I’ve never been to Ibiza, but I’ve been told it’s very nice. Despite the 18–30 press it receives parts of the island are very picturesque. The sun setting over the aqua blue surf, the gaily painted houses that pepper the older parts of the town, the up-beat modernised centres and last, but certainly not least, the rich, young and very upwardly mobile jet-setters who hang around pool parties, drive flash cars and spend huge amounts of cash that would bring a tear to old Croesus himself.
I, however, don’t have to dirty my hands with this paparazzi fodder, for a mere £25+ pounds I can share their extravagant lifestyle and rub shoulders with the aforementioned glitterati. How can I, a poor games reviewer accomplish such a feat? Easy, I install Test Drive Unlimited 2 from Atari and Eden Games.
TDU2 is an MMO open world racer with a vast world of roads, areas, challenges, races and beautifully rendered scenery to feast your eyes upon, and that’s only the beginning. Team up with a few others online and all of you can cruise around Ibiza whilst admiring the setting sun amid the squealing of tyres and smell of burning engine from a huge range of mouth watering vehicles. But is the game any good? Well, it certainly brought a tear to my eye.
As far as the story goes, the game starts off with one of those pool parties I mentioned earlier. Dancing around, well I think it was dancing, the pool are the most unique bunch of expressionless twerps you will ever hope to find in any computer game. The off beat thumping noise that passes for music slows down and from here you get to choose what character you will be during your time in the game. Male, female, good looking, not-so good looking, it doesn’t really matter as they all have that dumbstruck, cardboard cutout look to them. A voice calls you over and you are greeted by another of the bland morons, she is the daughter of a rich hotel owner (I think, it was never really explained) and as she gives her birthday wishes to you she gently guides you over to the garage door. Anyway to cut a very long and tedious story short, she offers you a cherry red Ferrari (for freeeee? Bless you Adam Sandler). You drive it around getting used to the controls and just as you are starting to get the hang of it, you are rudely awoken by the rich girly. It turns out that you are nothing but a lowly valet, and to make matters worse she decided to fire you for making her late for an appointment. Any normal person would be slightly disappointed by this, but this being computer land, she instead offers you a job as a racing car driver for her upcoming island race.
Hmm, okay, so the story is a little weak, as weak as the characters and the voice acting, but at least it looks good. The cars you have to start with are the basic beginner breed, an Alpha Romeo, a Mustang and a Lotus Turbo Esprit. Each car is differently rated with various braking, handling and top speed values. Choose your car, then it’s off to get your driving license in the form of a six part tutorial that leads you though driving around cones, driving through the rain and erm… driving down a road. After that you can enter the various races or take up any number of challenges that will earn you enough money to upgrade your vehicle, buy you a new home or furnish you with the latest outfits from the likes of Dolce Gabbana.
Together with all this, you can level up by completing and upgrading four different categories – Social, Discovery, Collection and Competition. Each category has its own unique challenges and wining these challenges can give you huge cash boosts that will enable you fill up your garage and rise through the social ladder. TDU2 seems more like a social Sims variant at times as opposed to a racing game.
Needless to say, when you are fed up with racing, or the getting-from-point-A-to-point-B-without-killing-the-car type of challenges, then the exploration category will tempt you to discover your environment and seek out those gorgeous scenes and screen shots that adorn the back of the box and make reviews look pretty. Earning points for driving about and taking photos of stunning visages is all fine and well, but what about mixing it up with other players in the MMO side of things?
I have to say that TDU2 is wonderful as an online racing game. I never experienced any lag, you can join racing clubs and pit yourselves against other teams or you can simply drive around until you meet someone (their name appears over their vehicle) flash your headlights and agree on a race and a wining purse, take part in a co-op challenge with them or, my personal favourite, create your own race, put up a winning stake and entry fee and watch as other online racers take part and try to beat your design. Wonderful really.
Unfortunately, lurking deep under all this glitter are a number of issues that really grate on you and can, quite easily, bring a grown man to tears. Firstly the terrible story, character animation and voice acting. It’s enough to make you either physically sick or burst out in paroxysms of laughter. Secondly, the music via the in-car radio is diabolical. You only get two stations and both play about eight tracks, all of which are enough to make you drive in silence and hum to yourself. Thirdly, driving the car in anything remotely resembling a straight line is a feat in itself that deserves its own award. The cars slew, swerve or spin out of control on a regular basis, drifting is nigh on impossible most of the time and how the devil a simple sign post can stop you dead when driving at 150 mph is totally beyond me. If you’re unlucky to find yourself spinning off the road then remember to avoid the bushes, because Ibiza bushes are considerably more dense than their UK cousins, so much so that they are able to stop an SUV dead in its tracks. Trying to control your car becomes a burden as opposed to being a fun element. I imagine that die hard racing fans will quickly become accustomed to the finely tuned steering, but to the ordinary punter after an MMO racer TDU2 will quickly become a trade-in title.
That said, TDU2 is a good game. If you can get used to the controls and the other gripes I’m sure you will have hours of fun behind the virtual wheel of your favourite sports car. The online multiplayer mode is simply fabulous and will keep you wandering the streets in search of other players to race against, plus it’s a lot cheaper than the current petrol prices that accumulate when driving up and down Great Yarmouth sea front. In a nutshell, TDU2 can be annoying, it will have you effing and blinding at the monitor, but it’s also masochistically and strangely good fun.
Rating: 8/10 (Review Scores Explained).
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