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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Test Drive Unlimited 2 (Playstation 3)

An ambitious open-world racing title, Test Drive Unlimited 2, from Atari on PS3, attempts to combine racing action with online social media, but seems to fall short of the mark in several key areas. There are some interesting options, such as the ability to create custom avatars and challenges and share them online, and the races are challenges, but for the most part, the game's poor user-interface and disappointing implementation undermine some good ideas. This is a game where the gimmicks seemed to have overwhelmed the good elements, making TDU2 one of those games that doesn't live up to its potential, making for a disappointing experience that can't compete with other driving games on the market.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 gives players the opportunity to race through the exotic streets and off road courses of Hawaii in super-powered, high-end sports cars while they build up their reputation by competing in a series of street races and while also featuring social network features. You begin at the bottom as a lowly racer with a fairly underpowered car and begin with a few simple racing contests. The game is set in an open world, and you can pretty much drive anywhere on its streets. This would be confusing, and somewhat boring after awhile, but you can use an included GPS to find and discover events and other sites on the map. You need to drive to some of these manually, but can also jump to them immediately if you want to. In addition to challenges, there are other sites that you can visit such as used-car showrooms, fashion stores and even a casino. These help to bring your avatar to life and the unfolding story directs you into the direction of which event to pursue next. As you gain experience, you'll earn points in several categories which will increase your overall level, which in turn allows you to play additional events and items. These points are divided into several categories including discovery, which you earn simply by driving around and finding locations to use, social, where you can earn extra points by interacting with players online and more. This adds another layer of complexity to the gameplay, and while it's a little confusing, you don't really need to keep track of all of this at the same time, it's just part of a larger picture. Unfortunately, the confusing User Interface is difficult to use and this non-intuitive approach makes for a confusing and frustrating experience. Its difficult to see which events are open and navigating while trying to stay on the career track can be cumbersome.

In addition to racing, you also have to keep track of your character's career and social status. At the earlier stages, you don't have much choice and basically go along as the game streams through the earlier stages. You can begin to customize your character's appearance and clothing, and move on from your humble beginnings. You have a small trailer to start with, which acts as your player's base. Here, you can go through events new, look through your small garage and other options. This can be leapt to at any point in the game. It's a very small start, but you can purchase a bigger place with a larger garage as you win more money. This is also where the game's storyline takes place, and you can see the rather boring cut-scenes between races, where you are also subjected to awful voice acting and a deflating storyline that feels like a bad movie. Most of these sequences are badly done and they detract from the gameplay greatly. Fortunately, they only represent a small part of the game and you can skip through most of it if you want to.

After sitting through these scenes, you can then go back onto the road, where things improve somewhat. You can enter your GPS and find many types of events to race. Some of these can only be played when you meet certain conditions, such as car type or experience level. Most of the time, you have plenty of options available so its not such a big deal. Once you've opened up a race, the fun begins. You can race in several types of events during TDU2, including standard lapped races, timed matches and more. There are also social missions built in where you have to pick up a character and deliver them to a destination in timed runs. It gives the game some variety, but this is limited at first. In order to unlock additional races and events, your player avatar can go through a series of test to earn their license. These are somewhat basic and include braking, lapped rounds and other tests. They're a little tedious but can help you learn the controls and techniques of the various vehicles. Each type of vehicle, from classic cars, to off-road and muscle and so on requires you to complete the run of basic license tests before you can compete with them.

Once you've earned your license, you can then move on and compete in competitions. These events usually consist of multiple races, usually lapped rounds against AI opponents. TDU2's earlier stages aren't terribly difficult but there are more challenging events later on. As you win races, you'll earn cash which you can use to purchase additional vehicles and other items. However, you aren't confined to earning money in competition, since you can perform stunts and other maneuvers in the open-world mode to win additional money. Doing things like drifting and achieving a high rate of speed increases your bank, which you can only collect after you've reached a certain level. If you crash or collide with another vehicle, the money you've earned is lost immediately. This system goes on top of the standard racing interface, and can become a confusing distraction that detracts from the overall game.

Test Drive Unlimited 2's selection of vehicles includes a wide array of vehicles from high-end manufacturers. Some of these include Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche, and Mercedes. You can also drive a selection of more mundane vehicles from Land Rover, Nissan, Subaru, and GM. Each car can be purchased from one of the dealers, and you can also purchase customization options, different colors and other options. Some of these are very expensive and you won't be able to race with them until you've gotten a lot of experience and money. Fortunately, you can walk into the dealerships and take them out for a spin using the game's eponymous "Test Drive" feature. Once you get beyond all the gimmicky online and social network stuff, there's actually a fairly decent driving game underneath the layers. The game's selection of vehicles is decent and its controls aren't too terrible, though the lower-level cars have a way of slipping around the track that makes cornering a bit difficult. You can compensate for this with time and practice, which makes the game much easier. TDU2's variety of tracks and courses is impressive, and the terrain which ranges from standard pavement to off-road dirt tracks presents a variety of challenges. Some of the racing AI seems a little bit too harsh in certain sections, but the game's learning curve is somewhat flattened once you get the hang of things.

Visually, the game looks decent in its racing sequences, with a nice consistent frame rate. Since it's set in Hawaii, there are definitely some visually arresting sequences. The open-ended world is quite good on the road. Unfortunately, once you get off the road, you look at the clumsy looking avatars, which look quite cheap and aren't even remotely convincing. The game's soundtrack is pretty boring, too. Fortunately, the poorly conceived social sequences can be skipped and the music can be turned off, which is a big improvement. When it comes to the racing sequences, TDU2 is a fairly decent game, but there are some fairly significant problems in its social approach that bring it down a few notches. The biggest problems come with the avatar features. This approach feels gimmicky, with most of it seemingly designed to take you off the road for as much time as possible. The unappealing storyline and bland customization options only make you wish you were on the road. Additionally, the game's license tests are quite repetitive and only add another monotonous layer to the game. A poorly designed interface adds to the confusion, as do the multiple points and progression systems which seem to overlap each other to create pointless complexity. There are some good ideas in Test Drive Unlimited 2, but its poor implementation of them makes things feel disjointed and rough. Jumping from the racing sequences to the social aspects is jarring. Driving the vehicles is enjoyable and challenging, but the avatar portions are tedious and dull. Its definitely not as polished or innovative as competing driving titles like Blur, Split Second or, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, making for a derivative and disappointing title.

- Michael Palisano 

Grade: C-

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