After spending the better part of a day off yesterday with Test Drive Unlimited 2, I feel like I can make a few more comments about the game in this second part of my impressions. I’ve received some interesting comments regarding this through Twitter, emails, and of course blog comments. You guys like this kind of thing? Sort of mini-reviews in blog form, perhaps of modern games? I mean, I get asked about modern games all the time, but I mostly do video reviews of retro games or games with retro roots. Anyway, onto what I mean by Test Drive: Off-Road Unlimited…
I had no idea there were SUVs in TDU2. There isn’t much of any mention of it on the box art and I’ve seen very little in the way of hype or advertising for the game, so it’s not too surprising. However, as much fun as this off-roading mode is I am surprised more isn’t being made of it.
I’ve gotta admit: I enjoy off-roading games. I always have. My first was Test Drive: Off-Road for MS-DOS (well, really Windows 95). It was a super-flawed game but it was rad. It had Hummers (the real Hummer, retroactively named the H1) and it was a racing game. That was enough for me back then. I also enjoyed the other Test Drive games, like TD4, but Off-Road was a totally different and almost surreal experience. Turns out, that’s because it wasn’t designed as a Test Drive game, but that’s another story. Anyways, if I had known TDU2 had off-roading I would have been more psyched to play it. In fact, this replaces the bikes in the first TDU, which I didn’t care for at all. And this sure beats roaming around off-road in a Lamborghini Countach, which was a favorite pastime of mine in TDU1. Now if only you could convert the Countach into an ATV of some kind… ahem, sacrilege. (Although it seems Lamborghini is not in the game, probably never will be, due to licensing issues so dangit.)
I mentioned in the last entry that there is this new licensing system. At first, I thought it was goofy and pointless. But now it kind of makes sense. It’s required to enter the off-roading courses and it’s also a great way to learn the ropes of that mode. The handling is very drifty, which is just how I like it. But you also have the control you need to RACE in trucks, which is often where these off-roading things fall flat. If anything, this mode seems a bit too easy, at least during races. Maybe it’s the Range Rover I splurged on. The Hummer H3s seems to really chug and lag behind the pack, only the Touareg seems to be able competition so far.
Off-road time trials are a blast, especially on some of the cliffside dead man’s curve courses. I also really appreciate the change of scenery from the asphalt races – it really feels like an entirely different game. The only game that’s come close to this experience in recent memory is Hummer 4×4 by 1c Company, but that was a buggy mess. This is actually quite well done and it’s quite nostalgic to see a Test Drive game with off-roading that doesn’t completely blow. None of the Test Drive Off-Road games have been particularly great, but this one comes close. Just give me a whole game of this though!
Otherwise, I have a few final complaints about the overall game experience. For one, selling cars. You can’t just sell them from your garage anymore, you have to sell them at dealerships, but it gets worse. One of the biggest parts of the game is owning real estate, which is mainly for garages. There is limited garage space to store your cars. After beating certain “Black List opponents” a la NFS Most Wanted, you get to take their car. The thing is, you cannot repaint or sell these cars. So for one you’re stuck with what is usually a butt-ugly car (pink Mustang with white stripes & red lip prints anyone?) and you also are out one garage slot which you’re forced to fill with a car you don’t like. Sure you can trick the game into not giving you some of these cars, but there shouldn’t need to be a workaround. Second, there are the garages themselves. Why can’t you just choose where you want to store your cars from a menu like the first TDU? It’s a pain to organize your cars by driving them physically to a new garage. Third, what’s with the excessive social engineering? If I want to play online, I will. I’m currently playing through it on my 360, and I don’t have Live Gold. Can’t play half the game, basically. And since you need to do these online features in order to level up parts of your character… That’s crap. And lastly, why can’t I turn off that stupid GPS lady’s voice? Or change, like, any other options? Like custom controls and stuff. And I can’t export my photos from photo mode? What’s the point? Also pointless: the vinyl application system. It’s broken.
Whatever, these are all small gripes, but they’re pretty impressive oversights. Hopefully, these can be fixed in a patch. If not, I’m not too bothered. Every racing game (arguably any game at all) is a series of trade-offs. You’ve gotta deal with some things in order to get the things you really value. And for me, there’s far more to value than to get annoyed with. And that’s where it’s at, especially when it comes to racing games.