Could the next great racing title be here? Compared to most other racers, TDU2 is a complex game, offering just as many social aspects as it does racing aspects. And as hoped, it offers a lot for the player to do, and caters to both casual and serious gamers alike. Despite launch bugs, is Eden Games’ latest worth an immediate pickup?
When Test Drive Unlimited came out in late 2006, it set the bar for what a “lifestyle” racing game should be all about. It featured a seamless online/offline experience, a huge island to drive around in, a large collection of cars to purchase and upgrade, and best of all, it had the graphics to back everything up and make the game believable.
With TDU2, common goals are shared, but some new features have been added while others have been refined. Like the original, this game focuses a lot on the “social” aspect, making the game more like an MMO than a typical online game. It’s meant to cater to both offline and online gamers, although to experience the game to its fullest, the online mode is where it’s at.
The story in TDU2 is like the story in most other racing games… you start out your game life as a hopeful racer, get a chance to prove yourself, and then begin working your way up the ranks. But here, ranks just don’t seem to matter as much, as there’s no official “top” of a list. Across the asphalt, classic and off-road championships, there are three main rivals to beat, but there’s no real sense of glory gained even if you do wipe ’em out.
Some racing games focus on a specific type of racing, but TDU2 doesn’t. Those who play DiRT 2 or NFS: Hot Pursuit pretty much know what they’re in for, but with TDU2, the racing styles from both of those games is essentially merged into one total package. “Asphalt” is typical street racing and is where all the exotic or high-performance vehicles belong. “Classic” is just as it sounds. Racing here can also take place on the streets, but it features classic automobiles instead, such as a Lotus Esprit S3 or ’57 Chevrolet Corvette.
The third racing type is “Off-road”, and it’s quite honestly one of the strongest-suits of TDU2. A common complaint of the game since its launch is that the car handling is horrible (something I don’t agree with), but that’s far from being the case in off-road racing. While on the road you might slip-slide away in a performance auto, off-road racing delivers quite a bit of control, adding to the fun-factor and ridding any sort of stress.
Progression is a rather simple affair, but requires a bit of skill. There are no difficulty levels, so every gamer has the same chance of making it through. After one championship is completed, you need to go purchase the next appropriate car with the help of the cash infusion you just experienced, and then rinse and repeat.
I earlier compared the game to being an MMO, and if there’s one good reason for that, it’s that earning money in this game is not that easy – at least, if you want to purchase all the houses, cars, upgrades and so forth (there’s an achievement for this, so it’s meant to happen). So, once the championships are all done with, earning money can become a bit of a grind, but that does mean that there are many hours that could be sunk into the game.
That’s actually more of an understatement, because even if you don’t care to collect everything the game offers you, there are many gameplay hours to be had. I’d estimate that most gamers will happily get 30-40 hours out of this one, and completionists will get at least 100.
That’s not to say that all of those gameplay hours will be rip-roaring fun, however, as there are some game mechanics (no pun) that I tend to find rather needless, or frustrating. Take licenses, for example. Even though you’ve already been accepted to race in a championship, you must for some bizarre reason prove yourself and take part in gruelling tests. You must complete these in order to partake in the championship, so they can’t be ignored.
The problem isn’t so much that earning licenses in general is a bad thing, but it’s just not executed that well here. The tests are far too complicated at times, and the cars you are required to complete these tests with aren’t exactly top-rate, and aren’t likely to be the same cars you’ll use in real races. In the end, it all does prove to be a rather intense challenge, but can also prove to be a more frustrating experience than it should be.
Past that, and also the championships, there are a countless number of other activities to partake in. “Events”, for example, have you drive people around for a number of different reasons. You might simply need to take someone where they need to go, or keep some guy thrilled enough by giving him an adrenaline rush or by keeping to a certain speed. These events reward you with money, along with “Points” (XP).
That’s a good enough segue for me… let’s talk about leveling. Similar again to an MMO, players can level up by amassing Points that can be earned by doing virtually anything. That includes winning races at the least, and also exploring, finding hidden “Wrecks”, taking photos, purchasing houses, cars and clothes, making friends, taking part in online races and so forth. If it’s a part of the game mechanic, it’s likely a way to earn you XP. Err… Points.
The unfortunate thing though, is that levels don’t seem to mean much. There are no aspects of the game that require you to be a certain level, so in the end, a level is just for bragging-rights (or more appropriately, proof of you playing the game more than someone else).
Like the original, TDU2 features the huge island of O’ahu in Hawaii to explore, but in addition, the Spanish island of Ibiza has also been added. In fact, Ibiza is where the game begins, and after hitting level 10 (alright, I caught myself in a lie, didn’t I?), you’re able to hop on a plane and begin exploring Hawaii. While the original TDU featured about 1,000 miles worth of Hawaiian rodes, TDU2 bumps that up to about 1,400. Ibiza features about 600 miles worth of roads, so overall, the game has a lot of driving area.