It's in Paris, near La Bastille, that Eden and Atari decided to let us have a go at their main project, Test Drive Unlimited 2. When arriving there, we were welcomed by a Ferrari 430, talk about immersion. As huge fans of the first game, we were a bit concerned about this sequel and we wondered if it'd be able to do at least just as well. Ok, time to find out what we thought of the game, let's roll!
Just like in the first TDU, Ibiza has been modeled very accurately thanks to satellite data. This time though, the team made it even more realistic and true to life with a lot more attention to detail. If you are the party kind of guy and you have already been on the island, you will recognize the famous club The Pacha, situated in the heart of the city. If you are familiar with the island's landscapes, you should also find yourself driving around places you know. You can even see the names of the different towns and villages on the road signs. It immediately feels like being on vacation, the day and night cycle adding more beauty to the postcard look of the game.
From a technical standpoint, the new graphics engine will not blow your mind, and one should not expect anything revolutionary in that area. That being said, the game still looks good, though we witnessed some pop-up issues in the background on the PC version, something that might vary depending on what machine you own. The console versions suffered from screen tearing and we know how much of an issue that is for some of you, but it should not affect the whole experience anyhow. Good news for the fans of the first episode, the sides of the road are now completely flat, so you won't have to impression that there is some kind of curb every time you leave the road in the countryside.
Let's talk gameplay now, and above all, new features. There are quite a few of them, the new system of experience being at the core of the game's progression. Earning experience points will make you improve your rank (there are 60 levels total) in one of the four categories available: competition, exploration, collection and social. The advantage of such a system is that you can also gain experience in free ride mode, by executing near misses for example, or losing the cops in a car chase. The developers told us that some players complained about being thrown into the world without much indication as to what to do. Ergo, they decided to include some kind of storyline to guide you through the game. Don't worry though, if what you want is total freedom, you still get to go wherever and do whatever you want.
There are of course several driving modes you can choose from, each having a certain number of driving aids. Good news, because the beta testers asked for a hardcore mode, Eden added it to offer more challenge to sim fans. We were told the physics engine was based on the real characteristics the car manufacturers gave them. However, except for the hardcore mode which is a lot more demanding (and will probably be more enjoyable with a driving wheel), driving around is pretty easy and fun, and somewhat similar to what it was in the first game.
Another new feature is the driving school that allows you to gain licenses, opening up new races and championships. There are three vehicle classes: sports, SUVs and classics. Also new is the possibility to walk around freely in first person view every time you step out of the car and enter a building. At car dealers, you can inspect your future purchase from every angle, get inside the cockpit and even start the engine. In driving mode, you can also do much more than before, like switching on the blinkers or open the roof top of your convertible. Add a powerful fan in front of your couch to the mix along with a UV lamp and it almost feels like the real thing. Immersion was really something the developers wanted to push to the next level.
You can also interact with other players in the different indoor locations, and even the mutliplayer lobby allows them to have fun with each other. It is possible to show your mood and feelings by triggering different facial expressions for example. Character customization also goes further, from haircuts to complete face surgery, clothes shops and more. Even your vehicles can be personalized, with new paint, stickers, etc so your car looks like no other. Houses can be furnished the way you want so you can brag when inviting your friends home, and wealthy players will even be able to buy a Yatch.
As for multiplayer, the big new feature is the cooperative mode opening new challenges between friends, challenges where you have to work together to get to your objective. We were shown two types of modes: “Follow the Leader” and “Keep your Distance”. In “Follow the Leader”, only one player is able to see the next checkpoint and the others must follow. At every checkpoint another player becomes the new leader. In “Keep your Distance”, all the players need to keep a certain distance between each other. The faster you go, the more points you score. To make things a bit trickier, distances vary at each checkpoint. Both game modes insisted on team play and required concentration. Clubs have also undergone a few changes as you can now upgrade them. The most important thing about them though is that some cars can only be unlocked in clubs, provided you reach a certain rank.
To be honest, we were a bit scared that this new Test Drive Unlimited might not live up to our expectations, but after a few hours playing, we have good reasons to believe that such fear was unjustified. True, the game does not feature any real damage system so you will only see a few scratches and bumps. The hardcore mode might also require a driving wheel to be fully enjoyed, unless you want to feel like you're driving a soap bar that is. Overall, this sequel seems promising enough with the two islands available, Ibiza of course, and the return of Oahu in which all the new features have been included. Eden said that reaching 100% completion would take about 100 hours, more than enough time to drive around with friends and enjoy a good ride. Unfortunately, when asked about the release of a demo, we were told that it was unlikely, though nothing is set in stone, as the beta gave them all the necessary feedback to improve the experience. So, let's now hope the final version confirms our rather good impressions.