Would You Like Some RPG With That Racer?
It has been a long time since the original Test Drive: Unlimited graced home consoles, but fans of the automotive genre have definitely not forgotten Test Drive’s unique approach to a genre that is constantly looking for ways to reinvent itself. The social gaming elements of Test Drive Unlimited catapulted it to cult status among automotive gaming enthusiasts. However, due to some poor design choices, an at-times wobbly online experience, and handling that couldn’t decide whether it was simulation or arcade-based, the series never quite got the respect that other, more prominent automotive titles were able to produce. Fortunately, all of these issues have been addressed in Test Drive: Unlimited 2.
However, this follow-up is more than just an improved version of its predecessor. Though the overall format will be familiar to fans of the original, the game takes an ambitious approach to its social gaming component and turns Test Drive into an almost RPG-like experience. When the game begins, the player chooses one of several pre-made personas to be his main character, and progresses through a quick tutorial that introduces him to the basics of the game’s new progression system. He is then thrust into a paint-by-numbers story mode where he is chosen by a rich person for whom he valets to compete in a high-stakes contest. Unique, right? But bad story aside (who really cares about story in an automotive game anyways?), the game goes on to introduce you to a brand new four-pronged system that encourages you to level up your character’s stats by winning challenges, beefing up your garage, competing in social events, and discovering new areas.
The new progression system is compelling, and participating in all kinds of events to max out different stats is a rewarding experience. Much like the original, Test Drive: Unlimited 2 features a huge open world with plenty of areas off the beaten path to explore, and it is hard not to get lost in the game’s version of the tropical paradise of Ibiza. And although the game initially limits your discovery by clumping together challenges, you’ll open up new areas to explore as you progress. The discovery element of the progression system is certainly one that I took particular pride in leveling up, and I was continuously amazed by how vast the in-game world was.
Naturally, this massive world translates nicely into an online experience. The free-riding mode is back in Test Drive: Unlimited 2, and while the drop-in/drop-out structure can be a bit frustrating if you have a specific goal in mind, there is plenty of potential for fun in this mode if you have an online posse you can get together. Of course, if you like your online experience more straightforward, Test Drive: Unlimited 2 also has several lobby-based online modes that allow you to get a quick fix of online play without the commitment that the free-riding mode involves.
But of course, no matter how innovative the progression system, vast the in-game world, or plentiful the online modes, an automotive title isn’t worth its virtual pavement if the driving experience isn’t up to par. Although Test Drive: Unlimited 2 still straddles the line between simulation and arcade-style racing rather finely, the mechanics here are a lot more streamlined than they were previously. The cars still ramp up in speed at a ridiculous level, but you’ll have to pay close attention to steering mechanics and drifting, especially on higher-end vehicles if you want to avoid damage and poor completion times. There is a bit of a learning curve to the driving mechanics in Test Drive: Unlimited 2, but once you get the hang of it, the mixture between the automotive genre’s two factions feels natural.
Unfortunately, despite all these good elements, there is one glaring issue in Test Drive: Unlimited 2 that even the biggest fan of the series will notice almost immediately: the lack of production value. Mediocre animation, poor voice overs for the in-game characters (of which there are many), and a lack of detail on many of the game’s cars makes this game look and sound like it belongs in the bargain bin. The lack of attention to these matters is especially disheartening considering this title had such great stuff under the hood. The only thing about the game that really looks like it was given the proper amount of care was the tropical setting, which does feature nice detail overall. However, in the automotive genre, you have to make the cars look good, and with a few notable exceptions, Test Drive: Unlimited 2 falls flat in that regard.
Still, if you can get past the poor production values, there is a lot to love about Test Drive: Unlimited 2. It is a different kind of automotive game, and if you are looking for super-tight controls or an over-the-top arcade experience, you won’t find it here. However, if you are looking for a unique take on a genre that has far too many conventions, this title should fit the bill rather nicely. Instead of borrowing from other, more popular franchises, Test Drive: Unlimited 2 takes some risks with their gameplay format, and for the most part, their gamble pays off.
If you like exploring an open world, or are just looking for a change of pace with your automotive games, Test Drive: Unlimited 2 will get your motor running. Just don’t expect to come out any time soon!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.7 Graphics
Visuals are too simplistic. Although the setting looks good, cars lack detail 3.9 Control
The arcade/sim controls do take some getting used to, but work well once you get the hang of it. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is repetitive and generic-feeling, and voiceovers are downright terrible. 4.4 Play Value
Though the production value leaves a lot to be desired, Test Drive: Unlimited 2 has a lot of content, and maxing out your stats and gaining levels in the game provides a fresh take on progression in the automotive genre. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|