Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer(s): Eden Games
Age Rating: 12 (PEGI)
I’m sure we’ve all played the original Test Drive Unlimited; it came as a free demo pre-installed on the Xbox 360 console. The open world racer from Eden Games and Atari set the way for games such as Forza: Horizon and the reincarnation of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, watermarking the future for open world racers. So does the sequel match up to its genre defining predecessor?
The game combines that traditional sense of racing, with an open world online scene set in the beautiful islands of Ibiza and Hawaii. You can buy properties on the island where you store your vast exotic car collection to flaunt to friends, as well as decorating said properties and filling your designer wardrobe. The concept of the game sounds amazing; living the life of a pro racer/millionaire bachelor whose only concern is ‘do I have my next Lamborghini in orange or green?’ However, despite all the promise, the game turns out to be quite lackluster indeed.
The game sets out a tutorial ‘drive’, getting you to learn the handling (if there is any) and controls of the cars. It’s unrealistic, light and floaty, and doesn’t feel like you’re driving the worlds top cars at all. However, with regards to the setting, you are in a dream, driving a Ferrari California through the beautiful surroundings of Ibiza. You are awoken by a woman, who then fires you for sleeping on the job. After receiving a phone call, she then decides to take you on as her temporary chauffeur, asking you to drive her to a studio within a certain time limit. Succeed and she will enter you in the prestigious ‘Solar Crown’ racing competition that takes place on the islands of Ibiza and Hawaii.
These cutscenes serve a couple of purposes; introducing you to the main storyline of the game and how much is to be desired in the character modelling. Although this is a racer and the cars are the most important aspect, the characters are massively important also. The animation is poor and doesn’t flow, combined with the lackluster voice acting the overall models don’t really ‘come to life’.
The shortcomings list continues; some of the biggest being the glitches and tendency to crash. Whilst changing the look of your newly purchased property, the game would sometimes freeze and crash whilst picking out that final wood flooring or set of dining chairs. Other times you’d be driving along the highways of Hawaii and your car would just fall through the floor, or the surroundings would disappear and you’d have to wait for them to catch you up. The worst by far though is the online system; if a friend was online and about they would appear as a green icon on the map, whereas everyone else possessed a grey icon. You could then jump to their location to meet up – in theory. After several tries and a miracle it would work, but then midway through your 200mph tandem motorway blast you’d disappear and be separated.
However, if you are the kind of gamer like me who can see the good in everyone, and can tolerate such shortfalls, you can definitely appreciate what’s been done. With access to almost everywhere on the islands, the ability to purchase and customise over 100 different vehicles and 60 different properties, assisting those in need across the islands for cash and interacting in an open world environment with countless online players; it’s in no way a terrible game.
Whilst playing you gain experience and level up in four different areas; Competition, Discovery, Collection and Social. Levelling each of these areas levels up your overall Global Level, unlocking new customisation items and upgrades etc.
The freedom is somewhat limited, as driving is all you can do on the islands – the only locations you can step out of your chosen vehicle are pre-determined so don’t expect picnics on the Hawaiian beaches. However, there are several wrecks to find throughout both islands which when found add certain timeless classic cars to your garage, along with the photography objectives that when complete are rewarded with some cold hard cash.
Now we come to the all important handling of the vehicles. Eden and Atari tried to find the midpoint between the Arcade style present in Outrun and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, and the simulation handling found in Forza Motorsport. Unfortunately, the outcome fell more on the Arcade style of racing, creating a RC car effect as you don’t really get feedback from the car.
The ‘Return to the Road’ feature sums up the game rather well. In theory it’s a fantastic idea; if you spin out or find yourself too far from the track, you can hold down this button and it will teleport you back to the road to continue your race. But in practice, it doesn’t teleport you back to the last checkpoint (which would be sensible,) instead it teleports you to the nearest piece of road – literally. This lead to many instances of my car being teleported past checkpoints I had not yet driven through, loosing valuable time and race positions as I have to go back on myself.
The multiplayer functionality is somewhat of a saviour for the game, when it works. Off-roading through mountain passes and down dirt tracks, spotting ruins and little seaside towns is amazing. Touring the coastal roads in GT cars and racing the highways in top performance supercars is fantastic, but doing it with your friends in a group of three, four or five ramps the entertainment and enjoyment up tenfold. There’s something about cruising in a group through towns, around coastal routes and up mountains that gives you a feeling of awesomeness. Even seeing it happen when you’re driving alone brings a sense of epic to your drive. Also included is the option to create a racing team or ‘Driver Club’; this lets you and your friends form a racing team and compete online. As you race you earn experience points and cash which can then be invested into the Club to grow club premises and purchase Special Club Only cars.
Even the seeming small ability to flash your headlights at another player and challenge them to a race brings competitiveness into your friend group, and even the server as a whole as you can initiate a race with anyone online.
The main issue is the Test Drive Servers. They have been problematic since launch across all platforms. Since release several patches have gone out, but I personally am yet to see a vast improvement.
In theory Test Drive Unlimited 2 was a fantastic concept, yet the execution has held it back. It had promise and on paper was set to be one of the best free roam racers in history; with the level of customisation, sheer quantity of road to explore, events to enter and vehicles to own making it a must have title regardless of the platform you owned. However, disappointing character models, awful car handling and technical gremlins kept it from being the game it was supposed to be.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 had potential but the outcome was not what we expected. Although it has its issues, as do the majority of games, it’s still brilliant title. The glitchy multi-player and less than impressive characters are offset by acres of road to enjoy and explore, 100+ vehicles to explore in and several levels of customisation. Personally I have invested hours of game time in it, and still to this day play although I freely admit it has been severely outgunned by Forza: Horizon.
+Amazing environment to explore in 100+ vehicles.
-Character Modelling is poor.
-Multi-player can be temperamental and glitchy.
Summary: The freedom to explore vast landscapes in countless vehicles is disappointingly offset by unreliable multi-player and character modelling. Still an entertaining title regardless.
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