+ Wide open world
+ Simulates more than racing
- Ugly characters
- Non intuitive driving system
- Multiplayer issues
Final score: 6.5 / 10
Windows XP SP2, Vista SP2, Windows 7
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 4400+
2 GB RAM
Nvidia GeForce 8800 or ATI Radeon HD 3870
DirectX 9.0c compatible
14 GB hard drive space
10 button controller such as Xbox 360 or Logitech Dual-Action
Internet Broadband Connection
Microsoft .NET 3.5
Ibiza can be beautiful, especially late in the afternoon, when shadows lengthen and night sneaks in, almost begging the player to slow down a bit and take in the sight, maybe step out of the car with the misses and take a few pictures that will later wind up on Facebook and draw a lot of gasping comments.
That's the image, the illusion that Test Drive Unlimited 2, the game from Atari and Eden Games, aims to deliver to gamers, complete with some very fast cars and some very luxurious homes, but unfortunately, the game fails to actually deliver these kinds of experience and ends up delivering thoroughly mediocre mechanics in all areas, except when it comes to character simulation, which tends towards the awful.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 can charm the player at one moment, only to then let him down completely at the next turn and this lack of consistency is what makes a possibly great open-world racer just a mediocre game.
Gameplay Everyone knows racing. It involves getting into cars, getting quicker, more powerful and more iconic as the game progresses, touching down on a track and being quicker than everybody else if this is an actual race or attain a certain standard if it’s a drift race or an against-the-clock effort. The basic formula is, in a way, impossible to change so that means developers like Polyphony Digital or Criterion or Eden for Test Drive Unlimited 2 need to add something else to the pure racing to make their video game interesting.
The hook is supposed to be the fact that TDU 2 simulates a lot more than racing, asking the player to become a member of a social elite which is just as focused on cars as they are on looks, rearranging furniture in their houses and looking at their collection of cars. The player, as always, starts off low on the ladder and needs to work hard and win races to have the cool things that others do.
TDU 2 allows gamers to jump from event to event, racing the clock or others in order to win level advancement and money, which can then be spent on cars, upgrades and other objects. The game also has the signature free roaming from the first game, allowing to explore an at times superb island of Ibiza and even taking the player back to Oahu.
The big problem I found in Test Drive Unlimited 2 is that the systems don't get together to well and my experience quickly evolved from being mildly annoyed with the driving engine to being somewhat interested in the competitive events, and then becoming one of those players who is happy to only wander around the seemingly endless roads, doing a bit of drifting, scaring some other drivers and bumping into the backs of trucks to see the rather weird effects of the collision system.
The game also is tough on newcomers, forcing them through six license tests that are intensely frustrating and make the driving model feel worse than it actually is in competitive events or in free roam.
And Test Drive Unlimited 2 also commits the sin of making the gamer abandon the car in order to become a sort of floating Sim puppet which interacts in extremely shallow ways with those ahead of him on the racing and social ladders while planning to take their place.
Now that I think of it, Eden might actually be trying to comment on the state of today's bored high-income class and the challenges they face with bringing actual excitement into their lives. If so, then well done, developers.
And a last word of caution: whatever you do with your car, do not go to a car wash, and if you do, skip the cinematic as quickly as possible.
Graphics and audio
There are two sides to the Test Drive Unlimited 3 graphics quality and both of them are disappointing. The first time I looked at the cars offered in the game, my thoughts instantly drifted to how the low-quality cars looked in last year's Gran Turismo 5. The textures are too shinny, even when the vehicles are caked with dirt from off road, and there are some maddening details, like seeing very ugly textured exhaust pop out from the car just before a race starts even if I am not pushing down the acceleration.
After a while the cars begin to look less offensive, although they never reach the detail of the PlayStation 3 exclusive and are also behind those seen in the latest Need for Speed, but by then most gamers are likely to have met and been scared of the out-of-the-car graphics.
However, the main offenders here are the people who look like they have been taken wholesale from an always-beautiful edition of The Sims 2.5. There's one male character that I was unfortunate enough to choose as my Avatar, that seemed like the sort of serial killer you see in B movies, trying to blend in among normal people and failing miserably.
The female characters manage to be even worse, with all of them apparently bred in an attempt for looks, but they fail to be attractive because of poor textures, uninspired facial movements and lack of anything that could indicate a real personality.
Where TDU 2 shines is in the open-world space, where you can drive for miles and miles while just enjoying the places you are flying by, the sunsets that bathe everything in orange, the darkness of the night and the smashes that tend to happen when other people get too close to your racer. The island itself manages to look impressive but the immersion is broken as soon as the player enters a location or takes a good look at his car.
It's surprising how good the music is in Test Drive Unlimited 2. Those who are annoyed by the constant roar of the car engine and would like a more adequate backdrop while exploring Ibiza can choose their favorite tunes and the quality of the game experience is instantly increased a few notches. There's both variety and quality there, but the adds can quickly become annoying, which is one aspect where TDU 2 is as close as possible to the real-life experience of listening to the radio while standing for hours behind the wheel.
A lot of Test Drive Unlimited 2 is build around the community, and that's one of the games' biggest strengths, the ability to get a number of friends interested, get them into a racing club and then make the game a social experience in more ways that the Autolog from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit or the limited modes from Gran Turismo 5 allow.
At the show
Immediately after launch, TDU 2 has been experiencing some stability issues with the multiplayer modes and clubs have been disabled for some time, with the development team saying that they are working hard to both make of them available again and to add more features. At the moment, the PC version of the game has limited multiplayer available and the situation is worse on consoles.
Players also need to be advised that the game has been reported as getting more crashes and weird physics behavior when two games go into an ad-hoc head-to-head race.
The car simulation market is pretty well stocked at the moment, with gamers on all platforms able to get the Need for Speed reboot that Criterion created, while platform fanatics can choose between Gran Turismo 5 for the PlayStation 3 and Forza Motorsport 3 for the Xbox 360. So, it made sense for Test Drive Unlimited 2 to try and differentiate itself as much as possible from other titles, adding the different progression ladders, the social element, the luxury angle and a somewhat alien driving system.
Moreover, Test Drive Unlimited 2 could have been a great experience if all of the above-mentioned elements managed to actually work together and draw the player into the game rather than just send him down a number of different advancement tracks, with neither of them actually feeling satisfactory. Let's hope Test Drive Unlimited survives this unfortunate outing as a series and deliver a more focused experience in the future.
test drive unlimited 1 is far better than tdu2. in number 1 you can get in a car tune it up and go race with challanges or other online players without licences or tests like so many other games. as a gamer sometimes i just want to get in my car and drive, tdu1 provided this. tdu2 shatters that by having to do certain things to get tune ups and race. i hope atari and eden game realize this and bring back servers to tdu1. they have a great situation here to make a third and make it more like tdu1 rather than tdu2 new island more cars, a flat and straight road 5 miles long would be nice. atari eden games bring it out before someone else does. and please please bring back some servers to test drive unlimited 1. i also hope someone at atari reads this as they will find a lot lot of people share this view