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Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a beautiful sandbox world to explore and share with other players. However, a lack of energy or excitement turns what should be an adrenaline charge through the landscape into a Sunday drive in the country.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a free roaming sandbox driving game. You spend your time initially on a full replica of the island of Ibiza, but can earn the right to go to Hawaii. The Hawaiian locale was used in the original game and makes the game feel a little too similar at times.
Ibiza seems an unusual choice for a driving game as it is known as a holiday and party island rather than a petrol head haven. It does work well though, and creates an excuse for the club based radio station to play songs evoking the spirit of Ibiza.
Sandbox games are about free expression, choosing where to go, what to do and how to customize the elements of the game. There is no technical reason to not allow full customisation from the start but Test Drive Unlimited 2 makes you unlock this by progressing.
I spend a lot of time in open user-generated environments and found it annoying not to be able to explore the creation side of the game. To unlock this you not only have to discover the special places on the island by driving every available road but you also have to have enough cash to afford the expensive building blocks.
There is another oddly restrictive dynamic. In the ultra trendy clothing shops, even if you have found them and have the cash to spend, some clothes are off limits until you have driven a certain percentage of the island.
The alteration is not instant, instead you leave wearing a full head bandage.
Once the customisation is unlocked though, it is very entertaining. You take your avatar to the plastic surgeon, adjust the sliders for nose, eyes, age and height. This drastically changes the person you started the game with. The alteration is not instant, instead you leave wearing a full head bandage. For the next 30 minutes you appear with your bandaged face in all the cut scenes, shops and any view of you.
There are times when the games struggles graphically. Test Drive Unlimited 2's graphics engine has a distracting bleeding of detail into the horizon. You can be covering a long slightly curving road at over 100mph with an eye on the vanishing point, when suddenly a row of trees will start to appear layer after layer on the horizon. In certain light it has a psychedelic affect more worthy of a Jeff Minter light synthesizer than a driving game. This doesn't happen all the time, but its is very distracting and a good excuse to crash the car as concentration is lost.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 carries on the first game's environment multi player lobby. This Massively Open Online Racing technique has been used to great effect in games like Crackdown or the mighty Red Dead Redemption.
Whilst playing your single player game you are automatically connected to other players doing the same thing. From time to time you bump into another human player and can then choose to just razz around after them or flash your headlights and broker an actual multiplayer game with a goal.
Hanging around in a lobby waiting for a multiplayer game to start is never fun. In Test Drive Unlimited 2 you can allow the multiplayer elements to blend with your single player game. The current bandwidth and live multiplayer technology we have tends to restrict games to just a handful of players. Different game styles can be optimised to cope with larger numbers. Test Drive Unlimited 2 has only 8 players at a time. As the technology and networks evolve it will be interesting to see whole islands with thousands of cars hurtling around.
Driving games need to create an adrenalin rush.
The social networking side of Test Drive Unlimited 2 tries to help you create an online profile, take and share pictures, and show achievements. So far since release I have only been able to access my profile in-game once, the rest of the time it hangs and times out. This is where games need to try and blend with the existing web social networks rather than inventing their own ecosystem.
I like Test Drive Unlimited 2 but I don't love it. The avatars are bland and a stock set of meshes. The cars' simulation models are a bit twitchy and unsatisfying. The island and its weather effects are beautiful however and the car rendering is very detailed. But nothing feels urgent or hectic, maybe another reason they picked the Ibiza location to try and spice things up a bit. Driving games need to create an adrenalin rush but here nothing seems to move fast enough to do that.
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