Open world racing titles are nothing new to the gaming world. If you're going to entice gamers to the title that you create, you're going to have some pretty stiff competition on the current generation of consoles thanks to the likes of the Burnout and Need for Speed franchises. One title that tried to get in on the action was Test Drive Unlimited. Giving players an entire island to populate and race amongst each other, the original Test Drive Unlimited was ambitious in its scope to attempt to blur the lines between a single-player and multiplayer experience. While it didn't quite live up to the hype, there was a lot to like about the game. Now, its sequel, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is attempting to rev gamers' engines in the hope of enticing them for another shot of island racing once more.While the title is an overall improvement on its predecessor, there are a number of technical issues which hold the game back from realising the intended ambition of its design.
Like its forefather, Test Drive Unlimited 2 again places players in a glorious island paradise, with the locale of Ibiza providing a majority of the scenery this time around, and the Hawaiian island of Oahu serving as a secondary location. Each island also consists of a number of asphalt roads and off-road routes to explore. Both islands are chock full of an assortment of challenges and races which are used to level up your character as well as earn some extra cash which can be used to purchase additional homes (which themselves provide much needed garage space) and new cars/upgrades. Those familiar with Test Drive Unlimited will notice that the roads of Oahu have been modified in order to freshen up the location and make it interesting for those that are familiar with the title. The scripted story of Test Drive Unlimited 2 plays up the island paradise theme as it sets up your character as a nameless amateur scrub looking for a shot at big time racing. Through a series of ridiculously scripted events you find yourself being gifted with a position of entering the Solar Crown Competition, a competition which aims to locate the best racer on the island.
The Solar Crown Competition gives the title a reality television feel to its presentation, with a number of characters being created to serve as your 'rivals' during the competition. These cut-scenes are presented as if they were part of an ongoing television program and you'll find that the cheesiness of it all will soon grate your nerves and it does a great job of spoiling what the game does do excellently - present you with an enjoyable foray into arcade racing that'll keep many racing fans entertained for hours.
If youâ€™ve never experienced the wares of Test Drive Unlimited, the handling of the cars will come as a bit of a shock to you - particularly if you dive into the Ford Mustang or other muscle cars on offer. Powering up one of these classic automobiles is much like stepping into their real world counterparts. As pretty as they are, let's face it, when compared to newer cars they are big, bulky and unresponsive to drive. At first you'll feel as though you are spending more time crashing into everything that the game feels almost unplayable. But with a little patience and persistence, you'll find that it all starts to make sense. Test Drive Unlimited 2 isn't as unforgiving as Gran Turismo or Forza, but on the other hand it's not going to let you just handbrake and nitrous your way out of situations like Burnout or Need For Speed either. The way the game is designed, you'll find that more often than not you'll prove to be your own worst enemy, which means that funnily enough it's very rare that you are beaten by the AI. Whether you're constantly tapping on the brakes to prevent your car from sliding off the track or racing overly aggressive on the final turn only to watch your opponent stroll in for the easy victory as you pushed your car a little too hard.
If you aim to complete every challenge in Test Drive Unlimited 2 you'll easily find that you could sink 50+ hours into the title. Thankfully, there are a variety of racing modes on offer in the Solar Crown tournament in an attempt to keep the gameplay from getting stale. There are your standard races which will require you to race through a predetermined course where you dash to the finish line and others that will require you to race around a circuit for a predetermined number of laps. There are also time trials that pit your course time against that of your AI opponents. One of the most fun challenges is the speed trap trials where you and other racers are required to pass by markers where a speed camera will clock your speed. One of the funnest aspects of this particular challenge is figuring out which stretch of road to utilise in order to generate more speed than your opponents. Rounding out the races are a number of off-road challenges to complete as well as different licenses to unlock in order to progress through the game.
Built around the core free-roaming racing gameplay are a number of features that provide gamers with a deeper experience than the average arcade racing title. Whether you're searching the island for hidden car wrecks (which can be used to build bonus cars), taking photographs of secret locations or decking out your character in the latest fashions, there is plenty to do without actually racing. One interesting feature is the F.R.I.M. (Free Ride Instant Money) system which allows you to earn money based on your driving ability. If you're able to perform manouvers such as playing chicken with oncoming traffic, sustaining breakneck speeds, performing jumps or drifting you'll be able to increase a meter which fills up to offer you a certain amount of currency. The F.R.I.M. system becomes quite a strategic endeavour as you can either bank the money straight away or gamble on being able to not crash or go off-road in the hopes of generating even more cash.
If cruising around the island free-roam style is more your game, there are still a number of things you can do. You can drive up to other racers and challenge them to a quick wager by flashing your headlights and hitting the road one-on-one stlye. You can also perform missions for players in need who can be located on the map. Once you reach these targets they will have a request for you to complete in order for you to make some serious cash. These missions can require you to driver from point A to point B, tail another car or take a photograph of a particular area of the island. Online multiplayer is also a big part of the experience, and one of the definitely upgrades over the title's predecessor. When you're connected online you'll be able to automatically come across other players driving on the island. You can challenge them to instant races as you can with the game's AI opponents or you can enter in a number of events and clubs in order to race against multiple opponents. One of the great things about the title is being able to create your own challenge and then posting it on a board where other players are able to take up the challenge and attempt to beat you at your own creation. While the online component of the game is a drastic upgrade over the previous title, there are still a number of server issues which plague the game. Namely, the instability of a server which more often than not will frustratingly lead to a sudden disconnection right when you are in the middle of a race.
Other notable flaws which break your enjoyment of the game are the number of freezing issues and texture pop-in, though it can be noted that many of the freezing issues disappeared after the patch was applied to the game. Other graphical randomness was encountered; such as AI-controlled cars appearing and disappearing at random during free-roaming and invisible barriers blocking the way when certain paths are utilised is also prevalent.
While the ambition of Eden Games should be commended, it is quite sad that the game holds itself back from being a crowning jewel of the racing genre thanks to a number of technical problems and undercooked ideas. With so much content on hand and a solid arcade driving mechanic, there is still a lot to like about Test Drive Unlimited 2. Put if you were thinking that this title was a finely tuned machine that would be able to knock the likes of Burnout or Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit from their perch as arcade racing royalty; you'd be sorely mistaken.