Slumped in a red leather armchair with pale and distressed worn angles I sit. A pipe gently wafts Strawberry tobacco across the scene. I pause, and in the second or two it takes me to describe my surroundings, I try and remember how it is that I got to this place. How did the genuine Egyptian cotton come to grace my torso? How did the Tiger land dead and gaping at my feet and the frosted gold wood come to panel my door? The truth is, is that it didn’t. None of this did. Instead I am sitting in a chair worth nothing more than a tenner. Wearing glasses free on the NHS and typing feverishly whilst running the assured risk of one day contracting a serious case of repetitive strain injury. You might think it is a sorry life to lead, but if there is one thing that Test Drive Unlimited 2 will teach you, it is that it is the aspirations of the man that make the man.
It is a strange one to judge but no matter how long Test Drive in one incarnation or another has been around, this latest edition from Eden really has an identity problem. Even though it tries to be all things to all men, TDU2 struggles constantly to reaffirm any sense of self belief into whatever experience it is trying to buy into. One minute it’s a casual driving simulator, the next it pushes you along endless maps of checkpoints, and all the while inane chatter spews from your speakers as thousands of people fight for their own sense of being within the online space.
I can’t decide if TDU2 is badly pitched or it is my own expectations that are shot to pieces after a slew of racing games flying from all corners over recent months. What I do know however is that that TDU2 falters right from the off. Choosing your character from one of the emotionless sacks of fat beside a jumping pool party, your first ‘in car’ experience is inside your Birthday present! The shiniest, sexiest Birthday present you could imagine. Pretty soon though what was an unconvincing dream to start with is shattered as you find yourself asleep at the wheel. Realising in a flash that your only ownership to car in the dream is that you are the Valet passing the keys on to the real owner. Whoops! Luckily though she must see a bit of her own wooden appearance in you as she hands over the very same keys you once dreamt of. Drive her to the destination on time and she’ll grant you entry to a race. It is the short slope to the slippery ladder of race car driving. The problem is, is that as you drive what feels like a plank of wood with cartons of Ben and Jerry’s for wheels across the island of TDU2 you begin to wonder why you would want to be a part of this empty space, filled with the most uninviting and characterless faces?
To quote Bilbo Baggins,TDU2 feels ‘Sort of stretched, like butter, scraped over too much bread.’ However, I would assume that was to be expected when you are embracing an MMO set on two islands obsessed with the dirtiest of secrets: Car Porn. Eden here has gone out of their way to provide an expansive landscape filled with roads designed by some of the world’s worst councils. It never really bothered me that the world is stretched, allowing for near perfect levels of exploration and discovery by car. Giving you that opportunity to just go and drive is a brave move, but one that really pays dividends and you soon you begin not to worry about destination and tasks because sooner or later you will stumble across something or someone to give you a task to do. However, for me it was the constant disappointment that the butter they were spreading was Tesco own brand instead of Lurpack. The roads are so badly designed in parts that even the tail end of cars fall to pieces as they climb up small inclines or over bridges. Obviously the thought must of been that one day, if you drive fast enough, this could be used as a jump, instead though it feels like a city designed by someone trying to force the thrill of racing upon you. It’s a feeling that unfortunately creeps up on you in insurmountable amounts of occasions. This issue of forced enjoyment is far too prevalent in the title, which overall functions a lot better if you learn to ignore a lot of what it throws at you.
Take the cars for example. The vehicles themselves do have the welcomed bit of attention even if the roads don’t. Members of the cast might be flesh stretched over not enough bone, but at least the cars look the part inside and out. The licensed models are tweaked to within an inch of their spark plugs, with interiors though still a mite dull and lifeless, accurate representations of the real thing. The illusion though is ruined once the engine starts. The excuse for the titillating sound of internal combustion makes a noise more like a group of overweight middle aged women reaching climax during a book discussion on Dan Brown. Even if you want to drown out the sweating pulsing moans with the on board radio function, expect to be just as mindful to have your own music provision waiting for you alongside. Furthermore the functional aspects of the car fail to serve their purpose. Indicators have no use and the rear view mirror seems to perform an exaggerated commentary on scenes out of Jurassic Park. However, ignore these attempts at simulation and titilation and most of the cars become a guilty pleasure to drive.
Though, for all of its downfalls TDU2 will grab you. It will grab you because it is a game of nothing but pure unbridled aspirations. Within the world of TDU2 you are free to aspire to be the person you have always wanted to be. Taking in the life around the town and reducing the pace surrounding the game will show you that there is reason behind the bland environments and the sticks of chalk that waffle about asking you to do stuff. It is all geared to make you want to achieve a better standing amongst that which surrounds you.
Races are full of ignorant characters with aggressive A.I. sure and beating them can be a challenge, the bad handling and mapping make sure of this. On the other hand though, you will soon feel inclined to beat them. You’ll want to show them who is the better driver. It is this force that begins to carry the entire title. Feelings will start to dominate the way you want your character to dress, the place in which your character lives and even (with the help of in game plastic surgery) raise the money to finally change the ugly head you were given from the outset.
They might not all be the right level of aspirations to aim for within normal society but what Eden have done is not make a racing game or even a driving game but just make a game. A game that is part of a world so biased and difficult to live within that you’ll be itching to move on. You’ll be drawn to spread within it, searching for something better. Cars will become attractive tools to snub your rivals and any problems with handling will fly out the window. The numerous and lengthy single player will be a struggle but you’ll be rewarded with an addictive level system and the promise of more. There is so much within TDU2 that will encourage you to attain for better, and the world Eden have painted creates an addictive recipe for self improvement.
It is a shame that much of this game’s brilliance in creating desire is marred by a depressing opening few days. The world which is not meant to be inhabited by these scatterbrain NPCs but really by those playing online has struggled to deal with days of server problems. If these issues do get fixed I think that TDU2 could reach some terrifying levels of online competition and rivalry. It is just a shame that with this and its own aspirations to be a game for all, I think there might be too many issues that this title may never convince people it can overcome them.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: Playstation 3 (Xbox 360, PC) Release Date: 11/02/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Test Drive Unlimited 2 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.