The Test Drive Unlimited game series is interesting in that rather than being a car game purely about racing, it is as much about simply driving. Like with other racing games there is a selection of racing & skill-based tasks, including a selection of different race types both new and old. What makes Test Drive Unlimited 1 & 2 special is that you’re not pressured to just go from one race to another through a menu and can instead cruise around exploring the game world presented to you.
For Test Drive Unlimited 2 you get to travel around depictions of Ibiza and Oahu in varying weather conditions, filling out your knowledge of the road network (Thus opening map fast travel), taking pictures of pre-defined scenic locations and discovering wreck sites that unlock bonus cars.
Along the way, you might also meet other players of the game (which defaults to online connectivity so you can see other drivers) and befriend them or challenge them to one off-street races. This is in addition to the computer controlled civilian and police cars that you’ll probably find yourself crashing into on occasion.
The game has a mix of single-player and multiplayer challenges including the main race events such as time challenge (beat the fastest time), race (Both from A to B & in laps), eliminator (every lap the last car is removed from the race), speed (try to stay above speed for as long as possible) and speed trap (competing to go through several speed cameras at the highest speed).
There are also additional challenges presented outside of the race campaign, most notably gentler driving challenges that require you to drive from A to B without damaging a car or jolting a passenger as well as a challenge that requires you to tail another car (ostensibly to discover a cheating lady friend).
There is also an ‘Adrenalin’ challenge that ties into a new addition to the game where dodging past other cars, doing drifts or jumps fill a meter which gives you increasing cash sums as you cruise around the in-game islands. This rewards you if you feel like doing stunts as you race about the islands exploring.
The car tailing challenge is problematic, success or failure is based purely on the distance between you and the other car so you can ‘lose’ the car you’re tailing even though you can see it in the distance. The failure condition here is a breakdown in the conceptual model of how car tailing theoretically works because you’re forced into behavior that any wary driver would pick up on (particularly stopping far back from a set of red lights with no traffic to stop behind). It can be hard to pick up on changes in the speed of the car you’re tailing, resulting in repetitive retry frustration.
There is one type of mission I have found particularly frustrating where a rude annoying non-player-character wants you to stay above a certain speed limit, but the road is windy and narrow enough that it’s easy to fail, resulting in the character laughing at you and calling you a loser. From a psychological standpoint, it is annoying enough to fail the task but this is then magnified by the annoying character.
It is also possible to customize the appearance of your player character (who walks around in indoor environments, visible to other players), house furnishings and can also change the color scheme of vehicles, even putting decals on them to create custom designs (stripes, shapes, etc.). Your cars will now get muddy as you drive off-road and receive cosmetic damage up to and including car doors hanging slightly open but not to the degree, you might see in a Grand Theft Auto game.
The game also provides a social aspect, allowing you to form clubs and build networks of friends. There are also some additional multiplayer challenges such as follow the leader and keep your distance, which is designed to test your ability to position yourself in relation to the other players’ cars.
I’m not so sure about the way the game requires you to do the collection challenges in order to unlock many of the hairstyles and clothing options in the game, as I’d like to be able to just go into those stores and customize my characters appearance as I see fit (There’s no gameplay advantage here). It makes sense for the car tuning upgrades though and it does give you something else to work towards in the game, giving you more reason to explore.
The police cars are much less aggressive this time around, in the original Test Drive Unlimited, crashing into a police car would guarantee a chase but in the sequel, it takes a lot more effort to upset the police. This is actually unfortunate as fear of accidental collisions with the police gave high speed racing an extra bit of tension.
Additionally, the police chases are supposed to be tied into a player versus player chase where some will volunteer to act as law enforcement and chase down the troublemaker. This system doesn’t appear to ever come into play because it is just too easy to prevent happening.
Sadly it also appears as though the game has been spoiled by being released before it is ready. This is evident by a large number of game patches along with reports of save file corruption and trouble connecting to the game server (Though I found in my case this was partly due to Windows 7 being fussy about connecting to the Internet after a patch was applied to the game client/program). I’ve since received word that Atari and Eden Games want to make amends and in addition to patching the game are making the first pack of DLC (With two cars in it) free to everyone.
On two occasions the terrain ahead of my car has stopped rendering and when I reach that point, the car will drop through the road. The only way I can then continue playing is to restart the game through the task manager as the menu system and car repositioning break down in this eventuality.
I really want to recommend this game, I’ve been enjoying it immensely, but right now I would advise you to wait a few weeks first to give the developers more time to address some of the larger issues in the game.