Test Drive was just off my radar. It was during research of games with ambitious story modes that I finally crossed the line, jumping right in with the latest in the series Test Drive Unlimited 2. It promised customization of my own apartment, persistent online multi-player, hundreds of cars, realistic terrain on two islands and more. I was skeptical. I want a racing game, first and foremost, so will Test Drive Unlimited 2 deliver both story and game elegantly...or fall on its face?
Instead of using typical paragraph headings like "graphics", "sound" and "game play" for this one, Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) gets its own set. The game has all of the features you expect in a next gen racer (Single player, multiplayer, online racing, multiple views...etc) but it's really the way they've chosen to put it all together that needs to be addressed. You see when Test Drive Unlimited 2 came out it took a hit for some serious connectivity issues, dropped games and even corrupted save data. But, after a series of patches it seems the game's stable enough for a good try. Gave it some time, let the community settle...jumped right in.
Story mode madness kicks off TDU2. Starting from the top you get to pick a preset characters, six shining examples of the ethnicity of the world. Besides clothing and hair, that's all the customization you get on your character. Moving on, you have a delusion of grandeur, followed by getting fired, followed by getting offered a job as a professional racer in a racing tournament spanning two island...from the very woman who fired you who is also a racer in the race...right. Moving on, you're given a motor home for free, go spend a mysterious $20,000 you have in your pocket on a new car, then have a device installed on all your cars that actually pays you (from some unmentioned, limitless slush fund) for driving recklessly. But don't worry, there's no civilians on Ibiza or Oahu to terrify, though there are cops who mostly ignore you. And both of the radio stations broadcast in English, by English speaking DJs running some of the worst (seriously bad) written radio spots in human history. Finally, as if to put icing on this nasty cake, the animations for the characters don't look like humans move, the words the characters say don't sound like phrases humans use, and the voice acting is on par with that. I want to slap the face of every single main character of the game, and you will as well.
The story is everywhere in TDU2, it's meant to be thick, and rich and good but in the end what you get falls soooo flat of good that it's laughable. Fly through the story, the races and game types keep it fresh, the license tests make it boring but one of the best features of the game is lightning fast load times. Take advantage of that, cause the next two parts of the game make it worth playing.
The driving is hot in TDU2. The three different kinds of driving (Classic, Asphalt and Dirt) all feel different enough that you can hop from one to the other, adjust your driving styles for each one is a true blast. To do some comparisons: Precision driving in TDU2 feels tight, but not too realistic. Not quite Forza. It's truly a great blend of what makes driving games fun. There's always something to do, tons of races to enter with loads of players online. You'll regularly be racing with 8 people, and the map pulls up dozens more to interact with in and out of the cars. One of my favorite features is hopping into a car with another player and letting them drive you around. It's a great way to get a sample of someone else's driving lines, or just to enjoy some great views with a friend. With over a hundred cars to buy, customize and plenty of good DLC (Caterham Superlight, Bugati Veyron...mmm...), there's plenty of variety stuffed into a rich experience. The car interiors are modeled, the windows can be lowered, the doors can be opened, etc. There's lots of little extra features thrown into the car side of the game that raise its entertainment value incrementally each time, but they're very welcome increments.
Finally, the game's presentation is pretty damn clean. With the exception of certain nagging issues (bugs still sometimes crash the game, and the collision physics are a little goofy), the interface is useful and chock full of good intel. The music is actually pretty great once you get past the radio calls, the GPS system works well and the map is always dotted with great points of interest. But nothing beats going into your garage, looking at your beautiful line up of expensive cars and a sighing with happiness. Winning money in the game feels good, spending it feels great. There's one thing you can count on and that is TDU2 will always give you something pretty to look at. As long as its not people. And wrapping it all together is a leveling system, where you can spend time working four different angles (Social, Collection, Competition and Discovery) to upgrade your character's homes, access to cars, islands, events and more. It'll take some adjusting, but once you're done doing some races why not take a joyride to find some wrecked cars for more parts? Why not head to a club and find some challenges to try? Participate in a police chase to take down a dangerously driving player in your game, why not? There's a blue line on the map that shows all the roads you've personally driven down...why not fill in the map for a bit, with some good tunes on? Just tons to do here, really loads.
I don't feel like I've wasted my money with Test Drive Unlimited 2. Not at all. When I turn up the music, turn down the voice volume and take to the streets I have an absolute blast. The persistent online just shines here, makes this game a forward thinker in terms of how single and multi-player should work for sports titles, racing titles specifically. All it needs is a decent writer or two, and maybe some motion capture sessions. If Test Drive Unlimited 3 has double the amount of attention to the story, and just polishes out those bugs early on, we could have a truly great staple of racing gaming on our hands instead of just...well...a pretty good one.
I bought my own copy of the game for review on the Xbox 360, played up to Level 11 in the story mode trying all racing styles, some DLC, and a few hours of online racing and challenges.