I wanted to love Test Drive Unlimited 2. I really did. It lets you live the life of a pro racer on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. It combines traditional racing with an open-world, always-online (except when it's not) multiplayer setup that makes it easy to interact with others. You can even buy property on the island, decorate said property, and show off your exotic car collection to your friends. Doesn't it all sound fantastic? The ideas that went into Test Drive Unlimited 2 are appealing in every way, but the execution is completely off. This open-world driving experience is riddled with problems and even the driving itself is far from perfect.
At the start of Test Drive, you're a down-on-your-luck valet who just got fired for sleeping on the job. But for some reason, the rich gal who got you fired decides to hire you as a temporary chauffer. Her wager: if you get her to a studio taping she has to attend, you can enter Solar Crown -- a luxurious racing competition that takes place across Ibiza.
Spoilers: you enter the competition and join the ranks of the Solar Crown pro racers. Go you!
These opening cutscenes serve two purposes: they introduce you to Test Drive's story, and they illustrate just how atrocious the character models are. Although driving is the most important aspect of Test Drive, the characters look and animate poorly. These antiquated models "come to life" with some bad voice acting, too. The voice clips will annoy at first and then grow to intolerable levels as they're repeated constantly.
Ugly character models and bad voice acting are just a few of the many shortcomings found in Test Drive Unlimited 2. It crashed when I tried to change the paint job in my new apartment. Environments popped-in when I drove across the island. My car has quite literally dropped into the ocean when I was nowhere near water. There isn't even a camera invert option for wandering around in the first-person view.
If you're the kind of gamer who can tolerate such issues, you'll be more likely to appreciate the ideas in Test Drive. You can drive almost anywhere in Ibiza, buy and customize new cars, help random strangers for cash, and interact with other players cruising around the island. As you play, you level up meters that gauge your progression in four separate categories: Competition, Discovery, Collection, and Social. Leveling these aspects of your character enhances your Global level, and earning new levels unlocks new content in the game like avatar customization options, car upgrades, and more.
But this freedom to explore and enjoy Ibiza (and later Hawaii) is limited. Drive to a remote corner of the island, and you often can't do anything once you get there. Your character can only leave the car at predetermined points, and there's no environmental interaction or objectives besides taking photographs and finding hidden car wrecks. With such a massive island to explore, I wish there was more I could do on it.
When it comes to the actual driving, there are just as many conflicting issues. I respect the game's attempt to bridge the gap between arcade-style racing and realistic simulation controls. But ultimately the cars in Test Drive lack the visceral quality that real vehicles possess. I didn't feel like I was driving a powerful machine; I felt like I was controlling a toy.
Gameplay problems aside, there are technical issues that spoiled my experience. There were several occasions where, at the start of a single-player race, my opponents would suddenly spawn ahead of my car and speed off. I'd call that an unfair advantage. I was also frustrated with how Test Drive handles the "return to road" feature that can be activated if you find yourself too far off course. I've missed critical checkpoints thanks to that feature.
Check our media gallery for more screenshots of Test Drive Unlimited 2.
Not all is without hope. Test Drive Unlimited 2's multiplayer functionality is intriguing and, when it works, fun. At one point as I drove through a city I saw a small group of players (all sporting supercars) driving around together. That's awesome. I also appreciate the ability to instantly challenge any player just by flashing my lights at them. You can even bet your own virtual money on the outcome.
The problem here is that the Test Drive servers have been problematic since launch. All three versions of the game seem to be experiencing issues, which is disappointing. The online stability could improve with patching, but my heart goes out to the folks who were ready to play right after launch and couldn't.
"It's a shame" should be the motto for Test Drive Unlimited 2. On paper, this is the kind of experience I'd love to play. The amount of road to explore and the amount of competitions to enter make me froth at the mouth. But the awful characters, bland driving and the general lack of polish keep Test Drive from being the definitive "racer-lifestyle emulator" it set out to be.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 had promise, but the final product didn't come together for this online racer. I'm a fan of games that give you control of your character's life (see: buying houses, decorating, pimping sweet rides), but the driving is missing the raw energy it needs to stay interesting and the rest of the experience is bug-ridden.