You have to admit that car handling in Test Drive Unlimited 2 is very much its own beast. It’s not quite a fully fledged simulation for there is no room for reckless arcade drifting here, unless last place sounds like an attractive prospect for you! Instead this is a driving mechanic which requires real discipline, the keenest of eyes, with a strict racing line at all times. Although opponent A1 can be needlessly brutal on occasions, after a few gruelling first events it all starts to become second nature. Suffice to say that perhaps the best feature of the driving mechanic is the distinct lack of rubber-banding, that means the players can leave the pack trailing indefinitely if they’re fast enough.
Test Drive Unlimited 2’s party vibe kicks in with gusto right from the opening title screen crawl, when we witness a poolside rave party in full swing! After choosing one of the revellers as the game’s main protagonist, the player’s partner throws them the keys to their shiny new birthday present: a souped-up Ferrari fresh from the factory. It’s an instant and incomprehensible joy barrelling out of the garage into the streets of Ibiza with lush scenery passing by in a flash plus the pounding dance soundtrack now thumping over the loudspeakers.
It’s almost too good to be true, in actual fact, and in what appears to be something of a running gag in the racing genre, all the splendour is removed, as, yes, indeed, the character was dreaming the whole scene! It’s a massive tease, of course, and a ruse, but it serves as something of a shiny carrot dangling in front of the player to pursue.
Free Roam is the ideal way to become accustomed to the delights that the massive sprawl of Ibiza engenders whilst at the same time it’s most important to discover new points of interest, such as car showrooms, clothes shops, real estate and side-quests. There remains also a level cap of 60 which is spread across four sub-categories: Collection, Social, Competition and Discovery. The latter fills with every new stretch of road through which the player drives, which means that as long as uncharted roads are being driven, and new shops are uncovered, the player will continuously receive experience.
This is the reason why Test Drive Unlimited 2 succeeds. The constant rewards and feedback given to the player, in fact, can transform into what was supposed to be a quick hour’s worth of play into a really massive gaming session. And collection is the same, rewarding the players every time they purchase a new piece of clothing that is admittedly naff, don a new haircut, or amazingly, go under the knife in the hands of a plastic surgeon. A core theme running through this game is vanity and the pursuit of perfection. At times the stuck-up and embarrassingly stand-off nature of a supporting cast might be difficult to stomach, but this becomes a matter of taste, of course.
Competition becomes the main source of level progression plus cash which begins with earning licences in each available racing discipline. “Asphalt” events favour grip racing with the constant threat of environmental obstacles or traffic, while “Off-Road” championships allow more space for drifting, although it must be said that tracks are unpredictably uneven as well as dangerous. The final class is “Classic” which throws a wide range of cars into the mix which come incredibly difficult to tame.
Free Roam mode, however, does pitch some arcade sensibilities back into the mix, specifically the new F.R.I.M system which pays out whenever players pull of a jump, wheel-spin or near miss. Once one of the three criteria is met the F.R.I.M meter starts to activate where players can choose to keep a combo chain going, or bank at regular intervals. If the player crashes they will lose all the money they haven’t banked, thus creating a great opportunity to make cash mid-event, and at the same time one hell of a risk-reward system.
There is only one gripe which stands out here, however: this concerns the transition to the GPS map overview and gameplay. You can zoom out to view the map of each island and the location of online racers. If you spot someone you want to challenge, you can highlight them, and, provided you’ve already explored the stretch of road on which they’re travelling, you can jump right onto their location. But what’s the fatal flaw? Well, it’s that the transition from over-world view to the road takes a few seconds longer than we would have liked. This means that your chosen target player will likely to be long gone by the time you get back behind the wheel of your car.
Whilst we admit that this is a highly polished effort from the studio, and delivering confidently 50-plus hours of exemplary racing finesse, fans captivated by Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit’s arcade allure might find Eden Games’ simulation effort laboured by comparison. However, for racing fans who aren’t so picky Test Drive Unlimited 2 comes highly recommended as far as sheer value and playability is concerned.
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