Four and a half years ago, the original Test Drive Unlimited tried to do what no other racing game before it had done - merge a traditional racing game with a massively multiplayer online aspect. It was largely a success, albeit rough around the edges. Unfortunately, its sequel is even rougher around the edges - at least around launch time, with bugs that can result in losing all of your in-game cash, corrupted saves, game crashes, and a server that seems to be offline more than its on. Far too many things make the game feel like a work in progress released to stores, and as a result, the final product underachieves greatly.
With that said, TDU 2 isn’t an altogether bad game - it’s just very flawed with some issues that can thankfully be handled with patching, and then there are some that fall outside that. For an online-heavy game, the servers are down far too often to really make use of the community center - where you can meet people, make challenges, and take on challenges from others. There are many offline single-player challenges as well, which are a lot of fun and a great way to test your skills. Some will require you to deliver a car without having it damaged too much, while others will stipulate that ANY harsh driving could end the challenge, you may have to tail a driver without him spotting you, or in the most outright fun instances - fill up a meter by driving as insanely as possible.
If you succeed, you’ll be rewarded with whatever bounty has been placed for that challenge - minus whatever the entry fee is for multi-player challenges. Single-player challenges are free, but are only available for a short period of time, while multi-player ones usually have a fee attached but can be accessed at any time. Generally, only use the no-reward challenges early on to improve your skills, and then try and stick with low-fee, high-reward ones as you continue.
The island count has doubled as you now get not only a new island in Ibiza, but also the original game’s Hawaiian island. As a result, the drivable square mileage has more than doubled. There’s more to do in TDU 2 than just drive though - you can also partake in some casino games via a DLC casino that is far more addictive than it might seem in theory. You can play roulette, various kinds of poker, and slots inside. While I’m normally mainly a blackjack fan, that option not being here actually didn’t bother me much because the rewards offered up by the existing games made them worth replaying, and then you just kind of get hooked on them. You can easily be lured in with the allure of winning a car alongside a ton of money, and then find yourself spending hours playing slots and the other games without realizing it. There are other extracurricular to take part in, but finding junked cars and taking photos of specific parts of the islands isn’t anywhere near as fun as putting half of your money on black.
TDU 2 gives you around 90 vehicles to drive in, and they’re broken down into three categories - classics, off-road, and asphalt. Each category has its own quirks, and license tests. They’re a little more forgiving than the ones in the Gran Turismo series, but aren’t exactly the most welcome addition for me. Still, they don’t take away much - they’re just annoying things that get in the way of doing other, more fun things for a half hour. As a racing game, TDU 2 succeeds with off-road racing, but doesn’t really work well with cars because while SUVs stick to the road nicely, cars are generally all over the place. You can nail the car control down after a while, but it still takes longer to get acclimated than it should, even with the test drive option. That feature is a godsend though as it allows you to see how each car handles before you spend your in-game cash on them.
Visually, TDU 2 isn’t as appealing as one would expect a modern-day racing game to be. While the car models look really good and all have detailed interiors, the character models inside them look terrible. In-car, they’re passable, but when you see them roaming around in the game world, their outdated look quickly becomes apparent. Customization options are available for both cars and avatars, but are a bit too limited to be worthwhile - especially given how expensive they can be. It’s nice to have a sticker option for vehicles, but the feature falls quite short of even Forza 1 - and they cost quite a bit of in-game cash to boot. Avatar editing is extensive in the sense that you can change a lot of things about your character, but your options are somewhat limited, so while you can change his/her clothing and face, you don’t have as much freedom as you’d probably like because there aren’t a ton of clothing options available.
The in-game world is massive, and think that’s largely the cause of the worst issue I have with the graphics - massive pop-in, which reminded me of the Saturn version of Daytona USA. Here, you’ll drive around and see copious amounts of scenery just pop into view and it’s even worse at night, where you’ll have to deal with street lights that light up bit-by-bit along the road - never quite lighting an area evenly. This issue is incredibly distracting, and will lead to some mistakes as you both drive around for fun and worse, try to win in a race.
The audio is generally left turned off whenever possible because of a mediocre soundtrack and voice acting and generic cast of characters that aren‘t even laughably bad - they‘re just bad, and incapable of bringing even an ironic laugh out of players. The soundtrack consisting of only two in-game stations with no in-game custom soundtrack support also feels incredibly outdated. The audio really is best left muted because aside from the vehicle sound effects, there’s nothing good to hear. The best way to deal with these issues is to completely mute the in-game audio, then load up a system-specific play list.
Given that TDU 2 is basically a massively multiplayer online racing game, it’s more than a little disappointing to see how unstable the game’s servers are. More often than not, you’re restricted to single-player challenges because multi-player ones require the server to be working, you’ll race over it to accept it…and find that it’s unavailable because the server isn’t online. That kind of thing gets old very quickly and makes the game feel like a second-rate product.
With all of its problems, it may seem like TDU 2 isn’t worth your time. However, the most amazing thing to me is that in spite of how problem-filled it currently is, I still found myself genuinely having a lot of fun exploring the massive world, taking on challenges, winning races, and just absorbing myself into the world that the developers have created. I think their passion shines through, although I don’t think the game will ever reach the audience it could’ve because of how poorly the first month of its release has gone.
I do have hope that the developers are able to work out the kinks with patches though, because TDU was a blast and this at times surpasses it, but is held back by its present problems. A patch is due out in early March to rectify many issues, and we’ll take a look at the game after that to see just how many issues are fixed. I expect them to make good on their word because they’ve shown an incredibly strong commitment to try and make things right with players by listening to them online, trying to fix the game’s problems as soon as they can, and offering up a free DLC pack in the future in an effort to make it up to players plagued by the problems. However, in the state the game is presently in, I can’t recommend a purchase. $60 is simply too much to pay for the game as it is now.
It’s mid-March and after a bit of a delay, the long-awaited TDU 2 update is finally here. The near 200 MB update brings with it a far more stable server and the ability to finally create and join clubs. The club feature is pretty fun and allows you as a basic player to have a set group of people to interact with in the game, sort of like a more focused, game-specific friends list along with a little area to hang out in. It reminds me of the PlayStation Home, only on a smaller scale.
The “server is not available” messages haven’t plagued my screen once since the update was released, which is a huge improvement over how things were before, when the MMO aspect was unavailable far more often than not. The biggest change for me was that the pop-in doesn’t seem anywhere near as bad as it used to be. According to other players, the patch has fixed the issues with saves being corrupted, although I never had that problem before. The update worked wonders at fixing some major problems, not all, like the soundtrack and character models, but basically anything I could’ve realistically expected to be fixed with the patch was. However, even with the fixes, the game isn’t quite a must-have. If it’s on sale for $30-$40, I’d say snatch it up because it’s definitely worth that now that things are stable, but I still wouldn’t recommend paying full price for it.