Test Drive Unlimited 2 is not the best racer out there. Nor is it the prettiest. But it's definitely the biggest and the most ambitious, and it's got a peculiar charm all its own.
- Two huge islands to freely explore, with weather effects and day/night cycles
- Generally excellent integration of online/offline experiences
- Virtually limitless number of goals to pursue and items to unlock
- Vehicle handling is still awkward
- Some goals are overly tedious and seem arbitrary
- Story and character models might not appeal to some
Test Drive Unlimited 2 Review:
Massively multiplayer online games have never really worked in the console world. There’s any number of reasons for this, but the most obvious one is that the genre that best fits MMOs on PCs, swords-and-sorcery fantasy RPGs, doesn’t translate nearly as well to the console experience.
Atari hopes to change that with Test Drive Unlimited 2, which they’re billing as “M.O.O.R.,” or Massively Open Online Racing. With solid integration of the online/offline experience and a style of racing that will appeal to a wider audience (and probably annoy hardcore racing fans), they might have cracked the console MMO formula—if gamers can overlook TDU2’s many quirks.
Gentlemen, (Re-)Start Your Engines
Test Drive Unlimited 2 builds off of the open-world racer premise of its 2006 predecessor. It doesn’t offer the excessive tuning options of a Gran Turismo 5, opting for a more versatile (read: arcadey) approach that does its best to accommodate street racing, offroading and extended rallies. It retains the open-word formula of its predecessor and boasts well over 100 cars to find, purchase and collect.
But a lot has changed in the nearly five years since TDU hit the track. For one, the motorcycles of the original have been replaced with 4x4s, an excellent decision considering how broken the bike physics were in the first game. Vehicle damage is now enabled, though there’s very little realism in the crashes that cause it.
Most importantly, the online and offline experiences are now completely integrated and virtually indistinguishable from each other. When playing online, you can participate in co-op races and challenge any other player to a race with a flick of the headlights; you can even create your own course on the fly. And the persistent online world synchronizes weather patterns and time of day, adding a completely new level of depth and beauty to the already stunning realism of the Mediterranean island of Ibiza and, later, the Oahu of the original game.
TDU2 also adds a storyline that is so insanely ridiculous that there’s no point in describing it. The character models seem like they stepped out of a first-generation PS2 game, and the words that come out of their poorly animated mouths make the barely localized games of the late 90’s sound like the complete works of Shakespeare. If you can’t embrace the absurdity of it all, you’re in for a bad time. Fortunately, it’s so outrageously laughable, taking it seriously isn’t really an option.
Roam If You Want To, Roam Around the World
As you race around Ibiza and Oahu, you progress through 15 levels in each of four categories: Social, Discovery, Competition and Collection. By splitting achievement into these four categories, TDU2 cleverly rewards gamers for playing the game in any style they want.
Want to spend your weekends tooling around with your buddies as a part of TDU2’s racing clubs? You’ll shoot through the social ranks. Choose to explore every inch of TDU2’s massive and gorgeous environments? Congratulations, you’re a discoverer. If you aggressively challenge other racers and leave them in the dust, you earn competition experience, and if you’re a neurotic “gotta catch ‘em all” completist, you’re tailor-made for success in the collection department.
Splitting up achievement into four categories works for two reasons. First, it encourages gamers to play in whatever way feels best to them—and since there’s so much to see and do in each category, they can just stick to their area of interest and still get their money’s worth. And second, it’s a great way for TDU2 to highlight its strengths, especially its seamless integration of online/offline play and its vast open environments.
Unfortunately, the four categories aren’t as distinct as some gamers might like. Your progress in certain categories also requires a certain degree of progress in another. For example, even if you only want clearly defined goals, you’re going to have to do a certain amount of open-world discovery, since you have to explore the island to find showrooms that unlock races for Competition.
FTW or DNF?
Assigning a score to Test Drive Unlimited 2 was extremely difficult. The actual driving experience itself—the very thing that the entire game is based around—still feels stuck in second gear compared to refined racers like Gran Turismo 5, Forza Motorsport 5 and anything that Criterion touches. The UI is a burden to navigate, minor glitches plague the whole experience, and the cringe-worthy character animation and dialogue sabotage the cool that the rest of the game works so hard to establish.
But there’s simply nothing else like TDU2 out there. Or, rather, there are several games that capture aspects of TDU2—Burnout Paradise’s free-wheeling open rides through island environments, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit’s cops-and-robbers chases, Gran Turismo 5’s endless collect-a-thon—but nothing puts them together into one overly ambitious package the way TDU2 does. It might not be the best racing game out there, but by god, it’s the biggest.
And because TDU2 isn’t a sim-heavy gearhead tunefest, it’s much more likely to attract that more casual following that it will need to really maximize its stellar social aspects. Hardcore racing enthusiasts will gripe about the floaty handling that makes even the most precision-engineered supercar feel like a Chevy Impala. But those who just want to pick up and play a racing game will delight in the flash and spectacle of the cars and environments, not to mention the absurd cartwheels that accompany even the most minor crashes.
For all of TDU2’s faults, none of them are severe enough to ruin the experience. And for all of its hokey weirdness, there’s a strange charm about it that will keep you coming back for more. It’s a game you’ll want to like, and if you can approach it on its own terms and enjoy it for what it is, you won’t find that hard to do.