though the game looks fantastic, some parts of the game were just unbelievable and could have been made to appear more realistic.
A game such as this has so much to offer. Replay ability is a given due to the games vast array of options. The ability of building up your social reputation with your avatar to modifying your vehicle, there are so many attributes to this racing game that keeps you coming back for more. If the single player mode bores you, then there is online play. Tired of losing to your best friend? No problem. Go explore the beautiful island of Ibiza. With the many options at your disposal in this game, being without something to do is not an option.
To sum it up, this game was a complete joy to play and I can’t wait to continue my journey while doing side quests, playing online against friends, and pursue the title of Solar Crown’s Best Driver. A pleasant mixture of Midnight Club II, Sims 3, and an online role playing game, Test Drive Unlimited 2 was a pleasant gaming experience. Even though there are a few cosmetic problems, overall the game delivers a nice alternative for those gamers who want a change of pace and for die-hard gamers who enjoy the thrill of the ride. However you decide to play this game, one thing is for sure, the time you spend playing will not feel wasted. Besides where else can you test drive a Bugatti and not worry about having to pay a million dollars if you crash it?