Content Test 3

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Test Drive Unlimited 2
Graphics: 7.5
Gameplay: 7.4
Sound: 7.7
Control: 7.2
Replay Value: 7.8
Rating: 7.6

Oddly enough, it’s the one appealing aspect of the racing genre that has – for the most part – gone missing. Prior to Test Drive Unlimited 2, our only virtual involvement with the lifestyle required to drive the world’s hottest cars was limited to a few hotties at the starting line. Eden wanted to change all that; they wanted to remind us that such access can only be obtained via wealth and riches. Then they sat back and said, “wait…doesn’t everyone want to live that fantasy? Wouldn’t that make for a great setting?” And so, the hybrid social interaction/racing game was born and we have what feels like a racing MMO, complete with an expansive environment and both friends and strangers wandering about. It’s a darn good idea. It just doesn’t quite come to fruition and in the end, while there is plenty of fun to be had, this blending sorta means no one elements stands out.

In same ways, the graphics will stand out, especially if you take the time to explore that lush fantasy island. Driving around, you’ll spot some wonderful vistas; the two areas – Ibiza and Oahu – are filled with enviable homes and town areas that’ll make you wince. The latter reaction occurs when you realize such an atmosphere is beautiful, but only reserved for the despicably rich. …if you weren’t so bitter, you’d choose a more positive descriptive term. The landscape does look quite nice, even if the character modeling isn’t anything special and overall detail isn’t the best you’ll see. There’s a lot of vivid colors and appreciated brightness, but my biggest problem is a decided lack of activity. There just aren’t enough people around and you start to tire of exploration all too quickly. Things do open up and expand when online but much of the presentation still felt a little blasé to me.

The sound falls into a similar category in my head: good, often pretty and certainly quite fitting, but just lacking that little something. “That little something” is the indescribable element of polish and refinement that only elite titles seem to boast. Even so, the driving effects are decent, the soundtrack can be quite impressive at certain times, and the voices are passable. I think some of the racing effects weren’t quite right but then again, I’m coming off Gran Turismo 5 and the comparison isn’t really fair. When just looking around for something to do (and there’s lots to try), the sound tails off a bit but when involved in a mission, it kicks in well. For the most part, there are no glaring technical issues regarding either the visuals or the audio, but the entire package doesn’t place this game in the upper echelon. It does tend to rely more on its gameplay, freedom, and atmosphere, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

As hinted at in the intro, TDU2 attempts to encompass the glitzy, high-profile world of a wealthy playboy and all his boy toys…this includes both cars and women. It’s best to think of the game as a freedom-based, open-world racer with a touch of The Sims. It’s large and expansive and the online community adds a huge amount of longevity, primarily because it’s vastly preferable to party with others. If you want to relax, just drive around in the Fire Ride option; if you want to push forward in your racing career, keep hitting the single-player races. If you want to invite a friend over to check out your latest enviable purchase, go for it. The good news is that you aren’t too restricted or limited; the concept of “free” racing in an ideal environment works quite well.

Right off the bat, let me tell you that if you have no intention of going online, you should probably pass on this game. While the single-player challenges can be fun, and it’s always satisfying to drive new cars and progress in you career, it seems the majority of the entertainment is found online. There are new challenges, new areas, and all of a sudden, the once-bland world starts to fill up with other players driving around. This is the atmosphere that is most enjoyable; we want to share our good fortunes with others, right? And really, the only ones who want to hear about our good fortunes have no reason to be jealous…it’s a community of hedonistic A-Listers who love to show off. But before you indulge, you really should move forward in the single-player campaign, because it’s relatively easy to rake in some early cash and cars.

However, don’t think racing against the lamebrain AI will prepare you for human competition. You likely won’t be challenged often by AI-controlled drivers; most can be defeated with lesser cars, in fact. I suppose Eden lowered the difficulty on purpose; it’s more of a “leisure” experience than anything else, and they didn’t want to create an unnecessary barrier. In this way, it’s easy to get started and within hours, you’ll bring in some cash and begin to harbor an extreme urge to jump online. Literally hundreds of challenges await (not to mention optional side-quests), and both your car and clothing collection will begin to grow. The AI is poor, true, and the race physics fall somewhere in between simulation and arcade, although we’re leaning more towards the arcade style. But it’s about becoming immersed in an ideal virtual existence.

You gain experience in four different categories: Social, Competition, Discovery, and Collection. You’ll find various community challenges under Social, drive around locating landmarks for the Discovery part, take down racers in Competition, and purchase expensive items like houses for the Collection. Doing so ups your overall rank. The good news is that you don’t have to focus on one particular category; just playing will usually earn EXP for multiple categories. The only downside is that you may find yourself spending a great deal of time driving around finding stuff, especially early on. Personally, I really liked this aspect of the game, but I can see how those itching to get their race groove on could quickly grow impatient. Once you do get involved in the racing aspect, though, you’ll find that it’s mostly solid and although the control can feel loose, it’s still entertaining. The diverse roads are great, too, as you’ll always be forced to adapt on the fly, which is very cool.

I still say some of the cars don’t handle quite right and due to the dopey AI, your only real competition in single-player consists of learning the island roads. Sure, it’s accessible, but it’s clear that Eden wants you to get online as soon as possible. The world really opens up big time, despite all the single-player events that are indeed available if you put in the requisite amount of time. You can purchase new threads and upgrade your car, enjoy the changing scenery, earn EXP, and build up your Collection; all of this can be done offline but without the MMO aspect, this production lacks some much-needed panache. You can find it online but then again, I’m not the biggest fan of being forced to log into the Network just to see the best a game has to offer. That’s not say Eden didn’t do a good job; it’s more of a personal preference, and I accept that. Still, it has to be mentioned.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 sets out to do something a little different and for the most part, it succeeds. The AI is silly, there’s little challenge – and little urgency or tension – concerning the regular competition, and the technical elements don’t have that extra “oomph.” But the developers worked hard on that singular environment and atmosphere, the online mode and community offer a wealth of options and freedom, building up your rank and social status can be pretty darn fulfilling, and sometimes, it’s just fun to drive around in your favorite car and watch the sunset. That alone might be worth the price of admission. But if you’re not into the MMO aspect I’ve described in this review, you’ve been warned: the single-player wasn’t ignored and there is a lot to it, but the meat and potatoes of the title can only be found online. If you're cool with that, try it.

The Good: Some pretty visuals and scenery; decent sound. Great, idyllic environment. Diverse landscape and roads. Ranking up and building a very rich Collection is fulfilling. Very expansive; lots of things to do, especially online.

The Bad: Technicals aren’t overly polished. Poor AI. Control can be iffy for some cars. Single-player pales in comparison to online multiplayer.

The Ugly: Potentially terrible for your self-esteem.

2/14/2011   Ben Dutka