When I started Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2), I expected to play a racing game. Not necessarily just racing - I had heard stories that you could explore the whole of Ibiza. What I didn't expect to see is playing through a first-person dream sequence at your birthday party. The strangeness continued unabated - snapping me out of the dream (and first person mode, thankfully) to my real life - as a downtrodden valet. Shortly after being fired for 'dreaming on the job,' my employer immediately hired me for her reality racing show, and tested me by setting a waypoint on the map and having me drive to it in a specified amount of time. When I completed this task, inexplicably she bought me a run-down trailer to live out of, sending me back into first-person mode. This was all within the first 5 minutes of the game. What did I get myself into?
Lets’s begin with the racing portion of the game, story and multiplayer aside. At its core, the game feels dated. The driving mechanics are sluggish and I found myself struggling to make turns and accelerate properly, making getting around very frustrating. I have played my fair share of racing games and I spent most of my game in the ditch, usually as a result of an aberrant turn that was no fault of mine. I realized immediately that I couldn’t get my mind set into ‘arcade’ or ‘simulation’ mode because TDU2 cannot decide which type of game it is. The identity crisis of trying to incorporate arcade style racing into a simulation game with realistic controls ruins the driving experience, and for a racing game this is crippling. I’ll just say that I have had better racing experiences in the Grand Theft Auto series.
One you have slugged your way through your controls and driving mechanics don’t even think about starting a race. Before you can challenge other racers and start earning a reputation you have to pack a lunch, grab your backpack and head to driving school to get your proper licence. Again, I’m 30 minutes into the game and I still have not had a proper race. Finally after all the hassle I managed to find the first proper mission in the game. Each mission is broken up into several races varying from time trials to elimination modes. Place well enough in each of the six to eight races and you will be crowned champion and paid out your earnings. About half of the race styles I really enjoyed, usually when there were actual other racers present but the AI was terribly inconsistent. Sometimes I would get 1st place without trouble and other times I would struggle to make the podium. The imbalance of the race styles matched with frustrating driving mechanics really made me feel that they should have gone back to the drawing book on the gameplay side of things.
There is some variety to be had, Test Drive Unlimited 2 adds in offroad racing to the mxi, though again, you need to earn a license first to experience it. You don't always have to race against other cars as there are challenges to be had as well - race against the clock, checkpoint, etc. On top of this the social challenges make a return - picking up people and dropping them off at different locations to earn bonus cash.