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If you've played the original Test Drive Unlimited, you are probably aware of the game's triumphs and shortcomings. On one hand you get a relatively solid racer, a huge game world with miles of open road, and plenty of flashy rides to drool over. Unfortunately, this was offset by very generic graphics, a rather lifeless world, vapid dialogue and some of the most aridly mundane driving tasks to date. The sequel to this average racer, Test Drive Unlimited 2, aims to correct the first game's flaws and for the most part succeeds in doing so. Not surprisingly though, there are some reoccurring disappointments and a lot of little caveats that prevent the game from showing its true potential.
The opening sequences of TDU2 are very reminiscent of the original, but looking closer will reveal that the game's graphics are not exactly up to par with other current racing games. The visuals aren't terrible, but in comparison to the first game it's not much of a step forward. The car models are much better thankfully, with noticeable improvements in geometry and detail. The cars are also more interactive and interesting to be around thanks to a new system for browsing rides. You are now able to open doors, roll down the windows, and even retract roofs on convertibles—which any car enthusiast can appreciate. These subtle but realistic touches really add character to the game, and makes collecting cars more fun.
Player personalization and development also makes a return, and with a few cool new features that add to the first-person experience. Like the original, you will choose a character or “avatar” at the start of the game, and will be introduced to others that play different roles in the single player events. Unfortunately, the dialogue is extremely corny and the characters are annoying. Aside from them being forgettable, the people in TDU2 play relatively important roles in game progression and will help you with various tasks. Some of these tasks include the new license system and finding a place to live. The houses are now customizable too.
You are required to obtain several different driving licenses in the game which will allow access to new events and championships. This sort of defeats the “Unlimited” part of the title, and bottlenecks your ability to enter races at your own leisurely pace. The tests are not hard by any means, and are only semi-beneficial in the end, so it's not clear why the system was implemented in the first place—other than to hamper your progress as a racer. It's not exactly the most convenient or appropriate element to exist in the game, but there is no way to avoid taking the tests if you want to enter events and earn more money.
Events in the game range from circuit and point-to-point linear races to speed trap and time attack, which all made an appearance in the first game. These are organized in a slightly different way in that most are tied into independent championships. For example, a single championship event or “cluster” may contain one or more of the same race type, along with a different one. In other words, there could be 2 circuit races, 2 linear runs, 1 time attack and 1 speed trap event in the tournament. You can enter these events in any order and then earn the grand prize upon completing the last in the series. In addition to the main events, there are also various challenges and other missions which mix up the action even further.
Online connectivity is what really makes TDU2 unique, and the online experience will certainly add hours to play time. The game is considered to be a Massively Open Online Racer, or “MOOR” for short. Action can be seamlessly synched to TDU servers which will allow other players to join in on the fun. Players are able to race, chat, and just hang out with each other which makes for a more enjoyable social occasion. There are also multiplayer challenges located throughout the world that will aid in player progression, so it's plenty worth it to hook up with friends and get driving together. The developers promise “a dynamic world of evolving content” so there will always be new things added.
Music is an important feature for a lot of racing and driving games, because audio may actually affect your performance. The music selection in TDU2 is comprised of (mostly) unsigned artists and is organized through fictional radio stations. These stations also feature a slew of somewhat comical commercials, albeit the latter are quite dull. One of the stations, in particular, promises a plethora of “the best death metal” but then does not deliver. It's clear that not a whole lot of thought went into the music selection, but at least there is something for everyone. The radio can also be turned completely off for those who prefer the sound of a turbocharged engine and top-down wind.
The one thing that really stood out in the first Test Drive Unlimited was the shear size of the playable game world—and it remains one of the biggest ever. The developers claimed that they were able to stuff more than 1000 miles of road on the sprawling Hawaiian island, and TDU2 features even more real estate spanning multiple islands. A dynamic weather change system and a day-night cycle are added to make the world feel even more authentic. With this, players can experience varying driving conditions and weather effects like dirt and mud. Semi-realistic damage modeling has also been integrated this time around, but the effects are strictly cosmetic. All of these aspects look believable though and will keep players from driving too audaciously under many circumstances.
At the end of the day Test Drive Unlimited 2 is not a bad game by any means; will offer plenty of driving action for the arcade racer. The game does a lot of things right but, even with its subtle improvements, is not a significant leap forward from its predecessor. TDU2 may look prettier and feature more rides, but the formula is ultimately the same. This may not be a bad thing for those who enjoyed the first game, but for everyone else it could leave a lot to be desired. My best advice to those who are trying it out is to give it a fighting chance. Once you are progressing deeper into the game the races become more interesting and you will have access to faster vehicles that are more fun to drive. The addition of off-road and recreational vehicles makes hitting the miles of trails a blast and grants players the luxury of not being confined to tarmac.
Overall, TDU2 is a very orthodox racing game that boasts both conventional and exotic driving elements. It's better than its predecessor, but perhaps only because the game play is more polished and refined than before. The additions are nice, but unfortunately the game leaves a lot to be craved from an open world racing game. The developers did a good job improving the original, and most mainstream racing fans should enjoy the ride!