First look at Test Drive Unlimited 2

What do Sammy Davis Jr., Dom DeLuise, Sally Field and that guy from The Man with the Golden Gun have in common? They’ve all, in one movie or another, proved that a useless co-pilot is still ten times better company than the best GPS.

Eden Games know this, and will prove it again with Test Drive Unlimited 2. A new cooperative passenger mode means that when your online buddy gets in to gawp at your new velvet dashboard, they won’t have to leave when you start the ignition. Off-road treasure hunts, high-stakes clan battles or heaven forbid an actual test drive: whatever it is, they can spend it allin your peripheral vision.

The original TDU left us at a junction. On its left: a road to realism, where Crysis-style visuals could meet a narrower, more conventional racer. On its right: MMO country, where behind the humble looks lives a world of opportunities. The sequel takes the latter – the right road – and look where it’s ended up: Ibiza, home to Channel 5 documentaries, Britons with no center of gravity, police with no sense of humour, and locals insisting there’s a lot more to it: which there is. There are relics of the Punic wars, wild topography and an erratic climate: all you need for a colossal open world Gumballing game.

Like its predecessor, TDU2 isn’t afraid of being gaming’s answer to the Magic Eye puzzle, stressing details within details. Yes, there’s a new metallic flake layer for shader fetishists. Yes, there are stitches in the seats, leather around the stitches, and raindrops on the leather when you forget to raise the hardtop. And yes, the message is still that greed is good, and that a giant yacht with a massively multiplayer jacuzzi (the best of the game’s new homes) makes up for you looking like a porcelain zombie. But this is luxury with a hint of restraint. It doesn’t have the extreme attitude of Dirt 2.

Test Drive Unlimited is one of the finest racers of its generation, precisely because it looks beyond the cars and whatever’s reflected in them. That means better clans in the sequel, with war chests to either gamble on tournaments, fritter on luxuries, or invest in bricks, mortar and playable trophies such as the Gumpet Apollo supercar. It means 4x4s built to climb taller mountains to find auto-wrecks, giving you further exclusives. It means persistent stats for winning, dodging and discovery.

What it doesn’t necessarily mean is a handling system to everyone’s taste. No such thing exists, of course, but this build of Test Drive Unlimited 2 dwells on the accessible and cosmetic, its toylike crashes causing little harm while savaging the paintwork. Even that’s an improvement on last time.

Apr 9, 2010