From Need for Speed to Burnout to Midnight Club, nearly every arcade racing franchise has dabbled with the open-world concept at some point. But none of them have made use of that open world nearly as well as Test Drive Unlimited did. This was mostly because TDU wasn’t strictly a racing game, but more an all-encompassing driving game, which lends itself better to an open world design than a strictly racing game does. So while TDU didn’t have the best vehicle handling in the genre, or the best graphics, it was possibly the best overall driving game around, because you were having just as much fun leisurely cruising around Hawaii as you were in one of its marathon cross-island time trials.
[singlepic id=2525 w=450 float=center]
That was in 2006 though, and a lot has changed in the last five years, but remarkably, the TDU concept still remains charming as ever, and thanks to many additions over the first game, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a solid follow-up. The first game had you playing racer, cab driver and delivery boy across the picturesque island of Oahu, and while that remains the case in TDU2, you now have a second island as well – Ibiza. The new location is even more beautiful, thanks to its lush tropical surroundings and its unique architecture, which offers up many narrow intimate alleys in amongst the wide open roads. You can also go off-road now, so while both islands are massive and have enough distance to cover on tarmac, the ability to now go off-road and the availability of specialised off-road vehicles like the H3 Hummer and Range Rover means that even after you sink 20-30 hours into the game, there’ll still be a lot of land left undiscovered.
To make best use of the open world, your progression through the game is broken up into four areas – competition, discovery, social and collection. You level up across each of these areas, so just sticking to racing events won’t level you up too far. Collection remains as addictive as it was in TDU. The limited car roster is shown off wonderfully by way of manufacturer or country-specific car showrooms. You can inspect cars minutely and even take them out for test drives. Just because your broke a*s can’t afford a Bugatti Veyron, doesn’t mean you can’t take it out for a two-minute thrill ride. Even if you do have the money, you can’t just go around buying every car that catches your eye, because you’ll need enough garage space to house them. Here, the real estate part of collection comes in. You’ll have to buy up houses, and then, if you’d like, even customise their interiors for more collection points.
[singlepic id=2520 w=450 float=center]
This is where things get a little weird. I don’t want to sit around the house picking out curtain fabric and pillow covers. I don’t want to visit clinics for frequent cosmetic surgery. If it doesn’t involve cars and driving, I want none of it; even if does help me level up. Eden seem to have tried to position TDU2 as a lifestyle game, and they’ve failed at it miserably. The “story” cutscenes, from the character models, to the animations, to the voice acting, are excruciatingly bad to the point where they’re almost amusing. They’d have been much better off scrapping these bits for text-based objectives and instructions. Thankfully, neither of the side activities is compulsory, and there are so many events and missions that even if you don’t like a few of them, there’s more than enough of the ones you do like.
Behind the wheel is where TDU2 is at its best, but when you first start the game, prepare to be appalled by the shockingly bad controls. The prologue mission has you using the game’s default ‘Arcade’ control difficulty. This is actually the worst way to play the game, and you should switch to Sport or Simulation the first chance you get. I found Simulation the best option, and despite its name, it’s still heavily arcade and very accessible. There’s also quite a nice cockpit view, but you can’t look around inside it, so you’ll be taking many blind turns, which isn’t ideal in missions that require you to drive absolutely clean. Off-road driving works surprisingly well, especially when using a car tailored for that terrain. As in the first game, the most memorable events in TDU2 are the long 8-10 mile long drives, whether you’re delivering an overpowered supercar, helping out a queasy hitch-hiker, or just getting to an event marker. To keep these long drives from getting boring, the game rewards you for narrowly missing traffic, clean driving, jumps and drifts. So despite the game’s overall laid back, tropical façade, it’s never dull.
[singlepic id=2524 w=450 float=center]
The social aspect of the game allows you to create clubs, where you can team up with friends and drive around or enter events together. TDU2’s is a persistent online world, so you’ll constantly see other real players driving around. You can also spontaneously trigger multi-player races by challenging any human player you come across by simply flashing your headlights. When the servers behave themselves, the online integration is seamless and driving past other individual players or a club lends the game a very cool sense of community. Unfortunately, the servers don’t always behave themselves, which is fine if you’re playing on console, where you can also launch the game in offline mode. I, however, was playing on PC, which requires you to be connected to TDU servers to launch the game and load your profile (once that’s done, you can go offline). If your Internet connection is down or the TDU servers act up (the latter is more likely), you can’t load your profile. So if you wish to start the game in offline mode, you’ll have to create a new profile. Advantage consoles.
The PC version, however, claws its way back with far superior visuals. Don’t expect Polyphony’s car models or Codemasters’ damage, but expect a game that is more artistically beautiful than anything those studios have made. The endless rows of palm trees, the inviting costal roads, and the shimmering blue sea alongside them will make your shiny new Ferrari 458 pale in comparison. TDU2 also introduces day-night transitions and weather effects. Neither has any impact on gameplay aside from a slight reduction in visibility, but driving at night or in the rain just make an already beautiful game even more stunning. While the console versions hold up very well, the crisper textures and superior AA on the PC nearly do enough to make it the version to get. But the intrusive DRM and some lazy porting in menu navigation should convince anyone on the fence to opt for either console version. If you do still intend to play it on PC, make sure you have an Xbox 360 controller to go with it.
[singlepic id=2522 w=450 float=center]
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a breath of fresh air. The open world is so inviting that it’ll make you drive a Pagani Zonda at 40 mph just so you can take in the sights. It’s laid back, it’s simple, and it lets you play the way you want to play it. There are some hit-or-miss features, but its core concept remains just as strong as it was five years ago, and Eden Games have built on it substantially to make this a worthy sequel. There simply isn’t another game like it.