March 8th, 2011

Review: Test Drive Unlimited 2

A considerable proportion of the appeal of video games is that they allow us to escape from our tiresome and laborious lifestyles. After a day of work/school/life nothing beats sitting in a darkened room lacking fresh air and just ignoring society. Test Drive Unlimited 2 appeals to us gamers because it means we can escape from our menial lifestyles and live like a rockstar by partying, gambling and driving our way to success in a host of the world’s best supercars around glamorous locations around the world.

The start of TDU2 is more like a scene from Bret Easton Elis’ Less than Zero than a driving game. You start the by awkwardly partying the night away on a balcony in Ibiza where everyone is beautiful, in bikinis and looks like they have snorted too many pixels. I think you would agree that this is a bit of weird entrance to essentially what is meant to be a driving game. But I wouldn’t really call TDU2 a driving game; it is more of a lifestyle game.

The story goes that you’re an Ibiza-based car valet with a dream and a bit of driving ability who gets a shot at the “big time” in a series of race events called Solar Crown. Solar Crown is a bit like Race of Champions for spoilt children.

There are three classes to compete in. A is for asphalt, with car choices ranging from VW Golfs to McLaren MP4-12Cs. B is for the off-roaders which is a more limited choice with options like a VW Touareg V10 TDI or, oddly, the Spyker D8. Finally are the class C classics, your Cobras and old Esprits. However there is a lot, lot more to the game than just working your way through a championship full of cringey voiceovers and repetitive competitive sound bites.

There is the choice of open-road driving, single and multiplayer challenges, exploration, social features, car collecting, luxury lifestyle interior design and driving around 3,000km of road modelled on Ibiza. And this is all replicated again on another island, Oahu, later on in the game.

The problem with TDU2 is that there is a bit too much to do. The openworldness of the game is overshadowed by an endlessly ringing mobile phone prodding you to complete various challenges. These range from trailing a cheating girlfriend, going for a haircut and even popping to the cosmetic surgery. Remember how we said that video games are meant to be a form of escapism? Well, getting phone calls to tell you to get a facelift feels like an exotic nag from your mum tell you to clean your room.

So let’s get down to the driving. Your fundamental aim is to become the king-pin in Solar Crown and the only way to do this is to work your way up the ranks and into more and more luxurious motors. There is a wide array of cars to choose from both on-road and off road. With some of the latest hypercars being included like the McLaren MP4-12C, Zonda Cinque and Bugatti Veyron Super Sport you would think that you were spoilt for choice. However some major brands such as BMW are left out and the the limited brands in the game have a saturated line-up.

All cars get full interior and exterior and minor damage details however the accuracy falls well short of what we have become accustomed to in games like GT5 and Forza 3. You know something isn’t quite right when engine notes like the normally emphatic Aston Martin V12s sound terribly dud and uninspiring.

For the enthusiast, the place where TDU2 fails to meet to expectations is within the driving dynamics. The cars driving style borders between the realms of arcade and simulation. With cars constantly flipping between chronic understeer to lairy oversteer there is  no real knowledge of where the car is on the road or weight transfer.

Being mapped on real islands means that there is literally thousands of miles to explore both on and off the tarmac. However you can find yourself on monotonous freeway journeys weaving inbetween the lacklustre and unbranded AI cars while you cruise at a ridiculous rate of knots with no real acceptance of speed. These long stretches of road are offset against some great mountain passes where strapping your chiselled and cosmetically perfect avatar in to a Caterham is a real joy. If the guys at Eden games could sort the physics out this could be one of the best driving games on the market. It appeals to us petrolheads who like to go for the dawn raids in the country just for the sake of driving. If you can replicate that in hypercars in Hawaii you’re onto a winner, especially when you bin the car in the wet it doesn’t matter as you can just take it to one of the various car washes where a couple of girls in a bikinis will buff out all the dents.

The main appeal for this is “Massively Open Online Racing Experience” is to go online. This is where you can connect with other people in musky darkened rooms who are also trying to escape reality. All you need to do to connect is promiscuously flash your lights at the other player where you can then go for drives around the mountains of Hawaii, gamble your money away or just chill at the club – as you do.

Overall Test Drive Unlimited is a very entertaining game and something that will keep you busy for a long time. If you get fed up with racing around Ibiza you can always change the décor in your house of change your skin colour. However as a driving game it doesn’t quite make the cut with some of the bigger simulators on the market right now. If Test Drive Unlimited 3 has an uprated physics engine it could potentially be one of the best driving games by being the first to add simulation to somewhere beyond a race track. But until then, you can catch me at my lavish yacht moored in a sparkling blue marina in Ibiza with a Zonda outside – being played from my stuffy front room.

Words: Rowan Horncastle