The massively multiplayer online racing genre, or MMOR, is relatively untapped on the PC platform. Test Drive Unlimited 2 not only brings the genre to consoles, but also defines their own branch of the genre, with something they like to call Massively Open Online Racing, or MOOR. The slight variation in the description aptly fits TDU2, which clearly shows just how much thought the developer put into making an open world, sandbox style driving game.
You might not even realize just how much you’ve been wanting controls with this blend of simulation driving and arcade racing. Most of the standard controls are included, with some extra options on the d-pad (on the console versions) to raise/lower convertible tops, open or close your windows, and even activate your turn signals, though you may wonder if leaving a left blinker on was put in as a joke. The preciseness of the controls allow you to successfully make hairpin turns or drift around corners in the rain, and continue on as if you were starring in an action film. However, these actions are purely executed because of the driving assist options turned on by default. If you are looking for more of a simulation control scheme, you can make the proper adjustments and drive how you prefer.
The single player campaign guides you through pretty much everything the game has to offer. A handy GPS indicator and talking directions take you from destination to destination, learning and discovering almost all aspects of the game. There are quite a few objectives to keep you busy, no matter what your style of play is. These can be completed in almost any order you choose, with each type helping you progress through the game. However, you must complete the driving schools to unlock the different championships, so the progression isn’t as cut and dry as you might think. You’ll need to practice and complete the various challenges each school puts you up against. The cut-scenes and character interactions make the experience a little more personal, but still feel somewhat unnecessary. It was interesting what the developers were trying to include, with the characters and voice acting, in an open world game, but every time a cut-scene would play, you may just want to skip it and move on. Fortunately, the gameplay doesn’t suffer from this purely cosmetic aspect and you’re able to enjoy the experience however you see fit.
The wonderful thing about the multiplayer is, it was there all along while you were playing the single player. In fact, once you start your campaign, you may not notice that there are other gamers in the world with you, until one of them challenges you or you are prompted to join a multiplayer race. You may even get a hint that other players are already in the game by the simple fact that you can hear them talking once you enter a certain range from their own cars. The more obvious visual cue that others are around you, is the placement of the gamers’ various aliases displayed above their vehicle. You can initiate multiplayer challenges by flashing your lights at other players, and taking part in the various modes available for competition. Don’t worry about being surprised to get left in the dust by more experienced drivers, as their current level is also displayed by their alias, to give anyone looking for a challenge a fair heads-up on what they may be up against. This crossover between single and multiplayer is so seamless, it is very easy to question why many other developers aren’t integrating the two experiences like this in other games, especially on consoles.
Visually, the game looks decent, but for some reason just feels somewhat dated. This could be purely from the console experience, as there were quite a few times where objects and details would pop in on-screen and distract you from maintaining a perfect move while driving around the environment. It seems too easy to simply write the graphical imperfections off on the fact that this is an open-world title, but it is hard to forgive that when racing at high speeds. The character models in the single player mode, while highly customizable, teeter somewhere between bland and boring. Again, this doesn’t really affect the driving experience, but strangely gives you the feeling that you might be playing something from this generation’s console launch lineup. Ignoring these eyesores, the car models look fine and the environments all have day and night modes that are certainly passable.
The sounds in the game match the graphics with their average, uninteresting appeal. The soundtrack is everything but subtle, luckily it works for most styles of driving, nailing the effect a car stereo can bring to a car enthusiasts tempo. The voice acting, as part of the single player mode, isn’t as bad as you would expect, and even successfully replicates the feeling of most local television shows. It is a bit of a shame that the car noises couldn’t sound just a hint more realistic. Sure there are engine revs, tire skidding, impact noise, and so forth, but the sounds feel like they do not really represent an actual car.
Much like other open world multiplayer games, the possibilities seem endless as to how much game time anybody can get out of this title. For those who need structure, following the objectives and leveling up with things like exploring and championships provides a lengthy game that continues for hours on end. What makes TDU2 special is the realization that you can meet up with friends, talk about whatever, and just drive around making up your own objectives along the way. There isn’t necessarily a need to go in with friends, as simply joining up with other online drivers can prove to be a very worthwhile experience. There isn’t really a limitation on where you can go in the game. Even if you are following the GPS indicator on the way to another objective, you could simply go off-roading and whiz by trees on the grass and leap off of hills, being as wild and adventurous as you want.
Overall, TDU2 continues the great formula that made Test Drive Unlimited such a success for its fans. The location has changed, but for those itching to make a return to Hawaii, you simply need to progress far enough in the game to gain access to the island. Sure, you can go a little off the beaten path with other racing titles, but not to the extent that this game allows. For what this game offers, there is no doubt an endless supply of entertainment available for arcade racer and simulation driving fans alike.
*Atari provided SlimGamer.com with a review copy.