Genre: Sport Developer: Eden Studios Publisher: Atari Classification: G Release Date: 11th Feb 2011 Platforms:
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Let's pretend - just for the moment - that for two days after Test Drive Unlimited's launch the online racer was not incapable of going online thanks to the servers being overwhelmed. Let's leave that
particular misstep until the end.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 seeks to up the ante set in Test Drive Unlimited by offering two islands, new off-roading abilities and an even greater emphasis on community features.
The two islands you can drive around are Ibiza and Oahu - those who played the first TDU might feel a tiny bit ripped off by this recycling of the main island in Hawaii, but an emphasis on off-roading alleviates this to some extent.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 begins with you picking your character - a choice of six different models is available - and then you go receive a birthday present! It's a Ferrari, so naturally you abandon your own birthday party to go driving.
After a few minutes you wake up, sitting in the driverís seat of the very same Ferrari - but you're a valet! It was all a dream, and an incredible ruse. A woman walks over screaming at you, as you look like a hobo and you were sleeping in her car.
You leap out as she tells you that she's been waiting for you to bring her car, despite the fact that you were parked maybe 15 metres from the entrance of... whatever kind of establishment it is that you work at.
She takes a call from someone who accuses you of dreaming that you're a racer, which gives her an amazing idea. It turns out she's the host of a reality TV show about street racing, and one of her racers just dropped out! You don't find this out until later, but she's also one of the racers - this might seem like a massive conflict of interest, but you've clearly never made a reality TV show about street racing before.
Forgetting that just seconds ago she was livid with you for not bringing her car, she tells you that if you can drive her to the first episode of the show in less than four minutes(ish) you can have the extra spot.
Naturally this means you drive as fast as you can to the set, get the spot and you're in the show! Being a street racing show, you have to use your own cars. Sure, you're just a valet - but luckily you have enough money to buy a used car! I've seen better plots in Syfy originals.
And now the real problems begin. Doing races in Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a chore, like doing the dishes or vacuuming the carpet - except in TDU2 you won't see any results until 10+ minutes later.
The chore part comes in because the races are so simple - as long as you have the right car. In the best car for your race class you can expect to win by seconds every time. In the wrong car, you might see yourself literally incapable of winning at all - in one time trial (during the Ibiza cup) you will be behind by half a second by the first checkpoint if you choose to use a Nissan 370z. If you use an Alfa Romeo Brera, you'll be ahead by a second and a half.
In actual races - against other cars - the problems are worse because of their simplicity. You can very easily abuse the idiotic AI to your advantage - you can slow down in front of them and they'll slow down as well, you can abuse the lack of consequential damage to take corners at speed and it won't be surprising to find you're winning races with a 10+ second lead.
There's a lack of understanding when it comes to racing games - especially time trials. The fun in a racing game is as much about challenging yourself to do better as it is about acquiring new upgrades, so when it's unbelievably easy to win it very quickly becomes 'I have to do this race' instead of 'I want to do this race'.
The worst case of this is the Elimination race - while most races are maybe three laps lasting about six minutes, the Elimination race is seven laps of monotony, unless you make things interesting.
You can make things interesting by simply not starting at the same time as your opponents - you give them a bit of a lead, and then chase them down. This highlights another interesting flaw in the game - if you don't move at the start (or maybe you're in a car which has eff all traction in first gear) any opponents stuck behind you can and will teleport in front of you.
Yes, instead of a bad starter getting rear-ended, they opted to have other racers teleport.
The problems don't end there though. At the start of each race the host of the show you're supposed to be on highlights something which is going down - to give the impression that you're really on a reality TV show or something.
Sadly she only has maybe five different things to say - and they're not even always relevant to the event you're doing. She really shouldn't be announcing anything when she's on the starting line for a race, and she shouldn't be yapping about three different contestants when I'm about to start a race.
The game has one great strength, and it's the same thing which made its predecessor great. Driving around real roads in exotic locations in amazing cars is straight up fun. It's hampered a little because you won't get an amazing car until you're a good ten hours into the game.
Once you do get a hot car though there's immense pleasure in uncovering every nook and cranny in the satellite mapped road system. The best race in the game unsurprisingly borrows from this formula directly, having you race around Ibiza in a 45 minute long marathon of concentration.
There's a fair amount of pop-in while you're driving around, but it's nothing terribly offensive and it never fails to load to a point where you're driving through nothing. The day night cycle makes for beautiful vistas, and the world seems alive thanks to the constant presence of traffic.
Just driving around has its objectives as well - apart from discovering all the roads that is - in that you still have random missions from strangers. On the island of Ibiza there are all manner of people who are unbelievably trusting.
There are heaps of people keen to have the guy who just pulled up in his used, beaten up Lancia Delta Evoluzione drive their Mercedes Benz SLK to the carwash. And there are scores of ladies who apparently didn't see Death Proof so they think jumping in the smashed up Mustang Fastback (it's not a '70 Chevy Nova, but it's damn close) is a brilliant idea.
Some of these hitchhikers even have rules, like 'if you smash into too many cars I'm just going to get out'. I know Ibiza is a party island, but if a person smashes into even one car you should probably ask them to let you out (if you're still alive).
There are only two radio stations, one playing house music and the other playing rock - I can't remember their names, but I like to call them Bad and Worse. There's no custom soundtrack option either, so you're stuck with either those stations or the roar of the engine.
We're back to where we started then - with the terrible launch the game has had. Even now (time of writing 14/02/11) there are still a heap of problems with getting a connection to the game's servers, making it impossible to play with others.
On launch day the game servers were overwhelmed to the point of not working at all - and so the game would hang at the loading screen as it tried and failed repeatedly to connect. The only way to remedy this was to physically remove your network cable/disconnect your console from the internet.
This shouldn't have to be said, but this is not how you launch a video game. The worst thing about Test Drive Unlimited 2 is that its problems are far deeper than just broken servers - fundamental flaws in its gameplay render it a pointless endeavour.
As much as I loved powering around Ibiza and Hawaii in a Bugatti or Ferrari, it doesn't make up for the tedium of earning cars through repetitive, samey races against underwhelming (and teleporting) AI, the Z grade voice acting and the half-arsed attempt at injecting story into a game which very literally didn't need it. Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a wreck.