Back in 2006, Test Drive Unlimited was a bit of a revelation. The first MMO racing game for consoles, it featured 125 cars, 1000s of miles of roads, and gave racing fans the chance to experience an open world and the chance to race other online gamers as they encountered them on the island.
And yet, five years later when Test Drive Unlimited 2 arrived, the response from gamers all around the web has been a mixture of frustration and feeling rather underwhelmed, and it’s one that I share. It doesn’t feel like an evolution of the game, but a remake with many of the problems of the first game unsolved, plus a couple of new ones…
So even though there is much to praise, and it’s still an enjoyable game, here’s the 10 Things I Hate About TDU2
- Game Killing Bugs: Any game which is this ambitious is likely to have a number of bugs in it – that’s the nature of crafting something so massive and open. And most of the numerous bugs are pretty forgivable. But there are a small number which will completely destroy your game. My favourite was finding myself trapped in the garage of my first house, 3.5 hours into the game, with no way to exit as the game would freeze every time the garage animation began. In the end I gave up and restarted. Which meant another chance to be annoyed by number 2 on the list.
- The race schools: The handling model of both TDU games has been pretty ‘loose’ and has never been about accuracy. That isn’t a problem when you’re cruising the highways of Ibiza and Hawaii with the windows down, but it’s a massive problem when someone decides you have to perform pointless slalom tests in order to race in better cars. Why create an open world where everything relies on money, and then limit it with inane challenges which are a monumental waste of time?
- The characters and voice acting: The character design definitely treats every racer as a metrosexual fashionista, which isn’t quite the macho image most people would probably associate with driving fast cars and racing (Even if the truth is somewhat different). But the voice acting takes it to a new level, where you can’t decide whether it’s meant to be comedy or just annoying. You start the game by dreaming and aspiring about female characters revealed as shallow idiots, race against guys which seem to have come from the books of a male model agency, and have to put up with incredibly repetitive voice tracks at the start of every race etc.
- F.R.I.M: Allowing you to earn money when you’re driving around isn’t a bad idea, and encourages you to drive rather than warp to locations. There’s a payoff that it isn’t as relaxing to just cruise, as you’re constantly aware you could be earning cash, but that’s a reasonable trade-off. The problem comes when playing online, as it’s guaranteed some nearby player will pile into you just as you’re levelling up.
- Uneven encounters: Following on from that is the major problem with encountering other players – if you’re stuck in a low or mid-level car, all you’ll find will be people in Zondas or similar constantly challenging you. And even if you own one, you can’t switch from the sensible hatchback or 4×4 you’re in at the time. And if you refuse, you’ll find yourself being used as a crash test dummy until the faster car gets bored. It’s enough to make the online side of the game redundant except for the structured races.
- Two radio stations: Seriously? That’s it? Prior to the launch of the first game, Eden were publicly talking about their idea to have live streaming radio contained within the game. But even without the data problems that might create, the GTA series has provided a great example of creating bespoke in-game radio stations packed with great music and bearable DJs in-between. Eden limited the challenge to creating just two stations, and still filled them with B-league songs and Z-league talk.
- The ‘follow my girlfriend’ missions: Missions where you have to tail someone are generally irritating, even when done well. But in TDU2 they not only involve helping yet another character you’d rather punch, but the gap between you and your quarry isn’t elastic enough to account for them pulling onto a freeway and instantly pulling out a big gap while you accelerate. Which basically means you have to retry each one until you know all the acceleration points in advance, despite the fact the target car has never left your sight at any time.
- The cars and the sounds they make: Most of the comment when we published the official car list complained it wasn’t large or varied enough, and the classics were limited. What we didn’t also know is that turning off the radio stations to preserve your sanity then reveals some engine noises which are pretty bad. Forget the hearty rumble of a V8 as you cruise the streets, and instead prepare for an incessant high-pitched whine as you spend 19 miles flat out on a freeway. One bystander has put up with us playing games for 10+ years, and has nominated the sound of TDU2 as the most irritating she’s ever heard.
- Maps and Islands: When it’s all about driving, why do I spend so much time having to access and zoom in, and out of maps using a fairly clunky interface? And every time it breaks the amount of F.R.I.M collected thus far? For the first few hours that was enough, but then I had the pleasure of knowing all my Xbox Live friends were racing together on an island I couldn’t even get to, without going through another painful racing school experience. My reward? Straight into a racing school on Hawaii.
- A lack of polished ambition: There are lots of things we like about TDU2. And some of the newer features are quite nice, but they all seem slightly unfinished. For instance, the decal editor which doesn’t allow you to delete individual layers. Or the tuning and upgrade bug which means sometimes they make cars go slower. There isn’t enough innovation to justify the level of bugginess, or enough polish to justify the limited ambition.
That’s not to say that you can’t have an enjoyable time with Test Drive Unlimited 2, but you’ll need to be prepared to accept the limitations…
So is there anything we’ve missed?