Test-Drive-Unlimited-2---Xbox-360-Review Test Drive Unlimited 2 - Xbox 360 Review

   14/02/2011 at 09:28       Phil May       3 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Test Drive Unlimited 2, Eden Studios, Atari, Namco Bandai, Driving

Living a millionaire’s lifestyle is something that most of us can only dream of. Of course, working for one of the most successful games sites on the internet, everyone at AATG Towers drives to work in a sumptuous Bentley, Ferrari or Mercedes, usually with a stunning supermodel sitting in the passenger seat fussing with her botox in the mirror. 

Now and again though it’s nice to sample a game that gives humble peasants who drive a clapped out 1994 Volvo 240 to their jobs at the toothpaste factory a taste of the highlife.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 is the sequel to Eden Studios’ innovative massive multiplayer online driving game. A game that didn’t quite live up to its lofty ambitions of providing a seamless living breathing gameworld to drive around in, complete with offline and online challenges to test the mettle of the best drivers on the planet.

After an extremely frustrating half an hour or so, I concluded that the game was hideously broken. Stuck in an infinite loop of cheesy lift music, peppered by scenes and vehicles from the game, my TDU2 experience didn’t get off to a good start when the game neglected to bother telling me that, because it couldn’t contact any game servers, it would sit there forever. No error message, no warning, nothing.

Seeking help on the net, it seems just about everyone else has experienced the same problem. Unhooking the network connection gives the game the jump-start it requires, and soon I was thrown into the deep end behind the wheel of a ludicrously overpowered Ferrari.

The game’s tutorial is a delicious and wry moment of silliness before you’re brought back down to earth with a bump and realise that you’re not the sort of person who has billionaire friends who gift them Ferraris for their birthday (but just in case you’re reading, Mubarak, my birthday’s next week and I would like an Exige please). No, you’re the sort of person who wears a horrible uniform and parks cars for a living, the sort of person who lives in a scabby caravan and the sort of person who will have to work their way up from the gutter to the lofty heights of racing stardom.

The game’s single player mode is built around the Solar Crown racing championship, a series of races in different disciplines. By a quirk of fate you find yourself rubbing shoulders with Ibiza’s playboy rich kids, who seemingly idle away their time developing hideous fashion labels or presenting cheesy Top Gear-style TV shows.

Luckily, they’re all fairly rubbish at racing so your career gets off to a good start as you first take on a series of licence challenges in order to earn the piece of paper that’ll let you into each race class.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a very strange mix. Racing is just one small part of the experience. In some ways it’s a bit like a heady cocktail of The Sims dosed up with a smidgeon of Need for Speed, rounded off with everything that’s ever annoyed you about online gaming. Yes indeed, when the game surreptitiously decides that you’re worthy enough to pollute its hallowed serves with your presence, you’ll suddenly start meeting other drivers around the world who will greet you in the same way they greeted you in Test Drive Unlimited 1 – by crashing straight into you, and continuing to harass you until you get so sick of them that you either go on the offensive and try to take them out in a similar fashion, or more sensibly, dive off into one of the single player challenges just to get away from them.

You see in some ways, it’s both a curse and a blessing that TDU2 has some of the buggiest netcode in gaming. If you can afford to buy a club and gather a few friends together for an Xbox Live Party, you can have a hell of a lot of fun but if you find that you can’t get connected with your pals but end up in games with random internet freaks, you’ll experience a lot of annoyance and frustration as no one really seems that interested in doing much other than smacktalking you or smashing repeatedly into your car with theirs (a better penalty system might’ve been a good idea from the outset but I’ve a feeling that it would’ve ended up unjustly punishing players who genuinely fall foul of the game’s sometimes dodgy handling model, crashing accidentally into people).

If you do venture into any of the game’s online challenge areas, you’ll find that TDU2 does have some rather good ideas. They may be poorly executed, but the online player challenges are excellent. TDU2 players can set each other challenges, and you can cherry pick which ones you want to enter across the game’s driving disciplines of B Class, A Class and Offroad. Players leave challenges in a special clubhouse and you can drive by at any time and enter them. At least that’s the theory, but like a lot of the game’s online components, more often than not you’ll visit the challenge area and find that the game farts back a “server can not be contacted” message at you instead of letting you get your teeth into other people’s races.

Graphically, the game hasn’t really changed that much since TDU 1. Character models are horrible (and the unskippable cutscenes are like fingernails down a blackboard). Car models are good, but the scenery tends to be fairly sterile and quite glitchy in places. No doubt it’s a fairly accurate map of Ibiza, but the developers missed a trick by not having a minigame involving running over drunken british tourists out on the lash in some of the more populated areas.

Several new gameplay elements have been added to the Test Drive experience. Performing tricky moves while out on the road will net you extra cash in a sort of multiplier bonus fashion. After each tailslide, jump or close call with another vehicle you’ll be given a cash bonus, which you can store up and ‘bank’ at an appropriate time. It works a bit like a flaky version of Burnout’s stunt and slide rewards system, or if you like, an automotive version of The Weakest Link. Fail to bank your cash before your next crash and you are the weakest link, goodbye (wink).

TDU2 has acres of depth. Diving into the lifestyle stuff you’ll soon find yourself becoming slightly obsessed with netting a bigger house (and you’ll definitely need a bigger garage to house the game’s generous roster of vehicles from clunky great big SUVs to some veritable classics like the Lancia Delta HF Integrale), a better wardrobe (yep once again you can go shopping for clothes). You’ll even find yourself hankering after a cuter arse and some higher cheekbones (hilariously, going for plastic surgery in the game means you’ll then spend the next few days walking around looking like The Mummy).

Deliciously you also get the chance to level up enough to become a true jet setter. The original game’s Hawaiian island Oahu is also included in TDU2 once you reach Driver Level 10. You can jet off by visiting the airport, and explore a secondary bunch of challenges and locations. It’s a massive playpit to tool around in and Eden Studios definitely deserve a lot of credit for just about making it all hang together by the skin of its teeth.

Ultimately though, you can’t help wondering whether it was all a little bit too ambitious for the developers. There are so many bugs ranging from the aforementioned annoying netcode and lack of server support, through to complete system lockups (across all three formats, apparently), some horrific graphical anomalies (wow, poly spikes, I haven’t seen those in YEARS) and really dodgy character and scenery modelling that make the game look dated and odd compared to stablemates in the genre like Forza, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit and Gran Turismo.

TDU2 then, is like Poundland compared to Need for Speed’s Waitrose. Chock full of impressive stuff stacked high, but ultimately it all feels a bit cheap and tacky. But for all that, you will find you can easily lose hour after hour to it, pursuing the golden dream of purchasing your own massive yacht, parking a Bugatti Veyron in the garage, owning your own sweat-encrusted teen-jailbait-filled nightclub and spending your days cruising the highways and byways of Ibiza looking for other drivers to annoy.

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