Developer: Eden Games
Test Drive Unlimited 2 has something of an identity crisis. It's not quite sure if it wants to rival the likes of Need for Speed and Project Gotham as an accessible racer, or maybe challenge Forza and Gran Turismo in the simulation stakes. And while the core ideals tend to clash, the wealth of content and the sprawling landscapes of both Ibiza and Oahu provide a staggeringly beautiful experience, even if it's populated with perhaps the most unlikable roster of virtual mannequins you've ever wished you could run over in your Ferrari.
So read on to discover if Test Drive Unlimited 2 provides the ride of your life, or just a flat tire.
Your Car, Ma'am
Test Drive Unlimited 2 begins with a ropey, stilted pool party where you pick from a line-up of robotic dancers enjoying life in the sun, sea and shiny furniture of Ibiza. With your personal puppet chosen, you waddle in first-person over to Tess, a local TV host, who inexplicably gifts you a Ferrari. With the gleaming red beast idling in your garage, you opt to give it a test drive. Geddit?
However, as you soar down the never-ending ribbon of asphalt, soaking up the atmosphere and pretending not to hear Tess' awful, awful voice-work, the game fades to a shot of your avatar sleeping in the same Ferrari, only outside a hotel. And you're wearing a valet uniform. Tess orders you out of her car, but then decides an ostensibly narcoleptic valet with a face as emotive as Jet Li's is a suitable chauffeur. You drive her to a local TV station, where she just happens to be hosting the Solar Crown Tournament, Ibiza's premiere racing event.
Oh, and you're racing. She hooks you up with a friend, who stuffs 27 grand in your pocket and takes you to a dealer to buy your first car. Then he drops you off at a your new residence, a surprisingly well-furnished caravan. Clearly being a valet in Ibiza means you're automatically homeless. But now is not the time for questions, as you set off in your new ride in search of races, duels and trophies to be won. Oh, and haircuts.
It's a pretty awful setup, not helped by some of the worst voice acting and animation I've had the displeasure of witnessing. But, with this being a racing game, the backdrop of awful plotting and characterization isn't important if the driving is up to scratch. And with over one hundred cars to purchase, from Mustangs to Aston Martins, it's not as if you have to make do.
But the driving in TDU 2 just isn't that fun. The handling isn't bad; the cars generally stick to flat road at high speeds, responsive to flicks and twitches of the analog stick. But when you factor in the improbably implacable gameworld - fences, curbs, even bushes halting your progress like a concrete block - which clashes with the necessity to be swift and maneuverable, the engine, if you will, begins to stutter.
A pity, then, as it had so much promise. The lauded FRIM mechanic, where performing consecutive stunts earns you more and more cash to bank, is a great idea, hearkening back to Project Gotham's kudos feature. But when colliding with a static object - like, say, a bush - results in an instant cancellation of all accumulated money, it makes stunts like drifting a chore. It's as if the gameworld designers and handling designers never consulted each other on how the cars themselves should interact with the environments.
Sun, Sea and Ferrari
Where TDU 2 lacks in the driving department, it more than makes up for in content. The goal is to up your rep, which means winning races, earning money and purchasing the bigger and better cars and homes. The sheer amount of things to do is staggering; duels are fun, breathless one-on-one races with a variety of eccentric characters. Scattered across the two islands - which you can travel to and from once you acquire the ability to board a plane - are 'wrecks', the mangled remains of exclusive car models you can return to a garage to have fixed.
The tournaments themselves steadily increase in difficulty and reward. From your standard checkpoint races, you might find yourself on a winding track where event the slightest hint of off-road rubber results in a time-penalty. The AI is skilled and aggressive, not afraid to shunt or side-swipe if you're near to victory. Chronicling your adventures from lowly valet to up-and-comer and finally tournament challenger, boasting a suped-up ride and lavishly decorated house, is an addictive pursuit, if a little shallow.
But online is where TDU 2 truly shines. The gameworld is pseudo-MMO, as when you're free-roaming up to 31 other drives can be present, zooming around aimlessly or setting up races. You can wander about in the stilted first-person perspective and chat in lobbies or even check out each others' cars before a race. It's here where the game's social aspects, like wardrobe and cosmetic changes, show their worth. I found interacting with folks online, customizing my outfit and even my hair - yes, I said it - was more interesting and appealing in an online context, where I know it's actually being recognized, than the stilted, staged single-player component.
- Staggeringly beautiful environments and cars
- Lots to do and see
- A wealth of online features
- Mismatched driving mechanics
- Awful, intrusive story
- Fatally annoying characters
The Short Version: Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a beautiful, content-rich racer which sadly slacks in the driving department. For every sun-streaked vista and gleaming car, there's an odd quirk or immovable bush. However, its assured and feature-packed online component begs the question whether the third entry in the series should forgo the single-player option altogether.