Test Drive Unlimited 2 Preview (PS3)

2006’s Test Drive Unlimited was a well-received attempt at creating a massively multiplayer online racer. But it was hampered by a wafer-thin story, lack of structure and some clunky online mechanics. Test Drive Unlimited 2 looks to rectify these problems whilst expanding on what made its predecessor unique. Atari and Eden Games let us get behind the wheel and check out the opening hours of the game.

It's a long way from a trailer to an Esprit S3, but this could be you. Eventually
The game opens to a lively pool party, filled with beautiful people and hosted at your luxury home. The camera drops down to a first person view from your chosen avatar’s perspective before you’re called over by a glamorous looking woman. She’s got a present for you waiting out in the garage which turns to be a brand new Ferrari. You take it out for a leisurely spin with the roof down, cranking the radio to some easy listening. As you cruise down an idyllic island road you’re bathed in the glorious orange glow of the setting sun. Life is good.

Oops! It turns out that was all a dream and in fact you’re merely a parking valet who has fallen asleep on the job. Your customer Tess, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the woman in your dream, is slightly upset that you’ve nodded off in her Ferrari. I say “slightly” because seconds later she offers you the chance to compete in an elite racing championship, but only if you drive her to her important appointment in the allotted time.

Once there, it’s revealed that she’s a highly connected TV reporter and she agrees to help you get your racing career started by pointing you in the direction of a few of her friends. You need your own set of wheels of course, so she sends you to a budget car dealer. Once you’ve picked your entry level vehicle (we chose the boxy Lotus Esprit S3) you’re sent to your new digs, a humble trailer residing on a lot that contains little else than a garage and a paddling pool. Here you’ll be able to go change your character’s clothes and switch cars - when you’ve acquired more of course.

By using the TV inside your new abode you can see the forecast for the game’s new weather system. As in real life, you’ll have to adjust your plans and maybe even change vehicles depending on the current weather conditions. Switching to the news channel allows you to check on your career statistics, organise your club (the game’s equivalent to clans), check for available downloadable content and see community news from the developers.

You’re now established in Ibiza, but you’re not quite ready for that championship as you don’t have the appropriate license. To acquire this you head to a driving school where you’re required to beat several challenges involving breaking, turning and driving in wet weather.

With that out of the way, it’s finally time to compete. You’re introduced to the Paris Hilton-esque Miami, one of the stars of the Ibiza driving circuit. The challenges here consist of your standard races, time trials and a Speed-inspired challenge where you have to keep your velocity above certain threshold for a period of time (although you won’t explode if you drop below it).
Challanging and defeating celebrity racers is a big part of story progression
With your first championship conquered and some money in your pocket you’re on the cusp of being allowed to roam freely through Ibiza. Due to the new addition of off- road racing you’ll need to earn an off-road license at another driving school. But with that beaten you’re free to buy your first four by four and tackle an off-road championship.

With two licenses in his wallet and two championship titles under his belt our character is ready to start building a life of fame and fortune. At this stage, the whole of Ibiza is open to you so you can properly begin earning money, buying cars, clothing, and houses, and beating the local racing superstars.

It seems like much of the single player career is dictated by acquiring licenses and beating championships though they work in concert with a re-imagined levelling system. You raise your overall level by earning experience points across four different categories. Points in discovery are earned by finding new roads and places to visit, collection through purchasing more clothes, vehicles, items and homes, and competition for completing championships. Your social score is boosted exclusively through interacting with other human players, which seems like a good way to discourage solo play. Experience here is granted by racing each other, adding to your friends list and presumably partaking in club activities.

Something new to TDU2 are the avatar environments where players can have their avatars get out of their cars to interact and chat with each other. While we didn’t get to see this working first hand in this preview, the developer’s favourable comparisons to the functionality of Playstation Home suggest that this could represent a huge boost to the social features of the game.

The game is set to have over 100 licensed cars including those from manufacturers like Aston Martin, Dodge, Audi, Volkswagon and Ford. While the developer remains tight-lipped on the full roster at the moment, we spotted the likes of the Aston Martin DBS, Audi S3, Ford GT and Mercedes SLR Moss in this build.

Where we're going we don't need roads: off-road driving is a new addition
Though we barely scratched the surface of the social elements of the game, every other aspect we encountered had been expanded and polished a great deal from the original Test Drive Unlimited. The final product is certainly going to be one to watch for racing fans. Test Drive Unlimited 2 is set for release sometime in the first quarter of 2011 for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.

Most Anticipated Feature: If the avatar system, if deep enough, could provide that missing social layer that Test Drive Unlimited lacked.

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