Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) is a sandbox, arcade racer. While there are specific races (and other events) to compete in, you’re also encouraged to simply drive around the islands and explore.
You start on one island, Ibiza, then at level 10 (that is, you’ve won enough races, explored enough of the island, collected enough cars etc) you get access to Hawaii. I’ve only just landed on Hawaii, and I’ll probably write about that next once I’ve driven around it enough.
The world is well realised, and is quite varied. It also has a day-night cycle, and weather cycles. This means exploration is, at least for someone like me, a lot of fun. As with most sandbox games, I tend to spend more time exploring and poking at the world than I do actually racing. Exploring leads to new stores (For cars, real estate, clothing and the like), new items in stores, finding wrecks that can (apparently) be used to build new cars and gives you ‘points’ that help you level up.
I suspect my Level is never going to reach 60 (the highest) as one quarter of the points that make up your level come from being social. Since I’m not a very social person, or rather, those I know who play this game are mostly in different time zones, then I’m not doing many social things.
Of course, finding things from exploring means you need money to buy them with. You can, of course, win money from races. However, TDU2 has taken a mechanic from the Burnout series and modified it slightly to give you another way to make money. Near misses, drift and jumps all increase your F.R.I.M. meter (Free Ride Instant Money). As you fill the meter, you’re given a chance to ‘bank’ the amount currently in the meter. If you crash, whatever you haven’t banked is lost.
Besides exploring, and buying things, there are quite a number of different event types – for the single player. Of course there’s racing; there’s also time trials, speed camera trials (trying to pass multiple speed cameras as fast as possible), eliminator races (at the end of each lap, the person in last place is eliminated) and hitch-hikers. Most races are grouped into championships, where you need to get the most points (10 points for winning, 8 for second, etc) in six races to win the championship. There is also a chance after a few championships that the “star” of that championship will want to race you. If you win, you get their car.
One thing you learn very quickly is that the car you’re driving is indestructible. The car models get dirty and gain dents and scratches, but they don’t break. So unless you really care about how your car looks, you realise the only downside to hitting things, is maybe losing speed. On the other hand, if you can hit things at the right angle, you can bounce off them, and keep going. It takes a bit of getting used to, given how careful you have to be in (say) the Burnout series.
As you can probably tell, I find TDU2 a fun, engaging game. Unfortunately, TDU2 keeps taking the edge off the fun, by breaking what I regard as a standard rule for games: the game should not get in the way of what the player wants to do.
Most cut scenes are unskippable. The beginning of every event (I’ll repeat that, every event) has many shots of your car from various angles before you finally get the 3-2-1 countdown – and you can’t skip this. Checking the map shows a zoom out sequence from the car to show the island. Then closing the map zooms back into the car. It’s all very pretty, but after the first few times it just becomes tiresome, and annoying.
If I’ve lost an event, I want a quick way to restart, and I don’t want to have to wait around while they show me my pretty car. I know what it looks like, I just want to start the race. Racing games are adrenaline driven, and making me wait turns adrenaline into frustration, not fun.
Another annoyance is being unable to pause during that lead up to a race, which, for some reason, is most often when real life wants my attention.
One thing I found somewhat curious about TDU2 was how cars handle off road. As you’d expect, off-road cars allow you to drive faster and you can learn to slide neatly around corners. However on-road cars barely slide at all, whereas I’d expect them to be worse. I’m used to it now, but it did break the immersion at the beginning.
I must repeat to myself “It’s an arcade racer. It’s an arcade racer.”
In the end TDU2 is a great arcade racing game marred by chunks of cut-scenes that I can happily live without. Given this is a racing game, which is the type of game that gets the adrenaline up, it seems more than ridiculous to foist these kinds of things on a player.
I guess at least the game doesn’t show each crash in loving detail, right Burnout?