"Test Drive Unlimited 2"
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox
From: Eden Games/Atari
ESRB Rating: Teen (lyrics, simulated
gambling, mild suggestive themes)
By Billy O'Keefe
In 2006, "Test Drive Unlimited" gave console racing game fans something — an open world swimming with other players driving and racing freely — they'd never had before.
Then four-plus years passed with no one else even trying it again.
So to call "Test Drive Unlimited 2's" arrival welcome is to understate a bit, especially when the sequel produces two freely-explorable islands (Ibiza and Hawaii) instead of one, adds storytelling and structural enhancements to the single-player side, increases event diversity, and fixes just about everything — from vehicle handling to interface design — that had room for improvement.
Like its predecessor, "TDU2" blurs the line between single- and multiplayer to create a single, fluid experience. The islands are teeming with A.I. traffic regardless of player count, and those who prefer to drive offline will still encounter A.I.-controlled "players" who behave and can be challenged to instant races like a real human opponent.
Regardless of how you play, there's plenty to do without the company of others. "TDU2" offers three tiers of driving — two street class, one off-road — and each has a ladder of license tests and competitions to win. These events run the gamut, including traditional/elimination-style races, time trials, speed trap competitions and other usual suspects. The out-of-event challenges are a bit less traditional, testing your ability to drive safely, maintain a dangerous speed and even tail another car without raising suspicion.
Like an MMO, "TDU2" rewards you cash and experience points for just about everything you do, be it competition points for winning events, social points for engaging other players or discovery points for finding car dealerships, mechanics and even clothing stores, salons and plastic surgeons (really) for your customizable avatar. "TDU2" allows you to control your avatar out of the car when at home or in places — shops, social clubs — where other players' avatars may also visit, and you're as free to challenge and socialize in these instances as you are on the road.
Keeping track of events, stats, shops and other players would be dicey without an interface to keep it together, but "TDU2's" menu system is about as polished as controller-friendly console interfaces get. It's pretty, it's meticulously organized, you can use filters to reduce map icon clutter, and the in-game GPS works perfectly — even allowing you to fast-travel to events if you visited the road previously.
The best news about "TDU2's" multiplayer? It just works. When you enter the world, players just appear. And while that wonderful interface gives you numerous ways to invite friends and create lobbies, clubs and multiplayer variations of just about every challenge (including cop chases) from the single-player experience, the ability to just cut off another human driver, engage in some impromptu street racing, and set up (and gamble on) a race with a tap of the high beams is immensely gratifying.
But the best news about "TDU2," period, is how much fun it is to just drive these vehicles. The lower-tier cars are easy to control without feeling pokey, while the high-end models reward skillful pedal management with a fantastic sense of weight dueling with speed.
But it's the availability off-road vehicles — and, new to the series, the freedom to drive absolutely anywhere on the islands, road or not — that will doubtlessly steal the show for some. "TDU2" nails the joy of taking hairpin turns in the mud and grassy roads, and the off-road competitions are responsible for every bit as much excitement as highest level of the high-end races.
(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.