It turns out that Gran Turismo 5 is just not enough video game racing for the likes of me. I’m still loving GT5 and play it pretty regularly. GT5 is without a doubt one of, if not the best car racing game out there right now. Of course, some may disagree with that statement, but either way it is pretty high up on the list. But I am a fan of the genre, not just that game, so I took a break from Gran Turismo for a drive in another racing game that I had been looking forward to playing. Test Drive Unlimited 2, or TDU2, is another game I had been looking forward to playing, bringing two genres of game which I enjoy together, the open world sandbox and driving game. I had never played the original Test Drive game but had heard nothing but good things about it from other racing game fans. So when the news arrived that the sequel was not only in the works but coming to the PS3, I was interested.
The reason for the late review is down to the fact that on release the game had numerous problems making it not excactly a complete game, although no less fun to play in some aspects. More on those problems later in the review however. The game is set on two huge islands based on real life locations. The island of Hawaii, used in the first game, returns which is more or less a polished version of island playground from the first game. It is joined this time around by the island of Ibiza. With well over 2000 miles of roads, both asphalt and dirt, this is a game that is just as much, if not more, about exploration rather than racing. That’s not to say there is not a huge amount of racing fun to be had, making it not only a game of to genres but also of two halves.
The first thing you do in the game is create character, which to me is a first for a driving game, but interesting nonetheless. This avatar is used in certain areas such a showrooms, stores, player clubs and more. At the beginning of the game you can only choose from six pre-created avatars. However, there is room later in the game for more customisation. To do this, and many other things in the game, you must explore the maps. As you drive around the islands you will discover locations such as car showrooms which are separated through either car manufacturer or the country of the cars origin. This means that before you can buy your dream car, you need to find the requisite showroom. It’s not just showrooms you will uncover though, there are also cosmetic surgeries, hair dressers and many clothing shops affording you much greater freedom when it comes to making your avatar much more personal. Other locations that can be uncovered are homes for your avatar, which are mostly necessary for the garage spaces they afford you, as you need one for every car you purchase in the game, meaning the more cars you buy in the game the more homes you need to own.
There are also Club houses which allow players to come together and form clubs with friends or just other fans in the game, like a guild or a clan, which is a novelty in a diving game and is a side of this one which I have not really explored, although I am sure some players have made great use of it. Another location available to some players is the Casino, which was launch day downloadable content, giving players the ability to win cars on slot machines along with other prizes, including clothing and of course money which can be saved for your next dream ride. There is also the chance to sit down with other players in a game of poker or roulette, meaning there is a lot more in TDU2 to do other than driving the cars. However the game is called Test Drive and so the cars are of course the main attraction. The exploration may not sounding too exciting to some, but can end up eating hours of gameplay time without you even noticing it, especially if you are doing so with a friend or two as you cruise around the islands enjoying the roads. It leads to moments such as the one I encountered during my first week of play. Cruising with a fellow GT5 friend in a pair of Range Rovers through some of the games’ twisty dirt roads, our group of two over the time span of an hour became a group of six playing follow the leader over the dirt tracks. It’s then that you wonder where all the time went, realising that you have been doing this for two or three hours and enjoying yourself all the way.
But as I mentioned before, this is a game of two halves and there is plenty to keep racing fans entertained also. Dotted around the map are racing schools and race locations. Before taking part in the race events you must pass a series of tests at the race schools which can be as simple as accelerating and braking or driving a slalom, to racing a stretch of road within a certain time limit. Once the tests for certain classes of cars have been passed, race events are opened up for the player’s enjoyment. These are spread around the islands and can be anything from a point A to B race, laps of a predetermined course and time trials, to elimination races over several laps with the racer in last place being knocked out of the running. The great mix of events coupled with the wide variety of cars on offer, everything from one of my favourites in the game, the 1955 D-Type Jaguar, all the way through to the modern day supercar, such as the Bugatti Veyron. There are also bonus cars which again are earned through careful exploration of the islands. As the player finds burned out wrecks, the remains of old cars, collecting enough of these results in the player being awarded a new car.
All of this means that there is a huge amount to do in this game and, although most of it involves driving, there is a little something else thrown in there for your enjoyment. The gameplay is also something that needs to be talked about. The handling of the cars in the game is as far away from the realism of some more simulator based driving games as possible. However, that is not to say that the game has arcade style handling, rather it kind of lands inbetween the two. This is mostly a good thing as it suits the game perfectly. But there are times that I have found cars in the game behaving rather strangely and whether this is down to bugs in the game or the games physics themselves is anybody’s guess. There have been times when cars handle and steer fine one moment and then at others completely differently. The gear changing in some of the higher end supercars is occasionally terrible and sometimes sounds like your avatar is having a fit as they try and shift gears. On some occasions my cars have come to an abrupt and violent stop as if hitting a brick wall where there is no obstacle. These occurrences are thankfully few and far between and the game is, on the whole, enjoyable enough to play.
Where the big problem lies though is the state the game was in upon it’s release. The main problem being the online connection, the big selling point of TDU2 is that the game is an online game. When you start the game you are dropped onto the island with hundreds of other players, meaning as you drive around not only are you dealing with AI traffic but also other players. This also gives you the ability to invite and be invited by friends to join them in exploring the islands or just racing around the roads. At the games launch, and for the following almost two months, this feature needed some serious fixing with other players appearing and disappearing randomly and invites only appearing to work around 90% of the time and this was if you could connect to the servers to begin with. The connection problems were unfortunately not the only thing hampering the game as players clubs were taken offline by the developer not long after the game went live and many a problem with players having difficulty accessing both bonus and purchased DLC. Even though the majority of the problems, primarily the stability of the server, have been improved upon, the game still suffers even now, but is much more enjoyable after the update. The game has the ability to make hours seem to disappear as you do nothing other than cruise around the islands, playing follow the leader with random players that you come across.
As you may expect, and as is the case with many sandbox, open world type of games, the presentation takes a little bit of a hit. Creating a virtual playground this size uses a lot of your consoles power and so anyone coming into the game expecting Gran Turismo style looks may be disappointed. This is not to say that the game looks bad. On the contrary, for a game the size of TDU2 the developers have done an admirable job of building a good looking environment with some great looking cars. The addition of sticker shops helps the look of the cars, as with time you can put together some amazing looking designs on your cars. On the audio side of things however the game falters a little, not in the ambient sounds of the islands, and even the sounds of the cars are adequately taken care of, engines and screeching tires are handled well enough, although a few of the cars do sound a little generic. Where the problem lies is in the games music, not normally a point of concern in a racing game. But with the nature of the game, an open world drive when and where you like, the developer quite rightly included radio stations in the cars, much like the Grand Theft Auto series of games. However, unlike that series, TDU2 falls short with only two radio stations on which there is not really a great selection of music, meaning the player would be much better leaving the radio off and playing their own music.
So is the game worth buying? It’s a tricky question to answer and depends a lot on how big a driving game fan you are. If you are a big enough fan, or if this amalgamation of game genres – driving, massive online and sand box – sounds fun to you and you can overlook the bugs and glitches that still plague the game in places, then there is a huge amount of fun to be had and you can sink hours into the game without even realising it as you cruise, explore and race your way around two huge islands. There is an amazing amount of content within the game to keep you busy for some time to come. However if it is a more polished and finished driving game you are after, be it a full on racing simulation or something a bit more arcade like, there are better choices out there on the market right now.