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.