Test Drive Unlimited 2
The bid to launch the first truly successful MMO on console continues. What with Square Enix currently overseeing huge changes to Final Fantasy XIV for its PS3 debut after a frankly disappointing PC release, we’re beginning to see the likes of DC Universe Online hit our home consoles in hope that the console market will reap the same monthly-subscription benefits that so far is driven by PC. Whether it to do with a more restrictive online environment, or the fact that console owners remain hesitant about forking out a monthly subscription on top of Live etc., we’re only now seeing developers test the MMO-console boundaries. Strictly speaking, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is not a fully fledged MMO but rather shares a lot of the traits that we would come to expect. In fact, Eden Games devised their own acronym to place this follow-up to the under-appreciated but accomplished 2006 arcade racer, the ‘M.O.O.R’ (or Massively Open Online Racer, if you will).
So, up-heave main story quests for rivalry-ridden championship race series, replace side quests for timed challenges and swap the en-route enemy slashing with the F.R.I.M racing system that sees you hit monetary boundaries by dodging, jumping and drifting, making travelling the 3000km road span to your next destination that much more entertaining. The only catch? You lose your bonus if you hit anything, so prepare for some neat risk/reward meta-game mechanics. Split between two islands – that of the first game, Oahu, and Ibiza, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is eye-catchingly beautiful to look at, and that’s not only in the accurately modelled interior and exterior car models (replete with working indicators). Sweeping asphalt roadways give way to dirt-ridden off-road tracks, the blindingly bright irradiation from the sun wavering to a stunning orange sunset as the night/day cycle takes its course. Realistic weather effects are the tip of the iceberg and bring a dynamism to how each car handles.
Abundant parts of the MMO formula work surprisingly well; the levelling system, split between four categories of 15 levels each (Competition, Social, Discovery, Collection) can be individually levelled, essentially meaning the game subtly obligates you to wring the most from what is being presented to make it to the top. Elsewhere, other online racers fill the world around you, as throttle-heavy and crash-happy as yourself, while multiplayer challenges and online races blend seamlessly on top. However, in a bid to bring other elements of the massively multiplayer formula to a racer, Eden Games make some bizarre choices in how they want their game to be portrayed. Room for clubs, estate agents, swanky houses and cosmetic surgeries are hardly where we hope our racers are heading and is an example of the developer taking on criticism from the first game (the customisation wasn’t integral to the experience) too knowingly to heart and providing us with elements that have no right to be there. The core message at the heart of the game – that you must be good looking and rich to be successful – is also horribly off-kilter. Bolt on an unneeded and unflinchingly bad narrative of how our races feed into a reality TV programme of hugely caricatured rivals and you have yourself a presentational disaster.
And if you’re to base your game around the idea of a living, breathing online universe, you better sure as hell make sure it works. Instead, Test Drive Unlimited 2 has been plagued since launch with myriad bugs, glitches and poor online connectivity. Our first encounter with the title found the game unwilling to load if we were connected online – hardly the endorsement and introduction to a very online-heavy product! But still, the online connectivity has been updated and patched since day one and is getting better and better for a much smoother, more reliable experience.
Aggravating touches aside (the female host introduces every. single. race. before you can actually drive), contesting in the racing championships (each of 6 or 7 events) is single-handedly the best aspect of the game, and so you would have thought. Although the car handling is a little too back-end, spin-happy, Eden have deftly swapped up how each car handles and performs, sounds and is visualised, that makes progressing through the levels and earning more and more cash rewarding in of itself. Having to laboriously tackle your way through some Gran Turismo-style licence tests for each category, our only complaint in racing terms otherwise would be the lack of variety in events. It’s here where Test Drive Unlimited 2 will grow tired, and distractions from sumptuous vistas can only carry you so far and will simply not shy you away from the fact that your heading through countless Eliminators, Time Trials or Races. And Eden Games do very little to really propel the mutliplayer component on you, other than the lessened level if you choose not to partake online. We’ve seen the likes of Criterion’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit come and go with a much firmer grasp on how best to ignite sparking feuds between friends or other players, with the ‘Autolog’ system using each race, event, time trial as a platform at which to better others.
Nevertheless, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is superb when the core features take a step back. For all the added modes and interaction, simply strapping yourself into the seat of a Bugatti Veyron and unleashing power on the asphalt roads to no pre-destined destination is what makes Unlimited 2 memorable. We spent hours in cruise mode, racking up a sizeable amount of cash through the F.R.I.M system, basking in the stirring feel of driving at 200mph past slow-moving road users. After all, Test Drive Unlimited 2 has a place in the market away from the propelled realism and bids for racing supremacy by Gran Turismo 5 and Forza 3. The thrill of the speed makes it so.
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