When most players think of MMOs, they conjure up images of sword and sorcery RPGs featuring multiple character classes, guilds, towns and all the other trappings associated with games like World of Warcraft. But what if someone took these elements typically associated with the realm of fantasy and applied them to a racing game? That's precisely what Atari and Eden have tried to achieve with Test Drive Unlimited 2, and the results are decent, but not particularly impressive. This is a game bursting at the seams with content but also plagued by server issues and some graphical and mechanical issues that never should have made it into the finished product. There's a lot to like about this title, but it also provides its fair share of headaches.
TDU 2 takes players on a whirlwind tour of the isle of Ibiza (and later Hawaii) as they race for the crown in the fictitious Solar Crown championship. The primary gameplay is composed of a series of challenges broken down among several vehicle categories, which keeps the action mostly fresh and exciting for the duration of the Cup. Races also run on- or off-road, and the change of pace is welcome. After all, there's nothing quite like taking a $60,000 SUV out in the mud and getting it dirty. Challenge diversity is also terrific, where one event may see players attempting to post the best time on a circuit or competing head-to-head with other drivers; other events challenge you to achieve the fastest speed when hitting a series of speed trap checkpoints or driving a full lap around the entire island in an endurance race. Though many series feature an overabundance of traditional races and time trials, they're nicely offset by the other, unique race types that frequently pop up.
Even better, the Cup races are but a small part of the overall experience, as TDU 2 offers an extremely rewarding amount of content. Those looking for a quick event can jump into one of the many taxi-style missions that pop up across the map or drive around looking for special photography spots or hunting wrecks which, when all are found, provide players with a brand new car.
Perhaps the most entertaining thing about the game may be simply roving the islands discovering new roads, car dealerships and stores to buy clothes, haircuts and the like. Unlike many driving games, which unlock cars as soon as you earn them or can afford them, TDU 2 makes you physically track down the dealerships in order to access their showrooms. While it may sound like an inconvenience at first, it's quite rewarding to cruise down the street and then have the game pop up a notification that you discovered a Ferrari dealership. Indeed, exploration is necessary due to the fact that you're not allowed to fast-travel to any part of the map until you've already driven on it once, so many hours can be spent simply cruising and enjoying the scenery. While objective-minded gamers may scoff at this approach, those who enjoy more open-world games like Burnout Paradise will have a lot of fun.
Indeed, discovery is an important part of TDU 2, as it is one of the components that feeds into your overall level. Players are rated on the amount of content they've found; how many races they've won; the size of their collection of cars, clothes and houses; and how much time they've spent in the online realm racing other drivers or joining clans. This interdependent leveling system is quite ingenious, as it forces those who want to master the game to spend significant time in each of the requisite parts. If you're not a social butterfly, then your social level will never increase, and you'll never get anywhere near close to the level 60 overall cap. Similarly, if you only enter the specified cup races and never explore the islands, your discovery score simply sits at next to nothing. Hawaii is unlocked when players hit an overall level of 10, but that's a low enough threshold that most players shouldn't have a problem clearing it.
Unfortunately, of all the elements in the game, the weakest is the social aspect, which is tragic since this is meant to be a multiplayer game. The components are all there, with players roaming together in open-world sessions and able to challenge one another by simply flicking their headlights, but the execution is terribly broken. The game has had massive server issues since launch, and many folks trying to get into races together simply can't. Even worse, friends aren't prioritized over strangers, so you'll often get into a race with your buddies only to find your party broken up and sent to separate sessions afterward. Eden and Atari have announced plans for a huge patch to fix many of the issues, but the fact that the game shipped like this in the first place is a huge black mark against it.
There are some other issues that crop up across all game modes, and in many cases, they're downright bizarre. Texture pop-up and load-in is atrocious, with trees, fences and even other cars randomly appearing and disappearing throughout your drive. It's distracting at the least and illusion-breaking at worst, as it really pulls you right out of the experience. Character models are also the most stiffly animated you'll find on a new-gen console, and the script and voice acting accompanying them are so terrible that you'll pray for every character to be stricken mute. If they don't drive you nuts, the awful radio DJs and inane faux commercials will.
At least the cars are absolutely gorgeous. Every model, from the Mustangs to the Mercedes, is painstakingly re-created, right down to the interior. It's pretty obvious that the developers are pained to see the vehicles damaged, though, as even plowing into an obstacle at 150 mph often results in little more than a sagging bumper or a sprung door. While the cars you smack are stopped cold and torn to shreds, your ride always comes out with minor cosmetic damage and absolutely no performance issues. I only wish I had such a magic car in real life.
The cars also handle quite well, though there are definitely a few painful exceptions that really hamper the experience. Some cars are so twitchy and touchy that even with all the driving assists on, they're nearly impossible to drive. Normally, it's easy to avoid these temperamental vehicles, but when you're forced to drive one for an event like a license test, it's a sure recipe for rage and broken controllers.
For those who often find themselves asking, "Will I get $60 worth of content from this game?" the answer in the case of Test Drive Unlimited 2 is an absolute yes. This is a game that defies you try and get bored, considering the never-ending challenges and robust online offerings. Of course, that online component has to be working in order to enjoy it, and up to this point, that's anything but a given. Various other bugs and odd design choices also detract from the fun, and in the end, the game is quite enjoyable but sorely lacking in polish. This title is very rough around the edges, but in spite of that, it's also still very fun.
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