Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Sims Medieval Review

At first glance, one might think that The Sims Medieval is just another expansion for the hugely successful Sims franchise. The fact it's a full-price game however and stand-alone will make you think otherwise: so let me start off by saying this isn't an expansion. Yes, it uses the Sims 3 engine, a lot of it in fact, but the setting and gameplay are quite a bit different.

What originally attracted me to this game was it said it gave the opportunity for players to role-play a character and perform quests to better your kingdom. To me that sounded a bit like a Fable III clone and since at that stage there was no word about Fable III coming to PC, maybe this game could plug the gap?

Sound (4/5)
I haven't encountered any issues with the sound in this iteration of the Sims, making it already better than the Sims 3. Most of the audio is similar to its predecessor, including the ability to give different voice sets to your Sims. This time though you've got the introduction of many sounds you'd expect from a medieval village.

Music (5/5)
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much in the music department, but the music has grown on me. The music, being mostly medieval music which is dominated by lutes, recorders (I'm a real sucker for recorders and tin whistles) and harpsichords, complements the game extremely well. You hear different music when you visit different locations (e.g. going to the churches will have choir music) and there is variety of music to fit not only in-game play but the quest-related comics that pop-up every so often to help immerse you and your characters in the story.

With such a sensational soundtrack, it probably comes as no surprise that it was scored by a veteran film and TV composer, John Debney. Mr. Debney has scored soundtracks for films such as Iron Man 2, End of Days, and the Emperor's New Groove to name a few. He's also worked on projects for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Graphics (3/5)
The graphics in this game are basically the same as the Sims 3, hence the pretty average score (it's based off a two year old engine)! However, the graphics are still reasonably good and I especially like the art direction in the comics they use as cutscenes for your quests.

Plot (4/5)
Unlike the usual Sims games, this one actually has more of a plot. Each quest that you perform has a start and end, and a story that unfolds as you use your Heroes to complete them. Consequently, this game already trumps the Sims 3 in terms of plot. The game is almost worth it for the hilarious intro cinematic alone!

Gameplay (4/5)
In The Sims Medieval, you play a variety of campaigns which have offers you a platinum, gold, silver or bronze award depending on how close you achieve them (e.g. annexing a certain number of foreign territories, building a certain number of buildings, etc.) These are achieved by completing quests in each campaign and to complete the quests, you use your Heroes to do so. If The Sims Medieval was a traditional RPG, Heroes are like the professions or classes you can pick. You only get access to a particular profession once you build the structure that corresponds to it, and you can only have one Sim with that profession at a time. Having more professions increases the multiple ways you can complete a quest. For example if you had a knight, you could stop an invasion the old fashioned way - fighting! However, if you have a mage, you can handle it without having to lose any troops at all.

Remember when I mentioned in my Sims 3 review the addition of all these features that you'd usually find in an RPG (i.e. an inventory, quests, etc.)? Well The Sims Medieval takes full advantage of them which makes the aforementioned embarking on quests possible. You even have other territories you can annex by doing certain special quests. Also each profession have different skills, some of them even having mini-games, like the blacksmith forging weapons, or a doctor healing patients. All of these are definitely welcome additions which makes the game that much more fun than the Sims 3 and making the game more like... well... a game!

Unfortunately the game is still more like The Sims 3 than a proper RPG (see my awesome chart), but it's definitely a step in the right direction in my opinion. You still need to do chores for example that distract from the quests, although sometimes the mini-games related to these chores can be fun in themselves. You also can get experience points from them, levelling your Heroes (another hallmark of RPGs).

Replayability (4/5)
The game isn't as replayable as the Sims 3 due to it cutting down on many of the customisation features and also not allowing you to build houses. Also, children don't age to an adult in this game (although they are available as an heir to a hero/heroine if they meet an untimely death). Finally, the pool of quests you can pick from in each campaign are the same from campaign to campaign, so you'll eventually repeat some of them.

To alleviate this somewhat, the Sims Medieval does have the dreaded achievements which so many games have nowadays. Grabbing achievements apparently unlocks extra stuff though, so it does have its uses. Instead of playing the campaigns you can also play in a sandbox mode, meaning there is a mode for those preferring open-ended gameplay.

Polish (4/5)
The game is pretty well polished, but it is using a lot of the old Sims 3 engine and interface after all. Unfortunately, since the engine is based off the Sims 3, this also means it has its fair share of problems as well. For example, sometimes certain items/quests can become bugged meaning you have no option but to reload from a previous save game.

Overall - 9/10
The closest the Sims has come to a role-playing game yet. Some of the annoyances inherited from its parent series holds it back though...

As I type this review, it appears that this game is being sold at half the price I purchased it for at EB! You can get it off Steam for $50.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gray Matter Review

I suspect not many people would've heard of this game unless they happen to be adventure gamers and old-school ones at that. Why you may ask?

Back in 1993, Sierra published a computer game that was quite a bit different to its previous games in that it had a more adult story line. A writer by the name of Jane Jensen brought to us the supernatural mystery game, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. It was an excellent adventure game for its time (it's still pretty good fun to play today).

Okay, what's that got to do with Gray Matter? Well Jane Jensen was the designer for this game too so when I heard that she was making another adventure game, I just had to get myself a copy to check it out. Is this game another case of great story but poor execution or is it actually a neat well-rounded adventure game package?

Sound (3/5)
Unfortunately, the voice acting isn't terribly good in this game. The emphasis is always placed on the wrong words and sometimes the voice actors seem to be overreacting. Otherwise, the sound effects themselves are alright.

Music (5/5)
The music in this game is top notch, but that's probably no surprise with Robert Holmes at the helm (Jane's husband) who also scored Gabriel Knight! Not only that, but his daughter's band, the Scarlet Furies, also scores music for this game! Yes, it's nepotism galore, but hey if you get an awesome soundtrack as a result, I'm not complaining.

Graphics (4/5)
The in-game graphics generated by the engine are actually pretty good - the best I've seen in a point 'n' click adventure game, especially an indie adventure game. The character textures are quite detailed and so are the backgrounds. The only criticism is that the cutscenes, which don't use the in-game engine, seem to be drawn by amateurs (emphasis on the plural, there seems to even be differing artwork styles between cutscenes). There are also inconsistencies between what the characters look like before the cutscene and during the cutscene.

Plot (4/5)
No surprises, but there's a great plot here, in the same vain as Gabriel Knight. You play as Samantha Everett, an American magician who is touring the UK. However, during a storm, your motorbike breaks down so you take refuge at the nearest house, which happens to be a creepy manor belonging to a neurobiologist named Prof Styles. Strange things have been happening at the manor, and it's up to you and Prof Styles to figure out what's going on.

Since the game is of the mystery genre (which I personally think is the best genre match for an adventure game) it's very entertaining, especially with Jane Jensen providing it. The only problem I have with the game is that it actually seems to end quite abruptly. A longer epilogue on what actually happened and what becomes of all the characters would've been nice.

Gameplay (4/5)
The game runs just like your traditional point 'n' click adventure. You move around and interact with objects using the mouse, you can talk to characters and pick conversation topics and you have an inventory where you have the ability to combine items.

One neat feature is that when you check the map, they colour-code the locations to tell you whether you need to complete any more puzzles at the location. Also there is a special screen to see how many points you've acquired for that day.

The puzzles in the game are challenging but at least they are logical, except for one puzzle which I had to finally resort to Google to solve the riddle. It assumes you've read the Bible in order to answer the question which is a bit unreasonable since not everyone who plays this game is going to be a devout Christian (surely?). It would've been nice to have had a Bible actually in the game to pass on the hint to all us heathen :).

As an aside, it's interesting to note how similar the game is structured to the Gabriel Knight games (1) the game is broken up into days, (2) you wake up every morning to have a coffee and a chat, (3) you travel around the city (in this case, Oxford) through the use of your map and (4) the game is a paranormal mystery.

Replayability (4/5)
The game is almost as replayable as any adventure game of the recent era, but thanks to a throwback to a bygone age, there actually is a reason to replay the game. Just like old Sierra adventure games, you get awarded points for completing puzzles in this game and you can actually finish the game without getting the full number of points. Completing extra puzzles awards you these bonus points giving you a reason to play the game at least a second time to hunt them down.

Polish (5/5)
The game is very well polished and I'm glad it's got the good ol' point 'n' click interface unlike another adventure game company and their games *cough* Telltale *cough*.

Overall - 9/10
Old-fashioned adventure gaming with a 21st century veneer.

The best deal available is from GAME Australia. It also includes free shipping in Australia!

Unfortunately stock is low, so you may have to end up importing if EB or GAME fails you.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to extract music from The Sims Medieval

If you're like me and happen to (a) want the Sims Medieval soundtrack, (b) got stuffed around by EB and didn't get the Collector's Edition, (c) live in Australia and (d) does not like using iTunes, you're pretty much stuffed. The only option is left is to extract the music from the game files.

Fortunately, this isn't too hard to do, and after looking at a few pages online, here's an list of instructions to do so.

1. Download tools
Firstly you'll need to download a program to extract the files and a tool to convert the audio files to a useable format (i.e. .wav format).

To extract the files from the game, use S3PE. You can grab this off Sourceforge.

To convert the .sns audio files to .wav files, you need ea3layer. This can be downloaded off this website.

2. Setup a directory
Create a directory where you'll do the work on your hard disk (C:\). I created one called C:\decoding.

Extract the contents of the ealayer3 .zip file into the C:\decoding folder (or whatever one you've created). By default it should reside in C:\decoding\ealayer3-0.6.3-win32 (or whatever version ealayer3 is up to)

Also install S3PE.

3. Extract files
Run S3PE (If you're running Windows Vista or 7, make sure to right-click on the icon first and choose "Run as Administrator").

Once S3PE opens, go to File > Open ...

Navigate to the folder containing the packages you want to extract the music from. On Windows 7 the files are located in C:\Program Files (x86)\Electronic Arts\The Sims Medieval\GameData\Shared\Packages

The specific file you are looking for is SASFullBuild0.package.

Open this file.

Sort the files by name. You are only concerned in the files starting with "mu_" as a prefix.

Select all "mu_" prefixed files and then select Resource > Export > To file...

Select the folder we setup earlier to extract the files into.

4. Convert files from .sns to .wav format

Now we use the ealayer3 tool to convert all the .sns files to .wav format. Firstly, delete any of the extracted files that are not .sns files. You may also want to rename all the files to more understandable names.

Then go to the Start Menu and type in "cmd"

You will then see a Command Prompt window pop up.

Type "cd\decoding\ealayer3-0.63-win32" without the exclamation marks (or whatever the name of the folder you setup earlier to extract your music into and save the ealayer3 tool in)

Type in the command prompt:

ealayer3 -mc [file name].sns

Where [file name] is the name of the .sns file. This will instruct ealayer3 to convert the file .sns into .wav.

Do this for all your files and soon you will have the Sims Medieval Soundtrack!

Type exit in the Command Prompt once you're done!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dragon Age II Review

Finally here it is (even though it's been out since March) - my Dragon Age II review! This probably took the most out of my time in terms of a review, but Bioware RPGs usually tend to. I think I got about 40 hours playtime all up with my first playthrough.

Why did I buy Dragon Age II? Well I played the first one and for all its faults, it's still a pretty awesome game, and I heard that Dragon Age II was to Dragon Age what Mass Effect II was to Mass Effect. Since I seem to be one of the few fans who actually liked what they did with Mass Effect II, I was intrigued as to what this actually meant for Dragon Age II.

Sound (4/5)
The voice actors weren't as high profile this time around. You don't have the likes of Claudia Black, Kate Mulgrew and Steve Blum to name a few. However, if you're a Pom, you'd probably recognise a few of them since most of them appear to British TV actors and personalities. While most of the voice acting was passable, there were occasional parts where it got sloppy.

Music (5/5)
Inon Zur returns to score the track for Dragon Age II and he's done an excellent job with the main themes, incorporating many riffs and melodies from the original (which also had an exceptional soundtrack). Check out my soundtrack review to learn more.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics have improved with the times and they are on par with Mass Effect 2. However, just like the first Dragon Age, I once again incur the wrath of the dreaded graphical glitches! Instead of getting artefacts like the first time, this Dragon Age seems to lag terribly during certain cutscenes, so bad that sometimes I miss out on some of the speech, which is not very choice indeed!

Plot (3/5)
As you may have already read, Dragon Age II doesn't have as epic a storyline as the original Dragon Age. In the original Dragon Age, you were a Grey Warden who travelled all over Ferelden, uniting the Humans, Dwarves and Elves to fight back the evil Darkspawn.

The game is set a couple of years after the first Dragon Age (well actually there's a bit of a tutorial/prologue that is set during the rout of King Cailan during Dragon Age: Origins, but that doesn't last long). You are a Fereldan refugee who has arrived on the shores of the Free Marches, at the ancient slave city of Kirkwall. You basically start off your existence doing odd-jobs to survive and are pretty much a nobody.

What is a plus of this particular Dragon Age is that you get to see your character grow from a refugee to a noble (or even perhaps king) of the City of Kirkwall. Not bad for 10 years work if you can get it...

However being set in one city, while it may seem logical for the plot, doesn't make for a very fun and varied game when you end up recycling many of the locales.

Gameplay (4/5)
I actually had much more fun playing this second iteration of Dragon Age - and I didn't even need to turn the difficulty down (*gasp*)! Playing a bow-wielding rogue (as I tried in the first Dragon Age) seems to be easier in this one; I only had to opt out of one difficult battle this time! Fortunately it was a side quest and not in the way of anything major. What has been a godsend is that the rogue can now defend himself quite competently at close-quarters (even if you take a ranged attack skill path) and he looks pretty awesome when he does it too!

The game is definitely more streamlined, adopting an action RPG skill tree in favour of the traditional D&D mechanics. Also healing and mana/stamina potions are pooled together, which might make the interface more appealing and efficient, but there are also cooling down periods when you use them (meaning you can't just continually quaff them ad nauseam).

Gifting companions as was the case in Dragon Age 1 is not present in Dragon Age 2. You still have the bars indicating whether your companions like/hate you but you affect their impression on you the old fashioned way, i.e. by conversation choices.

Speaking of conversation choices, you now have a conversation wheel similar to the Mass Effect series. You always have three stances or behaviours to choose from, one being the good/polite/peaceful approach, the neutral/smartarse/profitable approach or the evil/rude/violent approach. One choice aspect I noticed is that I believe picking one stance/behaviour more than the other will cause your character to say things associated with that behaviour automatically during conversations you don't have control over. This means you’re giving cues of how your character’s personality is like by what he/she says.

Replayability (4/5)
Replyability has gone backwards somewhat in this iteration of Dragon Age. There are no more Origin stories, you can only play as a human, and the ending doesn't really seem to be much different no matter how you play, which is a shame, since one of the main reasons you play a Bioware RPG is to check out what kind of different endings and sub-quests you can get depending on the sex, race, background and alignment of your character!

The game still retains some of the Bioware trademarks though, like achievements, romantic interests, choosing who lives, who dies and who leaves your party.

Polish (3/5)
The game uses the same cumbersome Bioware Social Network as its predecessor, however, I didn't have any issues this time since I've just grumbled a bit and accepted the fact I have no choice but to use it. Still doesn't mean I have to like it!

The only issue I've stumbled across is that at some point Bioware decided to place all the free DLC in a new place, and it took several minutes for me to navigate where it was. Bioware's Social Network isn't the most user-friendly interface out there - which is a shame. They really should take a leaf out of Steam's book... (and even then, Steam isn't perfect).

Overall - 8/10
It's true. Dragon Age II did for Dragon Age, what Mass Effect 2 did for Mass Effect. This is generally a good thing, unless you're an RPG conservative.

Normally I'd vouch for Steam to get the cheapest price for a game, but you can get Dragon Age II for the sale price of $64 at GAME Australia. It also includes free shipping in Australia!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Can't save your Back to the Future game?

Last night I was happily playing Episode 3 to Back to the Future: The Game when I noticed to my dismay that I couldn't save the game... the option simply wasn't there!

Apparently it all comes down to which launcher you use to play the game. If you launch the game using a previous launcher (e.g. one for the first or second episodes) then the game will still work but you won't get the save game option (freaky I know). So, if you want to save the game at some point and not finish the episode in one sitting (which I've read some have), make sure you're using the right launcher!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Video Games Live coming to Australia

For those wanting to hear some awesome music from the likes of Tommy Tallarico (composer of more than 250 games including the Earthworm Jim series, Messiah, MDK, Unreal and Prince of Persia) and Jack Wall (responsible for the music in Mass Effect series, Jade Empire and Dungeon Siege II to name a few), you'll be happy to know that come the end of 2011, Video Games Live will be playing in Australia!

Video Games Live will be visiting Brisbane on the 11th December, Melbourne on the 13th, Sydney on the 15th and 16th, and Perth on December the 17th.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dragon Age II Soundtrack Review

  • Name: Dragon Age II Soundtrack
  • Label: EA Games Soundtrack
  • Composer(s): Inon Zur
  • Number of Tracks: 29

With Inon Zur back behind the helm for Dragon Age II, there wasn't much doubt that this was going to be another top quality soundtrack - this is one of the reasons I wanted to pre-order the game - to get the awesome soundtrack of course - I'm not actually a fan of all the extra items would you believe (but they make the game easier so I'm not exactly complaining either).

It would also be a good exercise to review this before I got straight into the Dragon Age II review.

Artistic Merit (57%)
There I was talking about how great Inon Zur was and then... WTF? You only gave him 57% for Artistic Merit? Well hold on a second. There are a LOT of tracks in this album and while there are some true gems in there, most of the rest is padded by COMBAT MUSIC. While combat music is appropriate to the game, they're rarely excellent listening material on their own. Consequently, a majority of the music is quite forgetful.

However, the tracks that Inon Zur managed to incorporate the themes from the below two tracks tend to be my favourite. They're very heroic sounding indeed!

Incidentally, the main theme and the Hawke Family Theme song are my favourites.

There are also a few great vocal pieces in this where I believe a woman is singing gaelic (don't quote me on that, all I know is that it doesn't sound like English)? They're very good but sadly don't really get much airplay during the game (you get to hear it during the credits though).

Finally another favourite was the Tavern theme. I'd go as far to say it's probably the best tavern music I've heard in a fantasy game yet. It sounds very contemporary, almost like a John Butler Trio or bluegrass track (not that I listen to the John Butler Trio much if at all).

Value (100% - Good)
I managed to nab it for free, so the value is good for me!

Length (100% - Good)
There are a lot of tracks here, 29 to be exact. Admittedly, most of it is COMBAT MUSIC as mentioned before but that's okay.

Total Score: 8/10
For those who get the Signature Edition of Dragon Age II, it comes free. Unfortunately you require to preorder the game in order to get that IIRC - so it's already not attainable for most of you. For those interested in obtaining this album I think your best bet is on iTunes, which I don't use.

Back to the Future: Episode 2 Review

This is the second episode of the Back to the Future series called "Get Tannen!". Some sections of the review are going to be understandably short since each episode is quite similar in terms of mechanics (only the plot really changing). I'd recommend reading the first episode review in conjunction with this one to get the full picture.

Sound (4/5)
Audio is as good as Episode 1. Authentic sound effects and great voice acting mired by some occasional sound stuttering issues.

Music (4/5)
The music is still great but for some reason there were occasional bits in the game where no music was playing at all which seemed rather silly during action sequences.

Graphics (2/5)
Graphics have the same style as the previous episode although I noticed a lot more graphical glitches than the previous episode (e.g. characters going through walls or other characters)

Plot (4/5)
In this episode, Marty discovers a bit more about his grandfather Arty and Doc Brown's past. He also has to stop Kid Tannen from ruining the current timeline and the way that Marty fixes things in the past doesn't necessarily have the expected consequences in the present - which is what made the movies, and time travel movies in general, so great.

The game has some excellent story writing which you'd expect as they've used the one of the original co-writers from the movies (Bob Gale) but it doesn't get a perfect score since the game is probably not much fun if you haven't seen to the Back to the Future films (but then again, who hasn't?).

Gameplay (4/5)
The game still suffers from the fact the player is limited in what he/she can do (and this runs the danger of the player becoming a mere spectator) but this episode had slightly more entertaining puzzles than the first, which is a good thing. The puzzles centred on the speakeasy were the most memorable for me and were not only good fun but humorous.

Replayability (3/5)
The game has average replayability as you'd expect for any game in the adventure genre.

Polish (4/5)
The game is pretty well polished, which is pretty common for Telltale Games however I never liked the mixture of keyboard and mouse in order to control your character (you can blame consoles for this). I miss the days of traditional point 'n' click adventures...

Overall - 8/10
This episode ramps up the fun factor but the presentation was a bit sloppier than the first episode.

If you want to get the game, visit Telltale Games.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Test Drive Unlimited 2 Review

The first Test Drive Unlimited was an excellent idea (albeit not totally original). Build an online game that allows players to explore the island of Oahu, Hawaii in several exotic cars with your friends. The only time it failed (in a major way) was when a bunch of me and my friends actually wanted to race together - it never worked.

When I heard that a new Test Drive Unlimited was coming out. I was admittedly skeptical. Was I going to be able to play with my friends this time or was it going to be the same as last time? I figured that the original wasn't so bad even as a single player game, plus it was half the price of the original so surely it was worth a shot?

Sound (2/5)
Voice acting is pretty bad in this game (but at times it can be so bad, that it's good - check out some of the videos for examples). Also the vehicle noises just don't sound gutsy or authentic enough (sounding very synthesised). Pretty much similar to the first Test Drive Unlimited.

Also be warned that the game runs its in-built VoIP by default, and it uses volume detection instead of push-to-talk. If you don't turn it off you can get some intended conversations being broadcast (both ways).

Music (3/5)
The game uses a lot of licensed music which I suppose is a plus but since I don't follow contemporary music I cannot really judge if it's any good or not. All that I know is that some tracks they play (like ones at a couple of the clothing stores) will have any self-respecting straight guy turning the volume down.

Graphics (3/5)
The graphics are as good as the previous TDU1. Some of the textures are not high especially when it comes to the scenery (trees can appear quite pizellated) but you get to travel over a large area so I'm not complaining too much. Also like the old one the avatars are a bit wooden in terms of their animations (and are also surprisingly ape-looking).

One of the highlights of the Test Drive series is the care that is taken in modelling the cars and the amount of detail that goes into them. The interior and exteriors of the car are modelled off the real thing and there aren't many racing games out there where when driving in the cockpit of a vehicle feels like you're in the real thing. Even the islands that they base their maps off are quite authentic. Obviously they're not 100% correct but they're damn close. While driving on Oahu (which I recently visited in real life) I found many famous hotels and landmarks that actually exist - and in the same locations (more or less)!

Plot (4/5)
The game doesn't have much of a plot but unlike the old Test Drive Unlimited, there actually is one. So it's a slight improvement over the original, even if they do need better scriptwriters...

In the game, you start off as a valet who eventually gets his/her big break as a contestant in the prestigious Solar Crown racing championship that takes place firstly on the island of Ibiza and eventually on Oahu, Hawaii. Gaining new licenses and completing championships advances the single player storyline, and you get to meet new NPC racers along the way. If you do well enough in the championships you even get to duel racers to win their customised cars.

Gameplay (4/5)
The game plays very similar to Test Drive Unlimited 1, but for the benefit of those who haven't played the original this is basically how it works.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) is branded as a M.O.O.R. or a Massively Open Online Racing game, and the game pretty much delivers in that regard. You have an avatar in the game who can drive a whole bunch of licensed vehicles (Ferraris, Audis, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagens, etc.) around the party island of Ibiza, and later on Oahu in Hawaii (the setting for the first TDU). The game is very immersive and allows you to almost live a life on the island.

Your avatar can get haircuts, plastic surgery, shop for clothes or just hang out at your house (which you can decorate) or auto clubs. Unlike TDU1 where you had little ability to navigate around with your avatar, TDU2 gives you much more freedom and customisation. This is all rather nice, and actually gives you some points that works towards you levelling up, a bit like an RPG. However, unlike an RPG, levelling up doesn't really bestow any benefits besides bragging rights (and allowing you access to a different island). Of course, the other way you can get points (and more importantly money) is through racing.

There are several challenges for the player. The usual are races with NPC drivers and if you do well on these, you are rewarded with experience points and money. You can use money towards buying new cars, new houses (to store your cars... naturally), car performance upgrades, and a whole bunch of unnecessary stuff like car decals, paint jobs, and all the aforementioned avatar goodies (although they do give you experience points).

Obviously you'll eventually get to a point where there's not much left to do in terms of the single player campaign, but there will always be the online community to play with. Overall, there's not much to fault with the gameplay although I do have a love/hate relationship with the license schools. A bit like the Gran Turismo series, in order to get to higher level challenges, you need to pass a series of tests in order to get the license to compete in them. This requires various things like running around cones, practising braking and learning how to overtake without touching opponent cars. One annoying aspect of the game for casual gamers (who pick the casual difficulty setting) is that you must play the driving school challenges using the medium difficulty. When I read that, I just ended up using medium difficulty all the time since becoming too dependent on the easy handling would surely make it even more difficult come driving school time. This means that the easiest difficulty setting is almost useless (unless you don't mind abstaining from playing the single player campaign altogether). The driving schools also act as roadblocks to further progress, so if you're really struggling on one of the challenges, it's going to several infuriating retries before you get through.

Oh, another difference with this TDU is that you can't get to ride motorbikes and they've been instead replaced by 4x4s. While this may irk some players, I actually think it was a smart move (even if it is fun riding a bike). Allowing 4x4s in the game allowed the developers to maximise the use of the map by allowing easier access to inland areas of the islands which would not have been normally accessible before.

Replayability (4/5)
There is still a lingering question mark over whether multiplayer is any better over the first Test Drive Unlimited. In TDU1 me and my friends struggled to get a race happening with even more than two players. It was the main drawback to the game. I only got one chance to try multiplayer this time around with a friend and when the one friend tried to host the game, it failed. There seemed to be no problems when I hosted though.

Regardless of the multiplayer, the game is substantially better in the replayability stakes than its predecessor. There are a lot more mini-games, championships, multiplayer co-op challenges, police chases, two islands to explore and Steam achievements.

Polish (0/5)
Once again, just like the previous Test Drive Unlimited, the game is rather unpolished (except it's probably even worse this time). There were several bugs on release, some so numerous that certain functionality was disabled (e.g. clubs). I even had trouble connecting at all in the first few days.

Fortunately most serious bugs have been fixed so the game is pretty much playable now. The game controls still have a console-y feel about them though, at times you're not quite sure which key to press on the keyboard sine it shows console buttons instead.

Overall - 6/10
Some minor improvements over the original TDU1 makes the game even more fun to play, but a very buggy release and a (once again) poor implementation of multiplayer holds it back.

If you want to get the game, it's actually going for pretty cheap on Steam for $20.