Test Drive Unlimited 2 preview

The first Test Drive Unlimited came out early enough in this generation to make a huge splash online and was different enough that it remains something of a revolution even today. Sure, Burnout Paradise has since offered up an open world and eight-player online larks but TDU was always online, always throwing you against real players across the world. Everywhere you drove on Hawaii’s island of Oahu you’d run into real people, sometimes in groups, sometimes on their own, and mostly trying to ram you at 200 miles per hour.

There was a thousand miles of roads, hundreds of race events, over a hundred cars and bikes, and an hour-long Cannonball Run to finish it all off. You’d pick up supermodels and scare them half to death, drive hitchhikers halfway across the state in Ferrari Testarossas, dress your character up like some kind of Ben Sherman Ken doll and spend tens of millions of virtual dollars on houses which gave you nothing beyond garage space. Yep, Test Drive was like that, and after a four-year wait the world’s first and only Rich Bastard Simulator is back.

Test Drive 2 starts you in the formerly unspoiled island paradise of Ibiza, Spain, latterly spoiled by multitudes of lobster-colored porcine Brits banging endless pints of cheap alcohol down their throats and waking up with a mouth full of kebab grease and pubic hair. Here you’ll once again be an unbearably wealthy arse, tossing away millions as if it were a pittance and working your way from a small tumbledown shack in the mountains to a gleaming super yacht moored in one of the island’s more upmarket ports.

When you reach level 10 (the level cap, at least for now, is 60) you’ll unlock Ibiza Airport, from which you can fly to Hawaii and race in a revamped version of the original TDU’s setting. Graphical upgrades have been applied, missions have been shifted around, and most importantly of all, you’ll have 600km of asphalt and dirt roads to explore. As a fabulous rich-bastard bonus, if you own the yacht you’ll be able to skip the full body cavity search at the airport and simply sail back and forth between Ibiza and Hawaii.

Test Drive 2 is based on small improvements rather than wholesale changes. The original had its problems, of course. The car handling was like driving a matchbox with a pencil poked through the top – feeling as though the car would turn from the center rather than the front wheels – while the bikes handled so badly that French devs Eden patched the game a few months after launch to make them actually usable.

Meanwhile, the game engine spent most of its time choking as it desperately tried to stream in the textures fast enough to keep up with the blistering speeds of the quicker cars and bikes. Go fast enough for long enough and the engine would choke, sending you to the Phantom Zone with General Zod and company as the engine stopped streaming in HD textures and geometry altogether.

So, at the top of Eden’s list were fixes to vehicle handling and that engine. As a result, TDU2 is clearly a better looking game than the original, running smoother and squeezing in more detail, but it’s the new weather system and two-hour day/night cycle which makes the game beautiful. Vehicle handling has been overhauled from scratch, dumping the old model – itself ripped from even older games – in favour of something newer with a feel halfway between arcade and simulation like GRID or Project Gotham 4. Motorbikes will return as DLC a few months after release to make sure they’re not the disasters Eden put on the road in the original game, but off-road racing is in on day one.

Mud-flecked four-wheel drive monsters and, later, off-road motorbikes are joining Test Drive’s lineup of it-would-have-been-cheaper-to-stuff-a-sock-down-there supercars. It’s basically Dirt and GRID in one game – throwing you over dunes and dragging you through gravel one minute and then sending you onto the streets for midnight street races the next.

Like the original game’s island, Ibiza is divided into blocks, and each block can handle up to eight players at a time with Eden’s engine populating each block and transferring you and your friends seamlessly between servers as you move across the island. Test Drive Unlimited 2 offers the same eight-player racing and opportunities for cruising with friends, but also allows for a second player in each car in its ‘co-op’ mode.

Take a look to your side in cockpit view and your friend will be sitting beside you, hopefully doing something useful like reading the map, but more likely encouraging you to drive into the side of a Gumpert Apollo at warp six and exploit the game’s damage system. The damage is simple and cosmetic like Project Gotham’s rather than intricate and brutal like Dirt 2’s. A big smash will deform your car and scratch the paintwork without affecting handling, and a visit to your nearest home or garage will quickly patch it up.