Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a game of unrealized potential. It totes so many features yet it has little substance and poorly executes all of them. While I picked up this title without high expectations, I was surprised to see that it lowered my standards even further from the very start.
You start the game out in Ibiza, an island off the coast of Spain. You’re introduced to a party where a small crowd of people are dancing before a DJ, then the game fades into a frozen ambience where you get a glimpse at select characters in the crowd. One of these characters will serve as your avatar: One of these characters will be the digital you. When you’ve chosen your character, you’re thrown into a scenario where a girl invites you to see your birthday present. With a giant reticule in the middle of the screen and unrefined first-person movements that seem like something out of Oblivion, you stumble upon a new Ferrari. You hop inside of it, ride out of the garage of your mansion, and disappear into the sunset. Then you wake up as a valet parker asleep in some snob’s car. You’re given a chance to prove yourself as a professional racer but rushing daddy’s girl to a club where she’s to report on the Solar Cup, one of the biggest racing events on Ibiza.
This game is like a mash up of The Sims, Need For Speed Underground, Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Gran Turismo and PlayStation Home. If you’re imagining such a discombabulated mess would make for a horrible playing experience then you’re mostly correct. While this game boasts such cool features that’d draw one to purchase it from the shelves (such as customizing avatars, entering buildings and walking around on foot, massively open online environment) it delivers them all poorly. From the start of the game you can tell its going to be a dissatisfying experience. The unconvincing voice acting sounds like a semi-literate high schooler reading a paperback novel to the rest of a snickering classroom. “Oh, it must be that valet parker that thinks he’s a professional race car driver again!” exclaims the father of Tess Wintory, the owner of the Ferrari you’re sleeping in. “Tell him he’s fired!” he says, in a stereotypical rich douchebag accent and voice. When Wintory gave my character another chance, I facepalmed. I was already prepared to quit the game from there.
But for all of you bright, delightful readers out there I stuck it out with mild disappointment. Here is what you need to know about the gameplay: Driving gives you no sense of grip on the road, you’re always prone to an accident even if its unrealistic, and deacceleration and braking all register as drifts. This means that most of your car’s unintended powerslides can be attributed to simply moving fast and tapping the brake, or holding it even. While the extremely unstable traction of your car should be a key indicator that the developers were aiming for a lot of drift-based racing, it should also be noted that a lot of Test Drive’s sloppy driving mechanics are based off real drifting techniques. By speeding into a corner and lifting off the throttle, one can cause weight transfer to bring their car across a steep corner in a real drifting situation. Test Drive tried, poorly, to imitate this buy making your car slide everytime you deaccelerated or braked lightly and turned into a corner. One slight twist of your wheels and you’d pilot yourself straight into the dirt. Additionally, moderate braking can also constitute real drifting, but Test Drive takes this too far as well.
I applaud Test Drive for forcing people to utilize important aspects of driving such as cornering technique, but the erratic handling of most of the cars is a major turn off. Test Drive makes sure its races are all won as professionally as possible as the dirt comes with penalty, slows you down and further destabilizes your car’s traction. Your treadless soap tires can, however, gain a little more control on the off-road terrain, so long as you don’t turn too hard. Once you’re used to the driving mechanics, you’ll instinctively know to release the accelerator and let your car swing into a corner, though its the most annoying thing ever to practically slip-and-slide across asphault. I was let down to find out that the banking system, one that gives you small amounts of money for crazy driving maneuvers, could only work when you were free roaming. I would’ve liked some money for drifting and drafting. Furthermore, the environment of the game is not only graphically forsaken, but also glitchy. Short humps your car could jump over and trees it would realistically knock aside are given invincibility and sometimes serve as invisible walls. The only thing good about the environment in Test Drive is its effect on your car, which leaves dirt splattered across your paint job in an impressively realistic looking mess. Otherwise, the damages are only slightly accurate and your car awkwardly treks across the bumpy landscape without harm.
Redlining is fun. Your screen blurs and you zip across long winding roads, passing police officers at 167 MPH. The funny complex with police in Test Drive is that you can go as fast as you want and fly by them, but the moment you hit their car or one close to theirs they contemplate chasing you down for a traffic infraction. When being pursued by police, cruisers pop out everywhere ready to slam your undurable car into a much needed oblivion. It’s practically impossible to elude policemen when your car’s traction is the equivalent to that of a novice ice skater, and when you get pulled over you go into a Need For Speed: Carbon esque scene. Don’t be too disappointed; if you’re fed up with anything driving you can always check out some of the game’s other features. Hairdressers, clothing stores and plastic surgeons are all about if you want to further personalize your avatar. Unfortunately, these features are disappointing as well. Simply put, the hairstyles look awkward on most characters, the clothes are tight fitting and stale, and while the plastic surgeons are nice I feel like the player should’ve had more creative control over the avatar from the beginning of the game rather than choosing one of the mundane characters already there.
This lack of customization prevails throughout the game, too. You’ll be surprised to find that you can’t actually dress up your car in Test Drive and add bodykits or anything like that, only stickers and color changes. Even more disappointing in terms of practicality is the fact that you can’t ever sell your car unless you can’t afford another car or your garage lacks the space to store one. Performance enhancement for your cars is made as basic as possible, with each attribute of speed, acceleration, handling, and braking being ranked in five levels. Of course, you unlock and buy the higher levels. Another downer is that all of these things can’t simply be purchased right away, Test Drive has to complicate them. You can’t earn them through races or any regular show of skill, you have to basically skim through the streets of the entire island either taking pictures or cruising through places you don’t want to cruise through. The more you unnecessarily drive through the island the more ‘discovery’ points you earn to unlock more options in the hairdresser, clothing and performance shops. This all goes without mentioning the Need For Speed: Underground esque shop entries (with the floating icons and the animation of you pulling in) and the horrible first person movement that seems like you’re sliding across the ground. Entering shops as your avatar is dreadful.
Test Drive also adopted some features from Gran Turismo. Each screen goes into a pre-racing menu and you have to get licenses to unlock certain races. Unfortunately, the huge difference is the fact that Gran Turismo is light years beyond this game. By making off road rugged and prone to spinning your car out, Test Drive tries to force you to drive competently as Gran Turismo does, which is why your car is spinning out most of the time (even on pavement) and your deacceleration registers as a drift attempt. And, once again, Gran Turismo is light years beyond this game; while Gran Turismo allows you options for aggressive driving or precision driving, Test Drive is forcing you to commit to the latter by sliding you out and forcing you to limit your speed in an outrageous way. The Sims influence can be noted in your ‘social points’ and the way you interact with others, while the PlayStation Home influence can be seen in the various houses you can buy and your (rather unneccessary) ability to customize the furniture. Presumably you get this furniture elsewhere that’s not offline? If not, then its purposeless. The game’s main focal point is racing, not buying appliances and playing Queer Eye for the Straight Guy with your house. Moving on…
The game plays completely artificial. Nothing feels real in the digital universe that they try to sell to you as being something realistic with the incredible amount of things you can do. Even worse, there’s almost an element of surrealism to how computerized and awkward this game is, and it makes you uncomfortable. Besides the bad voice acting, none of these characters have any depth. They’re all the same rich, socialite, elitist archetypes who broadcast arrogance and spaz out at the camera when they lose. None of them show real personality. Everytime you fail a license test the instructor recites the same annoying quote over again, that or one of four catchphrases (like an action figure), and never really knows when to shut up. After failing three times, he should be coded to just keep his mouth shut and look on. When in a dealership, those selling the cars just sit there, practically frozen in position. They all look like the same characters in different clothing with the horrible voice acting that manages to come through and ruin the entire game as it did from the very start. When your character speaks, he seems to be even more of a computer than every other character there. Not only his voice supremely forgettable, but he only says basic and otherwise stupid things that aren’t really worthy of attention.
It’s clear my test drive of this title has proven dissatisfactory, which is why I plan on having it test driven it back to the video store I rented it from. Simply put, this game was terrible because no real effort was put into the actual execution of its features. The ideas for unlocking things, how to unlock things and what things there were to unlock were also lacking. It’s ultimately clear that someone needs to be fired, because this whole line-up of Unlimited titles have proven to be terrible. Seriously, who’s idea was to make a seperate station for rock music and keep one station full of horrible techno, amateur rap and otherwise crappy ‘avant-garde’ music? Would it be called avant-garde? The quality of most of Test Drive’s soundtrack is an unseen musical dimension of awful, so I’d say so. In conclusion, Test Drive’s lack of life is what makes it a 4.5/10. Better luck next time.