Test Drive Unlimited 2
For all its grace and old-world charm, Gran Turismo 5, we can safely assume, seemed to Eden Games a rather quaint and traditional sort. With its neat, fenced-off tracks and strictly defined progression, it's at least somewhat the product of a bygone gaming age, when the worst of a gamer's worries was allowing the memory cartridge to slip free while a save was taking place.
Nowadays gaming's very much concerned with the here and now, as EA's Autolog system drags gamers by the nose through the endeavours of their far superior friends, with leaderboards offering near-infinite auxiliary challenge. Appropriately enough given the medium though, there is soon to be a third way. A reality in which progression depends as much on how many friends you might make as it does nailing braking zones. One in which you might level up by wearing the correct kind of hat.
Whether such an experience points to years of interconnected bliss or some bizarre autosport/Farmville hybrid, packed with microtransactions, is a matter open for debate. One thing's for certain, though. We doubt you'll have seen a racing title before that opens quite like Test Drive Unlimited 2.
You see, this update opens to sun-drenched beaches on that island of irreproachable class, Ibiza. High atop holidaymakers below, in the penthouse suite of some achingly perfect apartment block stands our hero, mired deep within a party scene. After being introduced to his wheels (via the first of many decidedly unsettling first-person cameos), it's off onto the dusty tracks, with no discernible objective.
Rather than offering gamers a stratified set of tasks to tick off one-by-one, TDU2 instead seeks to create a populated, aspirational universe around our central vain douchebag. Assuming all is well at the retail counters, the island your tyres are pushing this way and that will be populated ideally by players on your own friends list, or at the very least those of a similar rank, as opposed to entirely NPC drivers.
The idea being, of course, that events can begin via means of an accidental (or less so) meeting of acquaintances. “Fancy seeing you here”, etc. For the William Few Associates out there, preset events naturally exist, focusing on a relatively ingrained suite of license tests to begin with, before branching out into championships and more random events, triggered by phone calls from in-game characters as you're lazily cruising around.
Hopefully though, you'll look to avoid this digital equivalent of sitting down to dinner with a plastic doll on the other side of the table.
Rather than handing out trinkets of gold, silver and bronze then, Eden Games has prescribed a rather more broad definition of success. Generally speaking, exploration of any kind will lead to progress, through Ibiza's challenge at first and then back to the original title's setting, Oahu, Hawaii. Statistics covering race progress, social interaction, road discovery and collection will follow your avatar at all times, the latter covering more obvious areas such as garage breadth, but also a range of luxurious bachelor pads.
Said property must first be purchased from an in-game 'realtor' and then can be perambulated, altering the décor to taste. Basically, everything Fight Club taught you that men don't do. More traditionally, score is dealt out simply for taking the road not travelled; one of several features TDU owes a debt to Criterion for. After all, if you're offering gamers over 3,000 kilometres of road to tear up, there has to be some gameplay in there, somewhere.
Termed F.R.I.M. for reasons that we assure you are less risque then it sounds, the additional feature bolted into every in-game vehicle offers players the chance to earn some crucial additional dollars simply commuting from one race venue to another (and activity that can be mercifully skipped). Through the performance of any jump, trick or near miss, a wad of cash can be earned that will build up over time into a figure quite substantial.
One errant trip into the central reservation, mind, and that figure will fall to zero in an instant – the game itself lying in when to bank your money, and when to push that competence just a little bit further. Kind of like The Weakest Link, only your grandma won't like it. Moving onto how vehicles handle at this late stage might seem a little perverse, but since capitalist consumption is the only real goal here racing automobiles can take somewhat of a back seat.
Anyway, the model on offer lies somewhere between the bombast of a Need For Speed and Gran Turismo's meticulousness. In short, though braking is a swift process it still demands attention, plus differences between road surfaces feel more like some cad's switched the inertia button off rather than tyres crossing uneven ground.
Despite some reservations however, there's certainly some appeal to this odd mixture of commercialism and competition, bringing with it emotions not unlike the turtling RTS player. It's going to take more than the addiction of accumulating currency to hold most boy racers' attention, mind. Sometimes, it's less about the Lincolns, and more about the Lincoln Continentals.