Test Drive Unlimited brought some innovative concepts to the car simulation genre when it was released in 2006. But in the time since, the genre has advanced noticeably, with games franchises like Forza Motorsports, Gran Turismo and Need for Speed continuing to improve the way racing on a video game console looks and feels. After all, four years is an epoch in video game terms.
For Test Drive Unlimited 2, the developers at Eden Studios knew that their innovations - open world track design, a massively multiplayer persistent world - still had a lot of juice in them and room to develop. And while they’ve concentrated on honing and enhancing what made their game really good in the first place, they also know that they need to compete on a new level graphically and in terms of car handling and dynamics. Based on this first look at the game, it seems like they’ve been working hard for the last four years.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 features a brand new island, Ibiza. The Mediterranean setting of this island makes for a whole new set of roads to drive on that look a lot different than the Hawaiian streets of the first game. Ibiza features plenty of dramatic coastline, small cities and rolling desert-like hills for you to race your high performance vehicles, and this time, not just on the asphalt. Test Drive Unlimited 2 also introduces off-road racing, thanks to a network of dirt roads on Ibiza and Hawaii. That’s right, once you reach a certain progression point on Ibiza, you’ll unlock the entire island of Oahu from the first game, now with a new network of dirt roads for you to explore, as well as new races and challenges.
With 2000 miles of new roadway on Ibiza alone, fans of the TDU franchise will not be want for content, obviously. It’s not just about new or more cars either, though fans can expect to take a bevy of licensed vehicles for a spin including the Gumpert Apollo Sport, Dodge Viper SRT10, Dodge Charger SRT8, Aston Martin DBS, Ford Mustang GT, Koenigsegg CCXR Edition and Audi TT RS Roadster. The improved rendering technology makes even the old one cars look brand new, with more polygons and better textures. The world looks better, especially when the new day/night cycle makes for a pretty sunset backdrop to your cruise up the coast. Just cruising around will be worth it in part for the beautiful scenery and perhaps a small dose of virtual fahrvergnügen, but also because you can earn money by doing small things like narrowly dodging other cars, and pulling off sweet tricks. Money is great, but experience is everything.
Experience is actually four different things, each compiling to improve your overall level in the game. In races, you’ll earn experience points for your overall performance , new places you discover, things you collect and social experiences you engage in and so on. Earning more experience allows you to access more cars and races. It also helps continue the thread of the single player experience, which does have an actual storyline for you to follow. But like that other innovation that Test Drive Unlimited was known for - the social aspect of massively multiplayer open-world racing - interacting with friends and other gamers is important too, and meant to blend seamlessly into the overarching plot line.
Social interaction is even made a bit more fun by areas where you can walk aound on foot with your avatar. Most of these are indoor areas like dealerships or your garage or your club, but you can also walk around pre-race and look at your friends whips, and even talk a little trash over the microphone. That’s a real-world experience that could make the game experience seem even more realistic.
The social aspect is given its biggest test with the new system for clubs. Not only can you have a club consisting of other racers who hang out in a virtual space together, but they can also work together to earn new cars and upgrades and compete in special club-based challenges. The slight wrinkle here is that you can only belong to one club, be it one you started, one a friend did or one that was started by the best racer online who thinks you're worthy of joining their crew. It could feel a little limiting to only belong to one club, but it could also foster some neat drama if one club steals another’s top racer away, or if clubs develop really unique online personalities. Either way, it's one of the more interesting teamplay concepts we’ve seen in a racing game.
It’s hard to say if Test Drive Unlimited 2 will return the Test Drive franchise to the top of the racing heap. There are a lot of worthy competitors. But Test Drive Unlimited 2 has a feature set that should be intriguing to any fan of automotive video games, and where the game goes as far as community and downloadable content after release should be interesting to watch. Test Drive Unlimited 2 should see release sometime in 2010.