Preview: Test Drive Unlimited 2

By John Walker on January 19th, 2011 at 12:04 pm.

I love checkpoints.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 is due in about a month. I’ve had my hands on some beta code for a couple of days, exploring the racing-meets-affluence world of high-fliers. So if you’d be so polite as to click on, you can hear my early-day thoughts on the matter.

How much racing do you want in a racing game? Test Drive Unlimited 2 looks like it’s gambling that the answer isn’t one hundred percent.

What’s striking as you play the opening of the game is that you start on your feet. After a rather nice surprise twist beginning, much of what you need to be doing is not focused on the roads, but rather on yourself. Who are you? Why are you racing at all? Are you wearing the right clothes to do it? Do you have the right haircut? And do you have the licenses necessary to be taking part at all?

The game will be split into four main sections, each with their own accompanying statistics and XP counters. There’s what I would imagine to be the core of the game – Competition. These are your races, your challenges. And many of them no longer exist in isolation. The concept is based around a televised racing tournament called Solar Crown, where groups of challenges combine to form championships. These might be straight races, or time trials, or attempts to zoom around the streets keeping your car over 55MPH.

This is essentially the game’s story mode, too. The show has a presenter, who will also nag you to improve your looks for better television. It looks like there will be much behind-the-scenes shenanigans, squabbles with fellow racers, and tarting it up to camera. Also included in Competition are the various Racing School qualifications, the Cups in which you can compete, and various multiplayer challenges and duels.

Next is Collection. This is all about owning stuff, and is the focus of TDU2’s emphasis on the importance of assets. Throw your Communist manifestos out of the window – to succeed here you’re going to have to spend. The more cars you own, the bigger your house (bearing in mind this time out you start in a pokey mobile home), your furniture, clothes, hairstyle and even – brrrrr – appearance with the game’s inclusion of cosmetic surgery, all adds up to define your Collection score.

Far more comfortable to think about is Discovery. This looks like it’s in place to encourage you to explore, giving you points for finding new roads and events, finding the game’s hidden wrecked cars, and taking photographs of various scenery based on a collection of out-of-focus shots you’re supposed to improve upon.

Finally there’s Social. And due to a series of unfortunate events with the European preview code, I’ve not managed to get my game to go online. So my Social score currently reads as, “Lonely”. Aw. Here you gain XP by making friends, forming Clubs, participating in various multiplayer games such as the cops and robbers feature, or taking part in co-op challenges. And finally, you can score through playing the Community Racing Center challenges – those set by other players in the game.

These four aspects combine to give your overall Global level, from 1 to 60. Oh, and I forgot to say: There’s three completely separate racing styles, Classic, Asphalt and Off-Road. In other words, there’s an awful lot to do.

Getting to do it, however, looks like it may be a little hindered. Taking a rather strange page from the Gran Turismo book, here you must pass a series of tests before being given your license to compete in any of the three racing styles. So that’s three separate driving exams before you’re ready to start the beginner challenges.

Clearly once passed you’ve a lot open to you, but this doesn’t mean you won’t be returning to the Driving Schools later. And maybe it’s my imagination, but I could swear that the instructor for the Classic school is DJ Atomica from Burnout: Paradise. It’s not fair to hold that against TDU2, but I could really do without that voice telling me how to drive ever again.

But what about the driving? Well, I’ve been playing preview code, and the game’s a month away, so it’s absolutely not fair to judge it at this point. Although I do have a concern. Steering at this point feels a little strange. Even with the analogue sticks of my 360 controller (my much preferred method for driving games now) you seem to steer in chunks, as if the car gets nudged on a central axis. This is more pronounced in the Classic racing, where you spend more time braking and calmly cornering, than in Off-Road’s skid-focused careering, and Asphalt’s handbrake-themed drift.

Oh, and if I’m listing niggles I’d love to see fixed before release, let’s have a quick chat about starting races. Anyone else developing a racing game should probably pay attention here too:

When we choose to start a race, what we want to do, more than anything else, is start a race. What we likely don’t want to do is see multiple camera angles of the car, be asked if we’re sure over and over, and only then sit through a countdown. TDU2 insists on these slow, drifting external views before every event, even when restarting after crashing on the first corner. It’s mystifying what they’re supposed to be for, each time driving me mad enough to hammer at everything in case there’s a secret key I’ve missed that will skip it all. By the time it’s counting down from 3 to start, in real life I’d have burned through my clutch and exploded the gearbox. Someone airdrop a hundred copies of Trackmania on the Eden studios immediately.

But enough complaining about an unfinished game. Let’s congratulate something. Clearly money is a huge part of the proceedings, and gathering it is your primary goal. Financial rewards come piling in for taking part in competitions, but there’s another way to top things up. As you make your way around the roads between events, near-misses, jumps and skids will score you points on your F.R.I.M meter. Each time the meter fills you earn a lump of cash, which you can ‘bank’, or risk losing by continuing to the next level. So yes, it’s The Weakest Link, but with driving. Each time you bump into something, you lose whatever you’d built up. It seems like a tremendously smart way of making the journey between events (which, incidentally, can be skipped entirely if you’ve been somewhere before) a lot more interesting.

What’s remarkable about what I’ve seen so far is the volume of things to do. At the start your options are kept pretty slim, but after only a couple of hours you’ll find huge areas of the Ibiza island smothered in challenges, stores, luxury homes and car dealerships. I’m not sure how much I’ll ever care about my haircut (and in the game), or the furniture in my house. I’m after a racing game, not The Sims. But it looks as though the way leveling will work means that even if you don’t focus on one of the four aspects, those that you do will contribute enough to see you rising through the ranks.

Clearly by not having played the online aspects at this point, I’m not getting anything close to a full impression of the game. Much of what TDU2 is about is flashing your lights at another player and instantly racing against them. Along with racing other players’ challenges, forming clubs, and so on. There’s an awful lot more to learn about this game. Which is something we’ll hopefully do next month when the game comes out.

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35 Comments »

  1. godgoo says:

    I was part of the closed beta, I say ‘part’, actually I a) could never seem to get online and b) couldn’t get a playable frame rate on any settings. yes my PC is old but its mighty 2 cpu’s and ATI4850 seem to manage every other game on high settings…..

    …. I guess i’m trying to ask for any feedback regarding performance, as I really liked the first game and so want this to be great but would settle for playable!

    • John Walker says:

      When I first started I had some framerate problems. But since have been playing everything on maximum without an issue.

    • -Spooky- says:

      What about the multiplayer? Same shitty system like TDU1? Or grouping with the first try? ;)

    • Thany says:

      have you tried the latest beta version? before they closed it they improved the framerate significantly. also how couldnt you get online? the beta did not work in offline mode.

    • John Walker says:

      As I say, this is preview code, and I’ve not had access to the multiplayer.

    • godgoo says:

      I’ll try the updated beta, I DID get online, but had connectivity issues and combined with the framerate I wasn’t inclined to spend time trying to get the damn thing to work, figured i’d wait for a ‘demo’. I will go and try the beta again, good to hear the issue might be fixed… my buddy has my logitech wheel atm (he appears to be living inside GT5), once I get that back I’ll give it another whirl!

    • Phinor says:

      I can say that a Q9550@3.8GHz + 6970 +4GB memory still did not provide smooth gaming experience after the last beta update. Could be due to relatively new graphics card, bugs, or simply lack of optimizations because consoles are CLEARLY the main platform. Just have to wait for the release and listen to what the day 1 buyers have to say; I dropped my pre-order already but not because of performance issues.

  2. Calabi says:

    LICENCES!! AND OTHER RUBBISH. I’M GETTING ANGRY.

    They decide to steal one of Gran Turismo’s worst ideas. Who are these people? What are they even doing, they dont know!

    Why is it too much to ask for a decent racing game where you just race cars, instead of The Sims with Cars.

    I am dissapoint, I was hoping for a good racing game on the pc, this is not it.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      P.S: I’m only giveing it a 1 beacause that gril standing in front of the frerrai is relly hot, but that’s it!

  3. heretic says:

    Those ladies look awful.

    Just sayin’

  4. mickiscoole says:

    The thing i loved about TDU 1 was just selecting a car, and just start driving in a random direction for a while. Races and challenges were just a means to an end so that i could buy the cars that i wanted.

    • godgoo says:

      this.

      Although I also started to find the challenges that involved delivering a car in perfect condition perversely enjoyable.

    • cqdemal says:

      Exactly. I spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours doing just that.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      My favorite bits were the car delivery missions (they also paid better than anything else), the model delivery missions, and the race near the end where you literally covered the entire coastline of the island. Eden are 2 for 2 so far when it comes to driving games, so I’m hoping this is as good as TDU and NFSPU.

  5. Baboonanza says:

    Sounds pony.

  6. MartinNr5 says:

    “When we choose to start a race, what we want to do, more than anything else, is start a race.”

    Say it loud and proud!

    Split/Second does this reasonably quick but NFS:HP is outrageously annoying about getting a race started.

  7. Dozer says:

    So, it’s another game about collecting different hats?

  8. Warth0g says:

    Thank you John for the heads-up on something that I now know I have absolutely no interest in. Sometimes it’s useful to be able to tick games off your list rather than add them…

  9. Emperor_Jimmu says:

    Once all the events are cleared and the lonely reality of his shallow existence become apparent; does the character accidentally kill themselves in an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation, desperately trying to feel something?

  10. Linfosoma says:

    Im still going to keep my pre-order because let’s face it, it’s not like there are many other racing games coming out on PC now (until Shift 2 that is, but that’s still a few months away), but this whole “let’s ignore the racing aspect and focus on things nobody cares about” thing just pisses me off. I dont want to play the “dress the poorly animated soulless mannequin” game.

    I wish Eden games focus on the racing and car customization (something almost non-existant in the first TDU), which is what Im sure 95% of people is buying the game for.
    Still, Im sure I’ll end up playing this thing for hours since the simple act of aimlessly driving a vehicle is great, and that’s the one thing TDU does well.

    Also, Im not happy about the pre-order shenaningans, I pre-ordered on Steam and got a Pagani Zonda Tricolore, which is simply a car already available in the game but in a different colour while other stores get the Online Casino DLC thing which might not be impressive either but at least is new content. Im tired of these store exclusive deals.

    • cqdemal says:

      From what I’ve seen of the Casino DLC in the closed beta, you can rest assured. You aren’t missing out on anything.

  11. Emperor_Jimmu says:

    Once all the events are cleared and the lonely reality of their shallow existence become apparent, does the character accidentally kill themselves in an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation, desperately trying to feel something?

  12. terry says:

    DJ Atomica and licence tests? Oh my, this might be dropping off my list.

    How are the licences? Are they handholdy or vicious? What I despised about GT was it kicking you out of the trial for letting a wheel clip the rumble strip >:O

    Also while I’m querying things pointlessly – are you still doing Rum Doings, John? I was distressed to not hear your dulcet tones last week.

    • John Walker says:

      The tests are reasonably brief, but frustrating in their repetitiveness. Six or seven stages, often feeling similar. But it’s that there’s three of them to begin taking part in the related competitions that makes them feel too much.

      And yes, new Rum Doings tomorrow.

  13. Hydrogene says:

    Hmmm, it doesn’t bode very well, if the driving doesn’t feel good a month from release. But, has it at least improved since TDU1 ?

  14. Bassism says:

    Man, I still really hope the driving is at least good enough to not drive me insane like the last one. I love games that let me dart around and just do whatever whenever I feel like it, so it ought to be pretty enjoyable if I can get past the physics.

  15. neelrocker says:

    Nice preview John.

    @godgoo: beta is over now, and you were only able to play during playtest sessions (had to check the beta forum to know when it was up, or the game launcher)

    About the game performances, I was in the beta from when stress test started to the end (so have played the whole last tier of it). When I started playing the game was very smooth, even inside cities. A big improvment compared to TDU1. But at one version near the end of the beta the game had a very bad stutter issue which was still occuring on the last beta session. :/ There was a constant stuttering like when you look at a video which the framerate is not a multiple of your TV/monitor refresh rate.

    About ‘“When we choose to start a race, what we want to do, more than anything else, is start a race.””

    100% agree too^^ This is so annoying, and as MartinNr5 has said it was so annoying in the last NFS.
    NFS Shift or F1 2010 does this too but it is way shorter (and looks nice, not like the crap scene in NFS-HP)

    @Hydrogene: wait for the release and try it by yourself if you can before buying it. Because the gameplay we have seen during the beta was far less deep and enjoying than it was in TDU1 :/ Also way more arcade-oriented, even with the lowest driving assist setting :/

    • Hydrogene says:

      Thanks neelrocker, it doesn’t look very good.
      I guess I’ll wait for a demo then. There is one improvement I can see, at least the roads aren’t made of a succession of straight and flat parts anymore.

  16. Mctittles says:

    It looks like they retained one of my least favorite aspects of TDU1. The douche looking characters. It completely ruins the aspect of earning money to dress up my character when I completely hate looking at the character to begin with.

  17. UncleLou says:

    Loved the first one to bits, including the often criticized handling.

    What I don’t get is why the game looks so bad in almost all screenshots I’ve seen so far. Either I am going mad, or the first game looked significantly better.

  18. Casimir's Blake says:

    Street racing “porn” for .. people that like that sort of thing. A gigantic meh, issued promptly to the devs.

    Where’s the open-world Carmageddon update that we all really want?

  19. edwardoka says:

    Ah nuts. Wish I knew this before I pre-ordered. I loved the original, but this appears to have added precisely nothing of value.

  20. copperfish says:

    seeing my car (Alfa MiTo) in screenshots makes me smile…

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