Test Drive Unlimited 2

I wanted to love Test Drive Unlimited 2. I really did. It lets you live the life of a pro racer on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. It combines traditional racing with an open-world, always-online (except when it's not) multiplayer setup that makes it easy to interact with others. You can even buy property on the island, decorate said property, and show off your exotic car collection to your friends. Doesn't it all sound fantastic? The ideas that went into Test Drive Unlimited 2 are appealing in every way, but the execution is completely off. This open-world driving experience is riddled with problems and even the driving itself is far from perfect.

At the start of Test Drive, you're a down-on-your-luck valet who just got fired for sleeping on the job. But for some reason, the rich gal who got you fired decides to hire you as a temporary chauffer. Her wager: if you get her to a studio taping she has to attend, you can enter Solar Crown -- a luxurious racing competition that takes place across Ibiza. 

These opening cutscenes serve two purposes: they introduce you to Test Drive's story, and they illustrate just how atrocious the character models are. Although driving is the most important aspect of Test Drive, the characters look and animate poorly. These antiquated models "come to life" with some bad voice acting, too. The voice clips will annoy at first and then grow to intolerable levels as they're repeated constantly. 

Ugly character models and bad voice acting are just a few of the many shortcomings found in Test Drive Unlimited 2. On the console versions, Test Drive crashed when I tried to change the paint job in my new apartment. Environments popped-in when I drove across the island. My car quite literally dropped into the ocean when I was nowhere near water. 

You might not come across these issues, but Test Drive was clearly designed with console gamers in mind. Some of the 360 button prompts weren't even removed in the PC interface, and playing with a keyboard is extremely uncomfortable. Fortunately, the visuals are sharper on the PC version and there are sliders for graphical settings in the options menu. 

If you're the kind of gamer who can tolerate technical issues, you'll be more likely to appreciate the ideas in Test Drive. You can drive almost anywhere in Ibiza, buy and customize new cars, help random strangers for cash, and interact with other players cruising around the island. As you play, you level up meters that gauge your progression in four separate categories: Competition, Discovery, Collection, and Social. Leveling these aspects of your character enhances your Global level, and earning new levels unlocks new content in the game like avatar customization options, car upgrades, and more. 

But this freedom to explore and enjoy Ibiza (and later Hawaii) is limited. Drive to a remote corner of the island, and you often can't do anything once you get there. Your character can only leave the car at predetermined points, and there's no environmental interaction or objectives besides taking photographs and finding hidden car wrecks. With such a massive island to explore, I wish there was more I could do on it. 

When it comes to the actual driving, there are just as many conflicting issues. I respect the game's attempt to bridge the gap between arcade-style racing and realistic simulation controls. But ultimately the cars in Test Drive lack the visceral quality that real vehicles possess. I didn't feel like I was driving a powerful machine; I felt like I was controlling a toy. 

Gameplay problems aside, there are technical issues that spoiled my experience. There were several occasions where, at the start of a single-player race, my opponents would suddenly spawn ahead of my car and speed off. I'd call that an unfair advantage. I was also frustrated with how Test Drive handles the "return to road" feature that can be activated if you find yourself too far off course. I've missed critical checkpoints thanks to that feature. 

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