Test Drive Unlimited 2 Review (Xbox 360)
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I don’t think I have played a crazier sports game than Test Drive Unlimited 2. Yes, it’s primarily a racing game. However, you could also classify it as an open-world game, sort of like Grand Theft Auto minus the gun play. It’s also a Sims-ish lifestyle simulation, with dressing up and real estate goals. Then it also has MMO elements as well, with a lot of people exploring and racing in a unified world. On top of all of this is a story, a leveling system and a nearly "unlimited" amount of things to do.
Unfortuately for Test Drive Unlimited 2, the driving is perhaps the game’s biggest weakness.
This review -- or nearly any for that matter -- could not do justice to the amount of stuff you can do in this game. But I have mentioned the genres TDU2 borrows from, so you have some idea of what kind of activities you might engage in here. These activities also range in quality as much as they range in diversity. Some are fun, like speed-based and off-road racing events. Some, like earning various classes of licenses, feel rather tedious.
Everything from taking pictures to getting plastic surgery is woven into the fabric of the game thanks to a four-part leveling system. You earn XP in four categories as you progress through the game. For completing championships and other races, you raise your "competition level." Exploring the game’s island locales will grant you "discovery points." Your "collection level" is based on what types of cars, clothes and homes you own. Finally, for taking advantage of the game’s MMO-lite functionality, you are awarded with "social points."
All of these scores are combined into a "global level," which is tied into unlocking new content. By spreading the focus across four disciplines, the game encourages you to continue to explore the different ways to play the game. I like this method of emphasizing the extraneous stuff because it makes the game much more than a simple racer. Of course, all of the ways to play still involve driving of some sort -- this is, after all, still primarily a racing game.
I found that the driving tries too hard to split the difference between sim (Forza) and arcade (Burnout), and it does not succeed in finding a balance. Drifting can be too unpredictable, and sometimes a tap of the brakes sent my rides into uncontrollable spins. Most of the cars I drove also felt too floaty.
The driving is not unpleasant, it just does not harness the joy like a more focused racer. In an odd way, the driving reminded me of older arcade titles, such as Super Outrun, just in three dimensions.
In short, I won’t say that the lack of proper handling ruins the game, but Test Drive Unlimited 2 would be a racing "game of the year" contender with a smoother behind-the-wheel experience.
This can be a sweet looking game at times, especially when taking in the game’s tropical landscapes. Weather and lighting are dynamic, and they heighten the overall atmosphere. The car models look nice enough, and the whole game has sort of an '80s sheen to it because of the very bright color palette.
The biggest flaw in this department of the game would have to be the noticeable pop-in that occurs at times. It is somewhat forgivable based on the vastness of the landscape, but it can certainly be a distraction when you are focused on the road ahead. The frame rate also dipped at times, which is never a good thing in a racing game, but it did not cripple my ability to drive.
There’s a lot to do with other players, including challenging others by flashing your headlights, managing friend lists and starting driving clubs. Like any online game, your experience will be shaped by those around you. Don’t be surprised to be cruising the open road before suddenly coming across a foul-mouthed group of people looking to repeatedly crash your car.
Still, there is fun to be had online -- and if you want to complete the game, you’ll have to head online. The "social XP" system makes multiplayer sort of non-optional, which can be a pain if you are not interested in multiplayer. Even worse, during a majority of my review time, the servers were down, meaning I had no choice but to play alone. At the very least, a patch is in the works to correct this issue.
The hook of the main game, however, is a story mode that’s layered on top of all of this open-world atmosphere and online gaming. It’s unoriginal, yet it's still compelling because it is unintentionally funny.
I won’t spoil the beginning, which you kind of have to see to believe, but the main plot centers around a reality show. Yep, the bane of 21st century television makes its way into a racing game through stereotypical and poorly voiced characters -- all of which are trying to best you in a made-for-TV racing event. It sounds silly, and it is.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is certainly a unique game. If you like driving games, but find the career modes in Forza or Gran Turismo to be lacking fun and character, you may find yourself at home in TDU2. Still, the driving is not the greatest, and it is the quantity, not the quality, of the things to do that’s notable.
Learning Curve: The handling, especially in cars that tend to drift, will take some time to grasp. Other than that, the license tests, while a little dull, will ease you into the game -- expect to be reading a lot of on-screen info though.
Control Scheme: The game’s controls are standard, but the various driving levels and assists may help out those that are having trouble. I could never quite find a perfect comfort level with the controls.
Visuals: At times, the game can be gorgeous. At other times, pop-in and frame rate dips mar an otherwise pretty picture.
Audio: The car sounds are not on the level of some of the more serious games, but they are good enough. The in-game music is extremely limited, so find your own tunes. The voice acting is also horrible.
Value: If you like the various activities, you will be playing this one for a long time. There is a ton of stuff to do, and even more if you take advantage of the online options. It’s also retailing for $50.
Score: 6.5 (Above Average)