Test Drive Unlimited 2 preview

Plowing into the side of that Apollo like a runaway train might just be the closest you’ll ever get to the game’s most exclusive cars. The Apollo and others will be exclusive to the very best car clubs. TDU2’s clubhouses are now real virtual spaces which can accommodate up to 32 players at a time, and the clubs themselves are like corporations in EVE Online, with their own bank accounts and car collections. When your club unlocks one of the exclusive cars you’ll have a rare vehicle to drive around the island. You’ll get just one car to share between you, making rare vehicles even rarer.

Like any good MMO title, Test Drive Unlimited 2 places value on the best items; it’s worth driving them just to show them off. Getting everything in the original game was near impossible – pre-order DLC cars were never made available after release so only the most dedicated players earned the high-end unlocks. You may as well accept it now that in Test Drive Unlimited 2 there will be cars you’ll never get to drive, and some cars you might never even see the inside of.

Just like the biggest capital ships in EVE or the most fearsome mounts in World of Warcraft, there’s real prestige to driving the best cars in Test Drive and you’ll get plenty of chances to show them off. You can invite friends to your in-game house and walk with them around your garage, letting them sit in your cars and even taking them for a drive if they ask nicely. Before a race you can walk your in-game avatar around the grid, peer through the windows of your competitors’ cars, and admire their custom Forza-style paint jobs. So, if Test Drive Unlimited was the world’s only Rich Bastard Simulator then Test Drive Unlimited 2 is the first and only Rich Bastard Show-Off Simulator.

TDU2 has a new system for progression so you can level up no matter how you play the game. As you drive around Ibiza you’ll earn points for Competition, Discovery, Social, and Collection. Competition points flow when you beat other racers and compete in tournaments, Discovery ties in with new cars and sights, Social points are earned for teaming up with friends and strangers, while Collection points are awarded for acquiring more... stuff – clothes, cars, and homes.

TDU2’s homes are proper interactive spaces. You can stroll around them, walk down to your garage, and even takes friends around your ‘home’. Your first home is a caravan in the middle of nowhere with a single parking space out front for whatever you’ve scraped enough pennies together to afford. They get prettier and the parking spaces get larger. It’s all a little bit PlayStation Home – too-clean spaces filled with too-attractive people in too-nice clothes – but at least you can head on out and drive.

Eden claim their big mistake with TDU was to create community features and then just leave them to the community without any support or a long-term plan. None of them could have predicted TDU’s long tail-end which still sees 1,000 players logging on to the game every week while much newer games struggle to see 1,000 players in a year. Knowing that TDU2 could have a long life ahead of it, Eden will be much more hands-on with their community-supporting features. There’ll be one-off prizes, challenges, and ongoing leagues to foster competition between car clubs. There’s sure to be a colosso DLC strategy lined up, too, starting with those motorbikes and continuing with car packs and new race events.

While we’re feeling grumpy – which is every day since the average office age made it over 30 – it would be nice if Eden manage to have their community features up and running from day one this time, too. An enduring memory of the original TDU is the four months spent waiting for the auction house, player-created challenges, and car clubs to come online. Test Drive was a game you loved in spite of its faults but we’d like our love for TDU2 to be boundless.

Simulating the absurd fictional life of an obscenely wealthy street racer living in a tropical island paradise was never the point, of course – the point was cars and speed and near-infinite draw distances and exploration and being part of a world alive with real people. In the years since the original we’ve seen racers with better graphics, bigger worlds, smarter online features, and better tech, but none of them have brought it all together like Test Drive Unlimited. TDU2 is Test Drive dragged into the present – everything you loved from the original with a stack of new stuff besides.

May 14, 2010