It has been a packed few months if you’re a follower of racing games. Just keeping up with my backlog has proved an almost impossible task. Finally, I’ve had a chance to get around to one of my more anticipated titles this year – Test Drive Unlimited 2.
Eden Games have had a long, successful history with the racing genre including the V-Rally series, the PlayStation port of my favourite NFS title of all time; Porsche Unleashed, and of course, the original 2006 hit, Test Drive Unlimited.
While I missed playing the original TDU, its sequel was high atop my list of 2011 gaming acquirements.
TDU2 is a sandbox racer, taking place on the paradise islands of Ibiza and Oahu. Utilising a massive open world (and I stress the word ‘massive’ as this is easily one of the largest sandbox racers to date), you have thousands of kilometres of roads, both asphalt and dirt, at your disposal to explore and traverse.
Both of the island game worlds are modelled from satellite data, though some modification has been made to freshen up the layout(s) from the previous game. Travelling between the islands is as simple as jumping on a plane (and costs nothing), with the only requirement being progression to player level 10.
Load times are exceptional. Even travelling between the islands only takes a brief moment and fast-travelling to specific points on each island is also incredibly easy as well as lightning fast. It is an impressive achievement for a sandbox game of this type and size with little to no discernible texture pop-in at all. Casting my mind back to similar sandbox games such as Midnight Club: LA – and the ease and visual fidelity involved in moving about the city was nowhere near as polished as it is here.
TDU2 operates on a levelling system, with 60 maximum levels (or 70 with the Casino DLC) with this system divided into 4 broad categories.
The ‘Competition’ contribution includes all of your basic racing, including Championships, random duels, and online/offline racing challenges. Racing events are broken down into Time Trials, your more standard Race events, Eliminator events, Speed Limit events (think the Keanu Reeves movie, “Speed” and you’re close) and the Speed Trap events (race through fixed speed cameras and get the highest average speed compared to your competition over 4-6 different cameras).
Championships are made up of any number of these events, with anywhere from 5-8 events per Championship. Each race offers monetary awards, and winning the overall victory gives you a significant cash prize.
Races are divided amongst the car categories, falling into Classic (C), Off-Road (B) and Asphalt (A) events. Prior to entry, you also need to complete certain License requirements (at respective License schools) in order to participate. Completed Championships are usually succeeded by ‘High’ Championships (advanced events) with complete class victories awarding ‘Cup’ Championships, so there’s plenty to do.
Most of these events are visible on the map, or eventually introduced by the various racers in your in-game clique. Your mobile phone offers incoming notification of newly available events. While it’s not as annoying as – say – GTA IV’s mobile phone system – the poor voice talent in TDU2 doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
‘Social’ contributions include making friends in game, racing against other people, joining clubs and generally keeping up appearances.
‘Discovery’ is easily the most expansive and time consuming of the requirements, with challenges such as ‘discover all roads’ popping up in here. With ~3000km of roads to find and drive, you realise that 100% completion is going to be a mammoth task. Discovery also includes taking photos of touristy locations (sort of ‘side missions’ given from local photographic firms) and finding car wrecks littered across the islands (finding 10 of a kind unlocks a bonus car). And there are a number of them to collect.
‘Collection’ is as similarly expansive as the Discovery requirement and includes buying cars, houses, furniture, clothing and various other avatar related modification. Most of this category is going to result in some serious cash grinding, as there’s not a lot of big monetary gains to be had beyond the Championships (which can’t be repeated as a whole for their larger bonus prizes).
There are a stack of properties to buy, scattered throughout Ibiza and Oahu, ranging from small, 2-car garage huts, to expansive 8-car garaged mansions with floor-to-ceiling aquariums – and luxury yachts with palatial living areas. The architecture and opulent locales really drives you to grind the cash and purchase more property though. It is highly addictive. Each house can be fitted with custom furniture as well.
Your in-game avatar has a myriad of user-selectable content available, including designer clothes, expensive hairstyles and you can even go so far as to visit the plastic surgeon who will alter your appearance entirely.
Then there’s the cars; 101 of them on offer if you go by the complete list (though some are locked, some are pre-order exclusive etc.) with noticeable absences of Lamborghini, especially unusual as they were present in the first game. RUF also comes to the party in place of Porsche. All cars have well modelled interiors and exhibit cosmetic damage throughout driving.
As previously mentioned, cars fall into the 3 race classes, Classic, Off-road and Asphalt (C4, C3. B4, B3. A7, A6, A5, A4, A3, A2, A1). Everything from the Paris-Dakar Spyker to the Keonigsegg CCR. There’s a tremendous diversity of cars, and very rarely do you arrive in the situation where you’ve picked the wrong car for the class. Most cars can be modded at Tuning shops and made competitive. You can also add stickers/livery modifications to the majority of cars.
The process of visiting a car dealer, test driving a car, then buying and individually tailoring a car (wheels, colour choices, interior trim colour combinations etc) is fantastic.
Aiding your monetary system is the F.R.I.M, an on-board ‘black box’ that awards you for various offensive driving tactics such as oncoming misses, high speed driving and dodging traffic. Executing all of this without incident increases the cash gain through 10 levels – the flipside being a crash or impact resets the meter to zero, so higher risk = higher reward.
All of TDU2 can be taken online. Even during the career, you can cruise around, progress to objectives, all the while passing, meeting and challenging other TDU2 players around the globe. Unfortunately beyond this, much of the online aspect of TDU2 is currently, at time of writing, broken.
You can see a Friend on the map for example, you can fast travel to their location – but you’ll arrive to see everyone else on the map BUT your friend. Clubs are still broken, and in my time online, I’ve been unable to see more than one Friend at a time driving around (and for part of that, my Friend wasn’t able to see me). Ranked races are purely random it would seem, with no discernible way to get into a Ranked Race with your Friends. Voice chat works – only when all parties sync properly – which is rarely.
The Casino DLC (available as a pre-order bonus, or purchasable from the PSN Store) offers an additional 10 game levels (and supposedly a new/extra way of making money), the Audi R8 V10 Spyder and various mini games (including Roulette, Poker, Pokies and a driving challenge). I picked this up as a DLC option, but the Roulette has been broken/unplayable since I got it, the Poker is either unpopulated or you’re beaten by seasoned Poker vets – and the pokies (while actually having some monetary benefit) are insanely boring. It took me an hour to triple my $5000 money. Hardly worth the time when the racing Challenges offer up to a million bucks later on for 20-30 minutes fun. And then there’s the Audi R8 V10 Spyder. Despite buying the pack from the store, you then have to buy the car in-game with $1 million credit, or win it at the pokies (tried this, but got bored and poor after 40 mins). So the pack leaves a lot to be desired.
Online flaws aside, the single player races also suffer from the occasional bugs. The introduction of wet weather doesn’t seem to affect required times in the challenges, so rained out Time Trials can be extremely tough. Whether this is an intentional difficulty spike or an oversight I can’t be sure, but on one particular occasion later in the game I had to come back and resume the Trial once the Sun came out.
In the later (A2/A1) events, you often find the limits of the physics engine as well, with cars sometimes flying through the air over jumps and landing as if they’ve hit a brick wall, or spearing into the ground textures. It can be quite annoying especially in the Speed events.
I also question the decision to add time penalty to the time trial events as a blanket application if you run off the road. Example – run very wide, fall off the road, crash into the trees – and all the while, in addition to the penalty you’ve endured yourself just by messing up your line, the game also adds extra penalty time as you’re driving off the road, compounding the effect. It forces a ‘restart race’ scenario every time you mess up a little bit, rather than trying to get you back on the road and make up for lost time.
Graphics & Sound
Being island paradises, the game play setting offers some spectacular visuals. Nothing says opulence like driving your Bugatti Veyron Super Sport from your luxury Hawaiian yacht mooring. TDU2 reflects this with silky smooth visuals, plenty of colour and great diversity in locations.
You find yourself driving through rural plantation areas, past beaches, industrial regions, downtown cityscapes complete with complex highway interchanges and mountainous ‘goat trail’ tracks with breathtaking views. Car choice is paramount, a superbly detailed Caterham more suited to the nooks and crannies of Oahu downtown than your luxurious 1000HP Bugatti.
Cars are all well modelled, not to the same level of detail as say, GT5, but with a passion and authenticity easily allowing you to believe your surroundings. Eden Games have modelled collapsible hard and soft-top roofs, functioning doors, headlights and electric windows. Very impressive.
Complete with a full day-night cycle and changeable weather, you can drop the roof, roll down the windows and enjoy the Ibizan sunshine. And just as quickly close it all up when the tropical storms roll in.
Ibiza and Oahu have two radio stations. Hariba Radio and Road Rock. Both offer a selection of audio tracks, but to be honest, I found myself cruising without music most of the time, instead, choosing to listen to the authentic and faithfully recreated engine notes.
Voice talent is poor though, spoiling the immersion. Phoned in vocal introductions found in license tests and race events are repetitive, awkward and in some cases, utterly cringe worthy. 3 races in-a-row of the same Championship Event, I was told “What Drama! Apparently the Wilder Brothers and Stuart are squabbling again… The pressure of the competition is really beginning to show!”. Lines like this one are repeated constantly throughout the game – and become quite annoying.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a enjoyable, if slightly easy sandbox racer with plenty of great ideas and fluid delivery. Early adjustment to the handling aside, it is sure to offer hours of fresh game play.
Shamefully, the online lets this one down, both for early progress and replayability, but hopefully this can be addressed in future patches.
With such a mountain of content, massive world and loads of cars and race categories, TDU2 should definitely be on your play list if it isn’t already.