Get that Ibiza crap out of my ears, for all that's holy! Sorry, but the set-up for Test Drive Unlimited 2 provokes stirrings of skin-searing rage from your long-suffering correspondent. Testing purely the single player element, the assembled collection of scribblers were assaulted by what passes for music on the blighted isle that is Ibiza, or at least the Anglophile sections of it.
Social commentary isn't what you're here for, of course. Thankfully, the game gets a lot better once you're out of the par-tay and onto the roads. TDU2 will be split into two sections, a first-person bit and the driving part, the latter naturally taking up 99 percent of your time. The first-person bits and the whole storyline element seem, at this stage (and it's unlikely they'll change in any major way, although this is still relatively early code), to be pretty horrible, but perhaps the characters are deliberately nauseating, just to make you want to beat them more in races? Mind you, even the ones that are meant to be friendly are eye-gougingly annoying.
Anyway, the racing. There'll be two islands to explore, Ibiza and the as-yet-unseen Hawaii, each packed with different races, events, driving schools and hideous characters. You'll start off as a menial worker given the task of transporting a spoiled brat/TV personality to the location of a race meet, where you're suddenly given the opportunity to get involved in the circuit. Naturally, you win easily and are then finally cast off into the wider world to seek your fame and fortune.
A quick tap of the map key shows you just how vast the playing area is, even the small bit we were exposed to. Hawaii is twice the size of Ibiza as well, so it's safe to assume that there'll be more than enough racing action to go around. In fact, more than 3000 kilometres of roads will be traversible in total. With 650 or so different challenges to accept, it'll surely only be a complete lunatic who manages to do and see everything in TDU2.
Each discipline, be it off-road, street racing or whatever, will have an associated school attached, which you have to attend to gain a certificate that allows you to race in official events. Informal racing will be possible by finding human players as they drive about the place and challenging them to impromptu sprints. It'll be necessary to watch out for the cops, however, as anything that offends them – like perhaps accidentally ramming into their cars – will cause a chase mode to ensue.
Naturally, winning races brings rewards, some of which can be seen in your home, which starts off as a simple crappy trailer that can be traded up as you get better and become more recognised on the scene. There are also four personal categories to improve in, namely Competition, Discovery, Collection and Social, the latter focused on interactions and such with your fellow human players. There are 60 levels to plough through so, again, plenty of material there.
A couple of areas that might be of concern are the damage modelling and the size of the maps. Dealing with the latter first, when you're first coming to the game, there'll be quite a lot of driving over huge distances to get to places. Once you've discovered them, you can fast travel, but initially you'll be spending perhaps more time than is comfortable just driving.
A strange thing to criticise a driving game for, but it's not the 'fun' driving that's the problem – the handling is good, it's difficult without being too hard and easy enough without taking the piss – it's the monotony of driving 8 miles to get to the off-road driving school, for example. That's not fun, really.
The damage modelling is, in the build we played, not very good, to put it bluntly. Slamming into rocks and trees barely scratches the car, and it takes ages for any meaningful loss of performance to occur. It makes sense, to an extent, but every racing game is made infinitely cooler with the introduction of doors being torn off, windows smashing in and bumpers scraping along behind the vehicle.
The most important thing about TDU2, the racing, seems fundamentally sound and a good laugh, with the addition of humans surely only going to make it more interesting. It certainly looks like the game will offer more than the merely reasonable first TDU, with more locations, more challenges and such. Is there too much? That's a question only a thorough playtest can provide. For now, it's looking promising enough that you should keep one eye on it.