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The version I've been playing is almost finished but not enough to be reviewed so let's be clear that any of the following might be tidied up by launch. But with the game having officially 'gone gold' in the short time since we were given this preview code, things look unlikely to change.
My biggest concern at this stage is that this version of Ibiza doesn't feel realistic. It's like driving around a diorama of Ibiza, complete with artificial trees and a total absence of pedestrians. Why can't we drive around the real Ibiza? I appreciate the game is intended for online play which puts a limit on what you can populate the game world with, but the single-player mode would undoubtedly benefit from a little more realism.
Above: Stick to the roads and everything looks slick enough. This was playing at 1080i, too
The other thing that adds to the sense of artificiality is that the Ibiza here is only an approximation of the real island. Ask someone who's been there to find the hotel they stayed in and they'll draw a blank. It's similar, sure, but not street-for-street accurate.
The coolest new feature is undoubtedly the banking system for money. It's called 'F.R.I.M.' which is an odd choice for an acronym, as it means 'vigourous', 'thriving' and 'fresh' but actually stands for 'Free Ride Instant Money'. Nope, can't see the connection there. You earn cash by driving with style in a system not dissimilar to Crazy Taxi and Burnout, with near-misses, long drifts (but not doing donuts) and jumping filling up levels of a reward bar. But the clever thing is, you have to hit X to cash it in before you snag something and lose every penny. This risk/reward system is very welcome and it's good to know you're in direct control of how quickly you earn money.
Above: Your introduction to F.R.I.M. comes as you start your first car... which sure ain't a Ferrari California
The car handling is decent, thanks to some relatively simplistic-feeling steering mechanics that become more challenging as you turn off the assists. Driving these exotic sports cars is surely meant to be the point of the game, although I'm not convinced driving them in such straight lines for a couple of miles is the best way to enjoy them.
Also, while there's plenty of inertia in drifting and spinning out, crashing often sees apparent shrubs react like they're made of concrete. Trackside objects like street signs can be knocked out of the way with a little loss of speed and bodywork sheen, but most objects are either concrete-solid or just not there. Aim straight for a roundabout that looks like a ramp and, rather than flip into the air, your car will spin on the spot. Again, dissatisfying compared to its peers, but at least the cars can be rolled.
The game and its structure make much more sense online, as it's been designed to be played with other online players driving around the free-roam island at the same time. It's similar to Burnout Paradise in that respect, and shares many of its features with stalwarts like Need For Speed and Midnight Club. Flashing your lights to start races with opponents in free-roam worked well in Midnight Club and is welcome here, as is the map which is rendered in real-time from way up above the island.
Your online profile is your chance to show off, and you can customise your vehicle, as this video shows:
While the scripting and story is often cringeworthy, the game is not without charm. The incredibly cheesey grin your character pulls when he breaks 30 minutes of silence to utter a single line of dialogue is pretty awesome. Another thing I do like is the way you can explore the world and discover car wrecks off the beaten track. These wrecks are then unlocked if you've got the cash to fix them up properly. With the sun setting across the bay, finding an old VW Beetle sitting quietly in the evening light like some lost treasure feels like a genuine discovery. It may just be a glorified 'flying rat', but it's far more compelling.
So we're looking at a strange one here. Slightly rough around the edges, TDU2's free-roam world is unlikely to be the best place to spend your time if you're looking for an amazing single-player experience. Regardless of how well the game brushes up before its release, there's no denying you often find yourself driving for a couple of miles down a perfectly straight road, which is just plain boring. Yes, even if you do have a button to wind down the windows.
But, like I say, it's all going to make much more sense online. So I'll hand you over to Michael Grimm who's played it with the developers themselves over this very internet. Look out for a review soon...
26 Jan, 2011