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Test Drive Unlimited 2

Date: February 23, 2011
Author(s): Rob Williams

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?



Introduction

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.

Gameplay, Bugs & Final Thoughts

For the completionists out there, TDU2 offers incentive to exploration, and rewards you handsomely if you drive 100% of the roads in each region. At the same time, each region features 10 different “Wrecks”, and if all 10 of those are found, you’re rewarded with a unique automobile. These autos tend to be more for fun than racing, however.

For those tired of the single-player experience, hopping online couldn’t be easier. In fact, if you create an online-capable account (which you should, since it can also be played offline), you’re essentially always online. Even during your single-player missions, or exploring car dealerships, you’ll see other players doing the same thing. However, while directly in a mission, race or anything of the sort that competes you against offline characters, you’ll be unable to see others who are online (as it should be, else other players would likely impede your progress).

Like the single-player experience, there is a lot to do online. For those wanting a quick race, you can challenge someone to one, and depending on how much you wager, you can either win or lose some big cash. You can also partake in some challenges that are located around the map. If you win whatever challenge is set forth, you’ll walk away with a nice haul.

There are also “Community Challenges”, which are challenges other people setup that you and others can pay to compete in. Sometimes, the pots here are huge, and that tends to result in a lot of skilled players taking part. If you manage to take the top spot before the challenge timer expires, you’ll be rolling in dough (maybe).

Adding to the social aspect are clubs – places to hook up with people of similar interests. I admit this is one area of the game I didn’t explore at all, so this is something I can’t comment on too much. If you enjoy meeting people and finding someone to race with, clubs are the go-to place.

At the game’s launch, Atari unveiled a piece of DLC that brought a Casino into the game, and at around $10, it could be worth it to those who A) like to mingle and B) enjoy a good gamble. This Casino, based on “Casino Island” (which the character must fly to), offers slot machines, poker and roulette, along with a clothing store and some other things. You can even race around a track on the island to compete with other players, and even win the car you drive at the slots.

The Casino DLC adds 10 levels to your character, so that you can reach level 70 rather than 60, but all 10 of those levels must be earned at the Casino itself. You can level up by taking advantage of virtually every aspect of the gambling paradise, including mastering the games and doing other random tasks. The biggest payoff of course is to win the Audi R8 off of the slots, which can take a couple of hours but is valued at over a million dollars.

Overall, TDU2 is a game that caters to those who aren’t after just a “racing game”, but rather want to be more involved with their character. If that idea seems intriguing to you, then TDU2 is a great purchase. It offers a ton of gameplay, many, many hours worth of content, and lots of online potential.

But, some downsides to the game must also be mentioned. In the first two weeks of the game’s launch, Atari / Eden Games have been working hard to keep the game servers online, and patch up other bugs that have been plaguing some users. So far, there’s been reports of corrupt saves, a mystery car showing up at the shop that can ruin your game progress and most importantly, the inability to get online whenever you need to.

Fortunately, many of these bugs have been squashed, with Eden Games having released at least three different patches since. Some issues still remain, but the servers finally seem to be stable again, and players can finally get on and play the game as it was meant to be.

But bugs aside, there are other issues with this game that prevent it from becoming an “epic” title. For one, the story is lacklustre, but to some that won’t matter. What does matter is that the voice acting in the game is some of the worst I’ve heard in a video game ever. Don’t believe me? Check out our posted YouTube video where you can hear some of it.

The real problem isn’t so much the lame voice acting though, but the fact that you hear the same lines over, and over, and over, and over again. There are a minor number of lines used to introduce each race, and while listening to the radio, you’ll hear the same ‘they tried too hard’ commercials too many times. Ironically, one of the catch phrases for one of the radio stations is, “It’s not repetitive, it’s Hariba radio!”… well, sorry to say, but it is repetitious.

On the topic of radio, there are unfortunately only two different stations; one that caters more towards pop/dance, and the other focusing on rock. For the most part, a lot of the songs here are good, but due to a short tracklist, we end up hearing the same songs too many times over. This is where a custom tracklist option would be useful, or even the ability to skip songs – but both are non-existent. At the same time, some songs are frustrating to listen to.

Among such classics as “Code of the Road” from Danko Jones, “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” from deadmau5, “For an Angel” from Paul van Dyk and “Common Man” by Delinquent Habits, there are ridiculous offerings (subjective) like “Daddy Was a DJ” from Lucy Love. There are others, but this one stood out to me enough as being the worst song in the game. And possibly the universe.

In the end, all of these niggles are just that, and not a game-breaker. For music, I alt-tab and launch up a media player to play what I want, and that works out well. It’s inconvenient, however, and Eden Games clearly should have offered people the ability to play their own music from within the game.

Other minor problems exist, such as the inability to easily move around cars from one house to another, the inability to sell cars to another player, a total lack of motorcycles and other odd bugs that can occur, but overall, as long as you are a bit lenient, most of these issues might not even bother you.

As it stands, I find TDU2 to be a great game, but it could have easily gone down as “epic” if Eden Games and Atari left it to cook in the oven for another month. Some of the bugs discovered after launch are purely needless, and in some cases, inexcusable. It’s understandable to have bugs after any game launch, but some of these have been harsh enough to cause people to bring the game back to the store or shelve it indefinitely. The first two weeks of a game launch shouldn’t feel like a beta, and it certainly did here.

As it is now though, all of the important bugs seem to have been ironed out, so if you are in the market for a robust racer and are just a bit lenient, you are sure to have hours upon hours of fun with Test Drive Unlimited 2. Just be sure to regularly back up your saved game, just in case.

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