What We Know:
Test Drive Unlimited is fondly remembered for its huge map (over 1000 miles of Hawaii to explore), its open world gameplay, and its variety of licensed cars. The sequel promises much more, including weather and day/night cycles, more multiplayer action, vehicle damages and a lot more out-of-car things for your avatar to engage in.
What We Are Seeing:
Have you ever had a game rub you the wrong way, but for strange reasons? That's how I felt about Test Drive Unlimited 2. Judging from the demo, there's nothing wrong with the game. It offers nearly 2000 miles of roads and trails on the Spanish island of Ibiza and Oahu, Hawaii as a free-roam worlds, open to multiple players, as well as a ton of licensed cars including exotic vehicles like the Gumpert Apollo hypercar and your standard issue Lamborghinis and Ferraris. SUVs are included for off-roading. There are cool weather effects, a day and night cycle and even vehicle damage. You basically drive around, sightseeing, issuing instant racing challenges to your pals, or competing against AI cars. If you'd rather a story, there's a whole plot mode as well. You can even own and decorate a home and invite your pals over. Pretty much a car-lifestyle MMO.
The graphics are nice if not breathtaking-- it's a pretty game, brightly lit and inviting. The cars seem to handle well. I chose a 1970s Mustang, and that car's muscle-car handling and rear braking were represented well in the game. I imagine tighter handling vehicles will be accurately represented as well.
So what's the problem? The whole tone of the game just doesn't appeal to me. It's clear that Atari intends Test Drive Unlimited 2 as a driving game for people who covet and lust after exotic cars and the lifestyle around them. I was told this several times during the demo by the helpful Atari representatives: In Euro-accents they reminded me that this game was for people who want to drive the most expensive cars around the most exotic locales in the world.
As soon as my avatar exited my car, I was struck with the general douchebaggery of the whole endeavor. It just seems sad to pretend to drive a car I'll never afford around Ibiza, a place I'd never want to visit, in the skin of some dude who is better looking than I will ever be, dressed in clothes I would never wear, with avatar-friends that I wouldn't want to have, to a house I couldn’t possibly afford, but wouldn’t want anyway.
It's aspirational gaming, but Test Drive Unlimited's world is not one I aspire to be in, or even know about. I have a visceral, negative reaction to the lifestyle of rich playboys, and the idea of pretending to be a douchebag with a fauxhawk, expensive sunglasses and a popped-collar doesn't appeal to me, even if the cars are fast and the fake-sun is shining. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I just wasn't down with the lifestyle.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 comes out on September 21.