Preview | Test Drive Unlimited 2 Hands-On
A Short Drive Home…
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC | Genre: Racing | Publisher: Namco Bandai | Developer: Eden | ETA: Feb 2011
Despite a court order banning his memoirs, Will Templeton was allowed behind the wheel one more time to test drive TEST DRIVE UNLIMITED 2.
TEST DRIVE Unlimited is a name you probably don’t hear too often. Released in 2006, it was a somewhat above-average arcade racer with delusions of grandeur, its racing mechanics basic but its ideas unique. Attempting to merge online play with single-player seamlessly, it allowed players to feel connected to a persistent world in a way few console games ever had. More than four years later, it endures, giving a close-knit community a constant playground even today.
Unfortunately, it stumbled if you weren’t able to take advantage of its online capability. Robbed of connectivity, TDU became bland bycomparison, its innovation put entirely into multiplayer and leaving a lonely landscape for a single player to explore. When we were told, then, that due to technical difficulties at the TDU2 preview, we wouldn’t be able to play multiplayer, I was disheartened. I was expecting the sequel to depend just as much on the internet to shine. I was glad when that turned out not to be the case.
Despite its vast landscape, based on the original island of Oahu and the newer location of Ibiza, with both play spaces designed around actual satellite imagery of the area and featuring real locations, Test Drive Unlimited 2 never allows you to get bored. New to the franchise is a full single-player campaign, complete with cutscenes and competitive races against a host of AI opponents, and while you’re travelling from one to the other you’ll always be able to find something to do, with collectibles strewn about, events and locations to discover down every road. While a quick-travel option is available for easy access to events you’ve previously discovered, I found myself just as content to drive around exploring – the new F.R.I.M system lets you earn money by driving well outside of an event, providing a Weakest Link-esque risk/reward strategy that adds interest to any drive, no matter how mundane.
The attempt at emulating a playboy lifestyle returns, allowing you to upgrade your homestead and appearance, but it seems superficial and unnecessary, as does the story around which the game structures itself. It does provide a good excuse, though, for the game’s main structure. Each story opponent controls a class of vehicle, and each vehicle class handles completely differently. While bikes are missing from the roster this time, there’s much more variety in the different cars available, from the standard American muscle cars and roadsters to giant 4×4s that drift through dirt with a satisfying amount of splatter. The handling model is completely revamped too, and as a result the cars turn far more realistically and respond to the different weather conditions, another new addition.
Throughout the preview, there were constant references in-game to online play, reminding me quite heavily that the game was still very much a multiplayer-focused title. While we weren’t able to play any of it, the new game-modes seem to be formed much more around co-operation rather than competition, as well as technical driving – the Keep Your Distance mode, for example, rewards a team of players for time spent keeping a certain distance from each other, or for maintaining speed without collisions or going off-road. These unique challenges sit alongside more traditional races and time trials, and comfortably so. And if you don’t like the courses for the events on-disc, you can make your own and upload them for your friends to beat.
Without this online capability, of course, this is a neutered game, as so much of its uniqueness and goal of emergent play comes from interacting with real people. It was entirely apparent throughout the play session, too – while AI racers populate the world and can be used to start events on-the-fly, in the online world these would be real people, driving around and challenging people on-mic. When the game launches next month it’ll have that infrastructure all up and running, and it’ll be very interesting to see what emerges.