Test Drive Unlimited 2 PlayStation 3 review
It's ambitious and sprawling, offering an entire island to explore in exotic cars. But is Test Drive Unlimited 2 any good? Here's Ryan's review...
Never has a videogame provoked such foul-mouthed ranting from your humble reviewer. It’s my thirtieth attempt to pass one tiny section of my driving license, and I can’t keep my 60s Mustang in a straight line. The object of the exercise is to drive from point A to point B in less than a minute, while overtaking two computer-controlled cars.
Simple, you might think. Except I’m driving a 400hp American muscle car, there’s rain on the road, and Test Drive Unlimited 2 has one of the most sensitive and unforgiving handling mechanics in recent memory. Add to this the test’s insistence that, should your Mustang come within one pixel of another car, you’ll have to start again from scratch, and you’ve got yourself the perfect storm of irritation, a veritable videogame swear-a-thon. At one point, my long suffering girlfriend came downstairs to tell me to calm down before the neighbours called the police.
But let me rewind a little. Test Drive Unlimited 2 is, of course, the sequel to the 2006 racing sim that provided an entire island to carve up in exotic sports cars. It was a flawed yet ambitious slab of wish fulfilment, a game that was almost as much about the lifestyle of exotic car ownership as it was about the experience of driving itself.
Some five years later, and Eden Games is back with its sequel, a vehicle-based MMO that offers an even greater sprawl for players to hurtle around at gratuitous speeds.
Beginning as a lowly underling, you work your way up the ranks of an island racing community, eventually replacing your rustic caravan for a shiny bachelor pad, and your rusty Lancia Delta Integrale (or whatever ageing classic you may have chosen) for a garage full of gorgeous seven-figure racing machines.
As you do so, there’s an entire network of fellow racers to commune with – hurtling around the island, you’ll meet other players, who you can challenge to races and chat to in lobbies.
Unlimited 2’s visual improvements over its predecessor are immediately in evidence. While the game’s humans have a disturbingly doll-like air about them, the environments look far better than the original Unlimited, though there’s a notable roughness around the edges here and there. The cars lack the obsessive attention to detail of Gran Turismo 5, and the game as a whole hasn’t been buffed to the mirror-like sheen of Forza 3, but it’s nevertheless impressive given the size of the game’s environment.
Like its predecessor, the minutiae of car ownership has been faithfully replicated. You can get in and out of cars, look around them, open and close the doors, and honk the horn. The only thing you can’t do, I’m sad to report, is kick the tyres.
What’s particularly notable, at least at first, is the skittishness of the cars’ handling once you get behind the wheel. Driving a powerful car in wet conditions will often see you spinning around or rolling even while hurtling along in a straight line – realistic, perhaps, but frustrating in the heat of a race.
Some of Unlimited 2’s more harsh aspects could be put down to the fact that it’s meant to be a simulator rather than an arcade racer, but even with this in mind, its physics are often brutally unpredictable, and occasionally downright bizarre.
Even the least powerful cars, driven in sunny conditions on normal road surfaces, are ferociously prone to veering off-course or simply swapping ends – the kind of snap oversteer you’d expect in a mid-engined supercar rather than a front-engined hot saloon.
Such weird inconsistencies in physics can be worked around in the long-term, but are profoundly annoying over the first few hours. I’m quietly hoping some of the game’s glitchier aspects – particularly its stuttering frame-rate during high-speed multiplayer races – will magically disappear with the addition of a patch update.
Once you’ve got over this introductory speed hump – and past your first racing license, which I mentioned earlier – the game begins to open out, and its scope starts to become more obvious as you enter your first races.
In all honesty, I wasn’t particularly taken with Unlimited 2’s social ladder-climbing story, but it at least gives a feeling of progression as you start to rack up the race wins and work your way to the level 60 cap.
The sheer number of houses, clothes and other trinkets that can be hunted down and purchased will also provide a side attraction between races, though again, I found this aspect of Unlimited 2 infinitely less interesting than simply blowing all my cash on expensive cars. There’s a palpable sense of elation when you can finally afford the car you’ve been quietly lusting after – after a few podium finishes, I immediately headed to the Japanese car dealership and spent every last penny of my winnings on a brutally quick Nissan GT-R. Gorgeous.
Sadly, Unlimited 2 fails to invoke these brief thrills consistently enough to provide a justification for suffering through game’s flatter moments. The random spot missions – which often involve driving obnoxious non-player characters to some distant point on the map – are a chore, while the process of earning race and off-road licenses is downright infuriating.
What Eden Games has achieved with Unlimited 2 is undeniably impressive, particularly from a technical perspective. But in the process of packing so many aspects into the experience – a lengthy campaign, side missions, vehicle and character customisation, as well as online races – they’ve somehow mislaid the out-and-out thrill the game is surely meant to provide.
There are moments when Unlimited 2 springs fitfully to life – online races, for example, are great fun, and there’s the sheer joy of buzzing around in a newly-purchased piece of metal – but the game’s skittish handling make many of its missions a chore.
For those looking for a more open-ended experience to say, Gran Turismo 5, which focuses entirely on fine-tuning and racing, Unlimited 2‘s mixture of driving and sun-drenched lifestyle porn may prove enticing enough to make up for some of its mechanical deficiencies, its swear-inducing handling in particular.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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