Test Drive Unlimited 2 Hands-On Preview – Sun, Sea, Sand and Skids
Written Friday, November 05, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's not particularly encouraging when the opening of a game makes you want to punch in the faces of every character on the screen, but that's the overall feeling that we had when Test Drive Unlimited 2's Ibiza-bound pool party introduces you to the game. From here, you pick your character from a selection of male or female templates and then go into your huge, improbably amazing house where local TV presenter Tess presents you with your birthday present – a shiny new Ferrari California that we hastily take out onto the road and crash into a farmhouse in the middle of a field.
Thank goodness then that it was all just a dream, and our character is just a parking valet who happens to have fallen asleep in Tess' Ferrari. From here, she enlists you to race in the Solar Crown tournament, but before entering the competition you'll need to choose your first car and get your race licence. Presented with a selection of three cars – a classic Mustang, Lotus Espirit or a Lancia Delta – our sensible side takes hold and knowing that the Lancia might not be the flashiest car, it's the one with the best racing pedigree and thus the best choice.
Hitting the road for real this time (no more dreams, thankfully), you're let off the leash to explore the expansive island, which when coupled with the returning Hawaiian island of Oahu from the previous game, makes for over 3000 square kilometres of open road to discover. On your travels, you'll come across car dealerships and clothing boutiques where you can splash your cash on expanding your garage and ditch your valet duds for something far more glamorous, respectively. Incidentally, the number of cars you can keep is limited by the size of your abode and since you start out with a crummy trailer and a paddling pool in the garden (honestly), you can only have two rides at any one time until you upgrade your pad.
Accumulating cash and improving your lifestyle is your primary goal then (hooray for capitalism!), which is where participating in competitions and using your car's FRIM is absolutely integral. Hold on a second? What the hell is a FRIM? Well, thanks for asking. FRIM is Test Drive Unlimited 2's way of rewarding you for executing daring and outlandish driving feats on the road, so pulling off drifts, speeding and chaining together near misses into oncoming traffic builds up a running total of cash that you can leave to accrue at the risk of losing it all by crashing, or you can bank it at any time in increments of $100. Knowing when to hit the button and bank your cash is an art then, and the lure of risking it all for one more daredevil drift or near miss will often result in grazing a car or a rock and losing hundreds in the process. Frugal banking is the way to go.
So, is TDU2 a racing game solely concerned with hoarding cash and chasing an aspirational lifestyle? Mostly yes, but there's a lot more to it than that. There's the socialising aspect, which extends far beyond your unbearably smug circle of friends and rivals in the game to the online multiplayer, where you can flash your headlights at any other player in the vicinity to instantly initiate a race. In the instances that we threw down the gauntlet to a few online players, we indulged in a quick point-to-point race that's usually decided within the opening few seconds as you nudge and ram one another for the lead. Still, even with unmatched cars, the racing appears to be well-balanced, making for an enjoyable and hotly-contested race.
As our hands-on session progresses, we discover one of TDU2's collectibles: a wreck that contributes to earning a car for free. However, we don't have time to locate ten of them, so we visit a car dealership to buy ourselves a new ride. Picking up a Volkswagen Touareg, we soon remember that there's no taking the kids to school in TDU2, so we later decide to sell it off and buy a sexy red Chevy Camaro instead. Acquiring this car enables us to enter more races due to it being a different class to our old Lancia, which has been demoted to the garage for now. Grabbing our off-road license, we try our hand at taking on the Wilder Brothers having thrashed Paris Hilton lookalike, Miami Harris (she even dresses in pink and has a chihuahua, but has more light behind the eyes) in the previous tournament.
Each tournament is actually comprised of several varying challenges that can be tackled in any order you see fit and can be retried at any time, to grab that elusive gold medal. These challenges range from time trials where going off-road is penalised with time penalties (so no corner cutting, you cheats) to straightforward checkpoint races where your opponents aren't shy about trying to ram you off the road. Our advice: give as good as you can get and ram 'em back. That's what we did. Then there's speed runs, that require you maintain a high speed to fill a gauge in the shortest possible time. There's a good mix of events, ensuring there's always something interesting to try your hand at. And if you're not up for racing, then why not head home and change your wallpaper, re-upholster the couch or something?
Test Drive Unlimited 2's vehicles all handle in a satisfying manner, so driving is always a pleasurable and involving experience, which is a very positive sign. Sadly, motorbikes have been axed for this sequel, so you're restricted to four wheels, but when the selection of cars is as strong and enticing as the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches and Zondas you'll find in TDU2, it's hard to complain. The island paradise is also a picturesque and pleasant environment to explore, with a night/day cycle and superb weather effects that lend extra character to Ibiza, which is a mix of beaches, fields and cobbled streets. Happily, it's as far from the hideous holiday resort version of Ibiza as you can get.
There's clearly still work to be done on TDU2, but it's shaping up nicely at this beta stage. And with 60 levels of experience to attain – earned through indulging in Social, Discovery, Collection and Competition - hundreds of cars to ogle and eventually purchase, a range of properties and more challenges and events than you can shake a gear stick at, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is already looking like it could be a triumphant return for the aspirational racer that will have you striving for that big, beachfront house, the sleek Aston Martin, the slick threads and excessive bags of cash. If only real life were as decadent, glamorous and rewarding. Time to apply for that job as a parking valet...
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is slated for a Q1 2011 release.