Test Drive Unlimited 2 Review

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Atari’s flagship racing series returns with its latest offering, Test Drive Unlimited 2.  Development was handled by the capable hands of Eden Studios who also made the game’s predecessor. This iteration boasts two islands to explore and many activities for players besides simply racing cars.  The game’s variety and breadth of things to do is sure to satisfy the varying tastes of car enthusiasts.  The appeal of Test Drive Unlimited 2 is the explorable world that blends multiplayer racing, single player career championships, free ride exploration, and improved social interaction into a cohesive experience.  Test Drive Unlimited 2 has the player starting on the beautiful island of Ibiza in the Mediterreanan Sea before traveling to Oahu, Hawaii.

The first thing the player will notice is the addition of computer characters with their own personalities.  All of these non-player characters are vying for top spot on each island’s championship race series.  This is a welcome improvement over the previous title which was somewhat threadbare in the story department.  These characters have their own signature cars and race type expertise.

Another innovation is a new leveling up mechanic.  As the player progresses through the game he or she earns experience points which unlock new features such as new cars, races, and tuning parts.  There are 60 levels to achieve.  Experience points are divided into four subcategories: Competition, Discovery, Collection, and Social.  Competition points are earned by competing and winning races.  Discovery points are earned by exploring asphalt roads, newly added off-road tracks, finding treasure hunt style wrecked cars for the mechanic in the used car dealership, and by taking requested photographs of scenery for the islands’ photographer.  Collection points are gained by buying houses and cars.  Social points are given for making community challenges, adding friends, and participating in race club activities.  These subcategories, in turn, make up the player’s overall rank in the game.

One of the most important things in a racing game is the list of drivable cars.  Test Drive Unlimited 2 ships with 101 different cars ranging from the Volkwagen Beetle to the Ferrari Enzo to the Hummer H3.  As extensive as the list is, there are some curious omissions.  Missing are manufacturers such as Honda and Mitsubishi.  The most glaring missing automaker is Lamborghini, a mainstay of the Test Drive series.  As of this writing, licensing issues keep the maker of the Murcielago, Gallardo, and Diablo GT from appearing in this game.

The graphics of Test Drive Unlimited are not as polished as the latest Gran Turismo or Forza racing games but the amount of detail and differing terrain more than make up for that shortcoming.  The varied types of terrain is staggering.  There are hills with off-road switchbacks, highly technical city courses, and long stretches of hyper-fast freeways where a driver can really open up the throttle.  Both Ibiza and Oahu are accurately recreated in Test Drive Unlimited 2 through the use of satellite imagery.  A player familiar with the islands will find representations of landmarks and towns in the game.  The virtual world also boasts a day and night cycle as well as changing weather conditions that affect the car’s handling.

In addition to earning money through racing and side missions, players can persistently earn money through the “Free Ride Instant Money” or FRIM system.  While exploring the world a meter is displayed when the player dodges close traffic, performs a drifting turn, or makes a jump.  When the meter is filled the player has the option of banking the initial amount.  The other option is to risk this amount to chain together another set of stunts for a higher money amount.  This encourages the player to seek out steep jumps, tight drifting areas, and heavy traffic to boost the FRIM meter for increased money gains.

Eden Studios remedies the gripe from the original Test Drive Unlimited of all the cars and avatars looking the same in multiplayer.  Test Drive Unlimited 2 adds custom graphics and paint shops.  In Test Drive Unlimited 2, the player’s vehicle graphics are limited only by imagination.  Using the graphics shop, cars can be made to look like real world race cars or an entirely imagined paint and vinyl scheme.  This creativity is also applied to the player’s in-game avatar.  The person’s in-game representation can be customized through buying new designer clothes from many boutiques found on the islands, getting a new haircut from a stylist, or most radically by having plastic surgery performed.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 handles multiplayer gaming in a unique way.  The player shares the island world with other online players.  The game detects and displays the closest eight players at any given time.  This constantly updates as the player drives through the world.  If a player wants to keep in constant contact with someone he or she has the option to link together so that they are always displayed to each other.  This aids in cooperative and team play.

At launch, Atari released a Casino Mode download pack.  This made an island casino accessible to players.  Slot machines, roulette, and multiplayer poker games are available for players to gamble their money.  In addition to money, unique prizes such as high end cars and special clothing for avatars can be won by playing the various games.  Casino Mode is the perfect break when the player tires of racing and exploring the islands.

A game this encompassing and ambitious is not without a few speed bumps.  The story is a bit shallow, providing minimal framework for motivating the player to race.  In the single player races, the computer controlled cars seldom provided any challenge.  The player will often find the challenge is in dodging random traffic and negotiating the course rather than fending off a computer controlled racer putting pressure on by trying to gain the inside line on the entrance to a turn.  Unlike the previous Test Drive Unlimited, progression is a slow paced.  Money and cars come at a slower rate than before.  Upgrades are directly tied to exploration.  In order to unlock the top tier upgrades, the player has to explore the entire island which can become tedious given the massive size of the playable area.

Despite a few pot holes in the road, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a joy to play.  It features an extensive car list and two fully realized areas in which to explore and race.  The improved social aspect encourages multiplayer interaction and helps create a convincing living and breathing world.  The vast number and overall quality of activities in this game is sure to entertain the player for many hours giving this game excellent bang for the buck.

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