Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Test Drive Unlimited 2

Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) is the latest pistonhead-oriented video game, a genre I’ve enjoyed since Test Drive first arrived in 1987. My PS3 usually spins two amazing time wasters: Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) for sheer hotshoe geekiness and the Grand Theft Auto series (GTA) for snark, storyline and reality-blurring gameplay. TDU2 sets out to blend elements of both, making it unique and intriguing in concept alone. But does the promise of a game that’s less serious than GT5 but more car-focused than GTA work in practice?

True to the GTA-side of the equation, TDU2 is escapism incarnate: you start in Ibiza (Hawaii comes later), the island famous for catering to the wealthy party-going set. That implies the need for top dollar super cars, flashy SUVs, and old school classics. The need for low-rent valets is obvious. That’s who “you” are: a hotel car-jockey daydreaming of a Jack Baruth racing lifestyle.

It’s a fun premise: TDU2 starts with poolside trust fund babies in a Penthouse apartment. You decide which person (avatar) best represents you: White/Black/Asian guy or girl. This sucks if you are a brown person but eventually I found a plastic surgery center, spent thousands of dollars and made “him” look more like me. Yes, really.

Back to the Penthouse: we learn that said party is in your honor. And there’s a gift in the garage: a Ferrari California! A woman wearing a dress tighter than Chrysler’s operating profit wants you to drive it. There are Barbie-doll females aplenty, but this is a “T for Teen” rated game: car-related dialogue matches the labored smack talk of a Fast And Furious flick. Ordinary conversations are whitewashed to the point of vapid PR jabber. Worse still, the majority of characters are complete douchebags, even the nice folks are fake and robotic compared to GTA.

Then again, there’s no Holy Grail of car-gaming communications: unlike GT5, TDU2 never insists on a catalytic converter upgrade on a pre-emissions vehicle. Good for them.

Back to the game, your birthday party is just a dream. And “you” wake up as a lowly valet, working up the ranks of a racing series called Solar Crown. The premise is kid friendly: TDU2 gets youngsters interested in cars by adding the social gaming elements of Xbox/PS3 consoles into the pistonhead mix. Kids won’t forget their smart phone aspirations, but TDU2 could make them lust for a Pagani Zonda.

Let’s dig into the social world: unlike GT5, one gets out of their car to do stuff. And you will explore: TDU2 demands purchasing more houses, more cars, attending (terribly pointless) driving schools and interacting with fellow racers on a variety of fronts.

My “favs” include car spots sprinkled around Ibiza: brand specific dealerships, performance garages, and automotive window dressings available via body shops. The free-roam gameplay is entertaining, kept organized by a map so beautifully detailed it makes Google Earth blush and GTA weep in agony. Much like said map, TDU2’s graphics are excellent, but the cars aren’t rendered to the point of GT5’s car-porn realism.

Too bad TDU2’s driving simulator is not for those old enough for a driver’s license. Vehicle dynamics contain enough vague responses to put away the race seat/feedback tiller in favor of a normal controller. And you must drive everywhere, at least once: unlike the geographically-diverse environment of GTA San Andreas, this gets old quickly. Making things worse, the music and DJ chatter is derivative, dull and repetitive. Earning TDU2’s style points for fast driving is also difficult, adding frustration for those with inflamed ADHD. City-to-city travel should let you have your cake and eat it too: this game takes too long to get to the goods, it’s an exercise in patience.

But, like the others, TDU2 lets one drive like a maniac without the pitfalls of vehicle collisions and their associated legal fees. Speaking of, there’s little damage upon impact and the island is deserted, aside from vehicular traffic. But the in-car views of the island are thrilling: watching the Lotus Espirt’s needles move to the right at full throttle was a great thrill compared to the UR-Accolade version of this game.

Back to why this is a non-driving simulator: while not a raging fan of online play, meeting fellow racers in the (awesomely rendered) clubhouse was wicked-cool. There were challenges aplenty created by fellow gamers, available at an activity desk. Back on the road, if you spot someone worth challenging, flash your lights, wait for confirmation, and get ready to rumble.

I’ve barely scratched the surface in this review, mostly because it feels like explaining the concept of an all-inclusive resort to someone that’s never seen an airport. This YouTube review will narrow the gap. If you like online interaction and wish to endlessly modify parameters such as the design of your homes/cars/avatar, this game can go on forever. Even with the driving simulator flaws and utterly trite dialogue, TDU2 is worth owning. If you have kids.

Atari provided a copy of Test Drive Unlimited 2 for this review.

No comments:

Post a Comment