PS3 Review – Test Drive Unlimited 2

March 2, 2011Written by Mike Hartnett

It’s been over four years since the last installment in the Test Drive series, and this time around, Atari is giving Eden Games a go at attempting to create the ultimate open-world racer. Have they succeeded, and more-so, will this game be worth your hard earned dollars? Let’s take a look!

Let’s start at the very beginning of this love/hate relationship. There’s one word that has been nearly synonymous with the Test Drive Unlimited franchise since its inception: ambitious. Eden Games wanted to go big, and boy did they. Our expectations were pretty darn high, and for the most part, Test Drive Unlimited 2 managed to meet them. You begin the game dreaming of a life where money is no object, and the only difficulty lies in deciding which car in your elaborate automotive portfolio to cruise around in. You quickly awake to find yourself occupying the humble position of a valet parking attendant. You get a break when a spoiled “daddy’s girl” provides a position for you on the competitive racing show Solar Crown, Ibiza’s premier championship racing series. This will be key your key objective to amass huge sums of money, in order to buy better cars, bigger houses to store those cars, and a decked out wardrobe that would make Versacci jealous.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 starts you off with the option to choose one of three used cars. We opted for the Mustang Fastback, and admittedly, after the first 20 minutes or so of gameplay, there was a sudden urge to rip the game out of the PS3 and chuck it out the door, but that’s mainly because one of the game’s flaws reveals itself in grand fashion right from the get-go, and that’s the sometimes wonky physics engine.

If you’re used to games like Gran Turismo 5 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (both different, yet great in their respective categories), then you’ll immediately be turned off by the abstract physics displayed in the opening portions of the game. Now, things get far better once you purchase a decent (preferably new) set of wheels, but the first group of used cars will tip you off to the problems with the physics.

Then there’s the general car handling in Test Drive Unlimited 2, which isn’t so hot… at least to an extent. There are options for tweaking the game’s handling mechanics, as well as presets like full-assistance (arcade), hardcore (simulation), and sport (in-between), however we got the best results by going in and manually tweaking the settings through a bit of trial and error. The main issue is that the probability for cars to oversteer is quite high, depending on which vehicle you’re driving, of course, and corners must be handled with the utmost care if you wish to make it around them without spinning out.

We do wonder, though, if we’re just too used to the kinds of controls featured in other racers, as things do get much better as you get accustomed to the feel of the game. Handling will seem difficult until you get the settings just right and you get comfortable with a good car, as some of the cars later in the game, for example the Nissan GT-R, have absolutely fantastic handling (like its real-life counterpart). It’s also worth noting, because we know some of you seem to really care about this, that every car has multiple camera angles, as well as a cockpit view, so you need not worry.

Once you finally get your bearings straight, it’s time to head out onto the open road. Actually, using the term open road seems like a bit of an understatement, as this is probably the largest, most expansive driving title we’ve ever played. Eden Games definitely stepped up their game by creating a near-perfect representation of Ibiza and, later on, Oahu, Hawaii, directly from satellite images. In fact, the environments and layout is so spot on, that players are making walkthroughs using Google maps… and they actually work. The more than 2,000 miles worth or road, along with 500 plus miles of dirt trails, is truly astonishing, and that’s not even counting all the areas in-between. It’s also a blast once you hit the dirt with a Subaru Impreza or Land Rover, as the appropriate vehicles handle quite well in their respective environments. When it comes to Test Drive Unlimited 2, if you can see it, you can drive to it, up it, or around it. Even shopping for new cars is a unique experience, in that each set of manufacturers, divided by region, are located at different points on the map. The car selection isn’t terribly impressive by today’s standards, but it’s still not that bad, considering what you’re getting as a whole with this game.

As we perused the island in our first ride, the game’s visuals seemed to create a bi-polar feeling in that they’re not quite up to par with other racing titles out there, yet still seem utterly fantastic. Running at 30 frames per second, and sometimes even lower when you throw some multiplayer pals into the mix, it simply doesn’t perform well from a technical standpoint. Though the environments are downright outstanding, TDU2 could have greatly benefited from a bit of polish to iron the entire product out. From the tight corners in the city, to the long winding roads through the mountains and the plains, the diversity in driving variety is nearly endless. There is a full day/night cycle, along with a dynamic weather system, which is absolutely gorgeous at times. The hours preceding sunrise are a particular delight, as the sky sparkles with stars, it’s awe inspiring. So while the visuals aren’t the best we’ve seen, the way they’re utilized will definitely leave an impression on you. There is one downside, however, and that’s that there is quite a bit of pop-in, and that goes for most areas in the game. Oftentimes you see mountains and buildings start to materialize just over the horizon, which can sometimes take you out of the experience.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 has three different vehicle classes: asphalt, classic and off-road; all three classes have several sub-categories which are assigned to each car and determine which ones you’re able to use in select single player and multiplayer events. There are license tests for each category, each of which are simple and help you to quickly become accustomed to the game’s controls. Single player events are split up between championship series, consisting of several different kinds of events (races, elimination, etc.). There are also random events which pop up all over the map and remain available for a set amount of time. These range from having giving perfect strangers an adrenaline rush of a ride, to driving busy executives’ cars to the shop for a cash bonus, these help to change up the pace and keep the events from feeling repetitive.

And then there’s the multiplayer side of Test Drive Unlimited 2. This is the meat and potatoes of the game, the side that turns it into, what Atari calls, a massively open online racing game. The game is an always-online title, which means as long as you’ve got an internet connection, you’ll be cruising around with other TDU2 players. The game claims to accomodate up to 8 players online, but we’re pretty sure that that only accounts for the amount of folks able to take place in a single event, because we’ve scanned the map and found far more than just 8 players. You have the ability to go straight to friends, or even strangers, by just pulling up the map and selecting “go there”. Initiating challenges with online cohorts is effortless; all you have to do if flash your headlights, and a prompt will appear for a quick event or co-op driving. Clubs are available to purchase with in-game cash and adds a level of depth to the experience, and the ability to invite other players to your house is quite cool and feels very much like a PlayStation Home experience.

Throughout single and multiplayer,you’ll need to make progress in the game’s 4 stages (collection, discovery, competition and social) in order to level up and unlock the ability to buy new threads, virtual items, and more. Everything from the clothes you wear, all the way down to your avatar’s haircut and facial augmentations must be bought. Certainly one of the funnier moments in the game was having to go to a plastic surgeon to change the dimensions of our avatar’s face, but we won’t spoil it for you. Also, in the sound department, TDU2 features two radio stations, one rock, the other dance and electronica, both are fairly decent, but quite limited. It would have been great to have custom soundtrack support on launch day, however that feature is notably absent. Still, the two available stations do manage to rock out with gigs like Deadmau5 and Music Go Music. Just be sure to never mention Daddy is a DJ in public, you’re libel to get punched in the face for it.

This all equates to a ridiculous amount of playtime and enjoyment. We poured over 15 hours into TDU2, having only pushed through a small sliver of the mulitplayer experience, and just a sixth of the way through the game’s leveling system (60 total). As frustrating as the first hour or so may be, the sheer amount of content and scope of the islands is enough to warrant a thumbs up from us. Test Drive Unlimited 2 isn’t perfect, but it sure is one addictively good time that’s worth a look.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ The largest and most expansive racing title to date.

+ Insane amount of content will keep you coming back again and again.

– Frame rate drops, abstract physics, and glitches can detract from the experience.

8 out of 10