It’s wonderful to dream; bags of money, lots of fast and exotic cars, hot women and a mostly sunny island to drive around really quickly on. That is what Test Drive Unlimited, released in 2006 was all about. Move forward a little over four years and Atari have unleashed TDU2 upon the masses, promising more cars, more roads and more fun – it’s a shame then that out the door the game feels rather unfinished.
Test Drive Unlimited describes itself as a Massive Open Online Racing game (or MOOR for short), but it’s here where TDU2 falls down hardest. Currently the multiplayer side of things is mostly broken, with certain areas of the game locked-out, by the developer’s own admission, that the servers simply aren’t ready. The club races and player challenges then are unusable, but sadly things seem just as broken in the normal multiplayer aspect. Joining friend’s games is a gamble at best, as it usually results in failure. Given time it’s likely a patch will appear fixing things, but for a game that boasts its online features, it’s rather an embarrassment to say the least.
This leaves us with the single player aspect of the game, and whilst it’s not without its share of bugs and glitches, there is plenty to do and see in-game. For TDU2 the player starts life as a humble car valet and not a particularly good one. Spending most of his (or her) time day-dreaming of what life might be like with expensive cars on luxury holidays, the inevitability was the P45. Fortunately for the plucky chap, and by a bizarre twist of fate, he ends up taking a TV hostess and racer to an appointment, which leads to taking part in the TV series on the island of Ibiza. Nobody claimed the story would be sensible.
The basic concept for TDU2 remains the same as the previous game; take part in a series of different races, get lots of cash and buy loads of houses, cars and clothes. However, Eden Games have managed to expand on a number of elements, not least of which is the amount of roads to travel on. In TDU the more difficult races were unlocked as you earned points for racing. In TDU2 experience points are now earned across four different areas: competition - where points are earned from racing; social - where they come from racing other players and joining clubs; discovery - where they are gained from travelling all the roads and highways and finding the secret hidden car wrecks and collections, which are obtained from purchasing cars, house furniture and clothing. These all add-up to provide the player’s global ranking, starting at zero and topping out at level sixty – the higher that ranking gets, the more stuff becomes available, for example and a very minor spoiler, after reaching level ten it’s possible to travel to Hawaii and revisit the island from the first game.
TDU2 provides a more structured path through the game in terms of races. The different series span three distinct classes, namely: asphalt, classic and dirt. The first two are fairly similar, both raced on tarmac, however, the dirt racing is something new to the TDU series and works very well. Handling across the different car types depends on the settings chosen by the player, and these alter the number of assists the game gives the player. It ranges from arcade to sport, to simulation, with sport giving a good compromise between the three.
It’s still a little quirky (as it was in the first game) but things feel a little more taught and less twitchy, although some of the collision physics has a very questionable reality bubble. There’s definitely a noticeable difference between each of the cars and what’s really fantastic is the noise the vehicles make, many games try to get it right and fail, but in TDU2 the engine and exhaust sounds are totally nailed and believable. There’s plenty of time to get used to the handling characteristics though, as the story mode forces you to go through a number of frivolous license tests. These are annoying and never fun, simply acting as a barrier between yourself and the racing; they’re not really helpful to anyone except perhaps the most ham-fisted of drivers. Pass them you will, and this then unlocks the first of the classic series.
As money is tight at the start of the game, your choice of vehicle is somewhat limited to those available from a dodgy used car dealer; they including a Lotus Esprit S3 and the Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione - a good choice as a starter. Garage space is also limited at first with room for just two cars – so you will end up juggling things about until a bit more cash comes in.
There are a number of different racing types for each of the series cups. There are straight circuit and point-to-point races with seven other drivers, speed camera challenges - where the aim is to go as fast as possible through the various camera points, elimination - where each circuit lap sees the last racer is removed, and timed runs - where you need to beat the clock and high-speed runs where you gain points for keeping your speed above a certain target level. Beat the others in all of these encounters and the reward is lots of cash – though earning enough for everything in the game is probably going to take a while.
Travelling around the many miles of roads on the two islands reveals several other side-quests that can be taken on. These will be familiar to players of the first game, such as taking someone else’s car for a service without crashing it, or escorting a lovely lady to her destination. New for TDU2 is the adrenaline task, where the idea is to scare the bejesus out of your passenger, without breaking his bones of course.
All of these things are fun and interesting to discover and complete, but it is not without cost, as sadly bugs and annoyances also creep in to the single player side of the game as well. It won’t take long before you experience cars mysteriously disappearing in front of you, or your vehicles crashing through solid tarmac and in to water, or perhaps you’ll encounter the random transportation into an area of the map you were no-where near before bug. It’s also worthwhile making sure you back-up your save file as there is a confirmed corrupt your file bug out there in the wild, but don't try installing the game to a memory card or you might find you can't even reach the title screen.
Pop-up and pop-in is something that many games suffer from to some degree, with TDU2 this seems more prevalent. This wouldn’t be too bad, but at times the frame rate really lags away and it’s difficult to believe it is reaching 30 fps most of the time – TDU also isn’t that great in the looks department when compared to its peers. It’s not been totally spanked with the ugly stick, but this aspect matters more to some gamers so is worth pointing out.
For all of its problems, TDU2 is still a fun game to play and it’s very easy to lose an hour or more simply driving around the roads and taking in the views. It’s not a massive departure from the first title some four years ago though and the numerous bugs and glitches, particularly on the multiplayer side of things, means it doesn't currently feel like a complete game. Once the issues are patched it’ll be a lot smoother ride, until then, approach this pot-holed drive-em-up with caution.
Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.