Dating back to 1987 when the Commodore 64 ruled the world and the Test Drive franchise was under the Accolade banner, I have had some sort of relationship with a Test Drive title. So I was pretty excited when I loaded up Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) for the first time and felt like I was getting a visit from an old friend. The game itself is a direct sequel to the original TDU released in September 2006, which I thought was one of the most underrated titles on the Xbox 360 that year. Unfortunately, that version also happened to release between annual Madden and Call of Duty titles and was lost in the shuffle for the majority of gamers. This time around, TDU2 didn’t have to face that kind of competition and also brought along a slug of new and interesting updates to the game.
There have been several major changes from the original TDU to TDU2. Chief among them is that the game is simply bigger and has more to do, including two islands (Ibiza and Oahu of Hawaii) to explore, 3,200 kilometers of roads (TDU only had 1,600k) and 300 more challenges (650+ to only 350+ in TDU.) A handful of other changes include a narrative over the single player campaign, decals shops (to customize your ride), damage to the vehicles, dirt roads and more. All of these together add up to enough change from the original title that TDU2 feels fresh and new despite sticking to the core principals of TDU. One big disappointment for me was that the bikes were not brought back. Once you knew how to handle one, they were some of best vehicles in the original TDU for competing in challenges due to their quick acceleration and maneuverability.
Once you get into the game, the first thing you encounter is some hot chick (Tess Wintory) who’s daddy happens to be filthy rich and owns a racing outfit called Solar Crown. She chastises your valet character for dreaming of being a race car driver and then asks you to join the Solar Crown circuit. Welcome to your racing career kid. This gentle push into the storyline also unwittingly provides you with the path (forced tutorial, but in a fun way) to follow in order to access all aspects of the game. As you complete this initial phase you get your first house w/garage, purchase your initial used car and you can start doing whatever you want. It is probably best to go to the asphalt driving school to get your basic license so you can start competing in events and make some money, but you can take your car and start exploring too.
Regardless of how you choose to play the game (free ride, campaign, online racing, etc), the core of your advancement depends on building up your Global level. This is composed of four skills including Discovery, Collection, Competition and Social. Each is unique and has about a dozen ways to improve it as you progress through the game. The most logical way to level up quickly is to do a little of each as you progress through the game, but again, you can do whatever you want based on how you like to play. Out of the four, my favorite is the Discovery skill because I enjoy sandbox style free play games and you are rewarded just for driving around the islands and finding points of interest, shops, wrecked cars and places to take photos. You also get credit for every mile of road you find and drive, so don’t be shy about hitting any road that you haven’t been on before; you never know what might be found on it. While this may seem like the easy way out to advance in the game, it is critical to find these spots as you can ear additional cars from wrecks, cash from photos and the shops provide the ability to buy cars, clothes and updates your character and vehicle.
Collection is simply going out and winning, buying or finding items. Much like discovery, you stumble onto some of these and have to earn others. The Competition is obvious, as you race and win events this increases and unlocks more challenges and Solar Crown events. The Social piece was basically broken when I received the review copy, as Atari had to shut down this aspect of the game due to exploits and other technical issues until a patch was put in place (see more on this later.) However, like the other skills, this is equally important to raising your global level. Finding and joining a club is especially important, as this is the key to multiplayer racing within the game. Sure you can wing it alone and jump in and out of multiplayer challenges with unknown players, but a club of buddies can make all the difference in the world when doing these challenges. Also, you have the ability to just hang out and walk around your club area to chill (ala Sony’s Home), but I think this aspect is highly overrated (just like Sony’s Home.)
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