Ibiza is famous for many things. Sun, sea and sand, lager-fuelled holidays, world class dance clubs and street car racing. Well, maybe not the latter… but Test Drive Unlimited 2 is set on the fair Spanish clubber’s paradise. The entire island of Ibiza (and later on, the island of Oahu, Hawaii, as seen in the first game) is yours to explore in an online world which isn’t focused solely on racing.
Yes, TDU2 is a bubbling cauldron of racing goodness featuring over a hundred vehicles – but as with the original, it’s one which has been seasoned with a large pinch of massively multiplayer spice. As well as races versus computer drivers and online against other humans, players can build up a friends list, purchase expensive houses, new clothes, even get haircuts and plastic surgery. Spend long enough in this virtual world, and you too can look like a cross between Kirstie Allsopp, Gok Wan, Justin Bieber and Debbie Harry.
There are also missions available – quests, if you will – such as one-off jobs to ferry people around the island against a time limit, or without pranging your car. Exploration of Ibiza is actively encouraged, and there are tasks set which include locating old car wrecks, or taking photos of specific scenes for the town’s professional snapper. When out and about, you might also find new clothes shops or dealers to purchase cars from, or get embroiled in a police chase when you smash into one too many vehicles along the highway.
Levels are gained not only by winning races, but also by completing the aforementioned quests and objectives. Admittedly, the majority of these tasks are pretty shallow by nature, but there are so many of them to tackle you’re never stuck for something to do.
Even just pootling around the island is enjoyable, due to the highly impressive detail with which it has been modelled, from dusty back roads to twisting cobbled streets that run through small villages, and the busy neon streets of the capital.
There’s a full day and night cycle, and although this is all quite smart in terms of aesthetics, the visuals come with a cost. At times the draw-in feels rather close, although we could cope with that.
More problematic was when the game began to drop frames, with slowdown becoming more noticeable in built-up areas, particularly when other human players were around.
In terms of the actual driving, Test Drive’s physics lean towards an arcade model, but with a fairly realistic flavour. Sharper turns certainly have to be respected, and leaving it a bit late on the brakes will generally result in an intimate get-together with a signpost, hedgerow or tree.
Vehicles do seem rather twitchy with the counter-steer when exiting faster bends, and cutting corners is to be risked at your peril. There are some low kerbs and verges which look like the car should just ride over them, but they stop you dead. This can be quite frustrating – particularly if you go just slightly wide on a corner and catch the edge of something.
Despite the odd swear word-inducing incident, TDU2′s behind-the-wheel experience is solidly realised, and reasonably varied. A laudable amount of different event types are included, from racing through speed traps on the highway to narrow off-road courses over steep and bumpy inclines which are tackled in the likes of Range Rovers and other chunky 4WD monsters.
Online connection woes
Unfortunately, the tread on Test Drive’s racing tyres wears thinnest when it comes to the multiplayer content. When searching for fellow Xbox-ers with the express aim of covering their front air dam in our dust, we found it quite difficult to locate a multiplayer session. This was partly because there weren’t many available sometimes, and some of those that were highlighted appeared to be old sessions that didn’t actually exist any more.
Compounding this issue, when we did find a race, at times the session flaked out and disconnected us before we could get 50 yards down the street. We then seemed to be completely severed from the game’s online servers until we rebooted TDU2. This was, quite frankly, a major pain in the rear seat cover.
There are other bugs too, such as player-driven vehicles disappearing entirely, making Ibiza feel distinctly unlike a massively multiplayer world. Our car’s GPS system also seemed to stop functioning at random. A patch is at hand, though, and should arrive imminently to solve the majority of those bigger online flaws. Until then, the multiplayer aspects are only semi-functioning, which puts a fairly major dampener on things.
Unfortunately, if you want multiplayer racing - which is one of the major selling points of the game - it's more than a bit iffy at the moment. Hopefully the upcoming patch (which might well have arrived by the time you read this) will smooth over the online play, and then TDU2 can be heartily recommended.