The original Test Drive Unlimited title, which debuted on the Xbox 360 back in 2006 before being ported to Playstation 2, PC and PSP the following year, is a game that, all told, hasn’t aged brilliantly. When it first appeared it felt categorically state-of-the-art; laying the groundwork for almost every forward-thinking racing game that has come in its wake, most markedly Criterion’s one-two sucker punch of Burnout Paradise and NFS: Hot Pursuit. To be fair to it, much of its functionality and progressive, cutting-edge online rawness still reverberates today, but the plot that it was all hung upon does appear terribly antiquated in comparison to Criterion’s recent wares.
So it’s invigorating to distinguish that Namco Bandai’s sequel – to a game that, despite all of its negligible flaws, remains very much beloved and still played today – has made a concerted effort to move with the times. Regardless of which character you select when you begin your career; all of whom are schmoozing beside a large swimming pool at the back of a lavish Ibizan villa; you’ll be hit with a surprising plot twist after just a few minutes of progress. It’s nothing shocking (or particularly new, even) but it stands as an rejuvenating reminder that times have changed; and much more so, that Namco Bandai have observed just how important a strong story is in contemporary videogaming.
Despite this staunch new emphasis on plot, the same basic structure of the first game remains, and Test Drive Unlimited 2 still has that same idiosyncratic, off-kilter MMO flavour. As with the online environments featured in the likes of Red Dead Redemption, other online players are fully visible to you as you roam its world, encouraging you to challenge them directly – or via a traditional multiplayer lobby system if you prefer. One thing that sets this game apart from its predecessor is the promise of long-term online support; something that the original game had to unfortunately do without.
Details of many of these promised multiplayer modes have yet to be fully disclosed, but those that have are looking similarly sharp and unusual. One co-operative mode that has been revealed thus far is called Follow The Leader, and it involves one player being tasked with hitting a series of checkpoints in specific order, which his or her friends are then required to repeat; the only difference being that those same checkpoints are invisible to everyone except that primary player. Hopefully, this rather clever technique to enliven the multiplayer experience with co-operation and communication, doesn’t begin and end there.
For all of the promised multiplayer bells and whistles however, Test Drive Unlimited 2 is looking like a much more rounded and compelling single-player experience too. You feel involved from the very beginning, with one of the game’s opening first-person cutscenes involving the simple act of opening your car door and sliding yourself into the driver’s seat. It’s a very small moment, but it’s one of many that have deftly been implemented to draw you deeper into the familiar but crowd-pleasing story. And although that story is a pretty straightforward rags-to-riches one, the revamped progression system – and the ever appealing ability to show-off your latest vehicle online – bears a comparison with the exemplary ‘Autolog’ system that EA designed for Hot Pursuit.
The game takes place on the glamourous ‘white isle’ of Ibiza island, which has been painstakingly recreated using actual satellite data; but this is no straight-laced simulator. Test Drive Unlimited 2‘s carefree, summery vibe is deeply inviting and makes for a very welcome break from ever-present lawlessness, and it appears to walk the tightrope between simulation and arcade racer with real confidence and panache. It remains to be seen if the online side of things measure up, but the single-player is looking like a real labour of love, and even part-time petrolheads should keep one eye on this surprisingly definitive-looking sequel.
Watch the Test Drive Unlimited 2 trailer here: