dj_lae's Test Drive Unlimited 2 (Xbox 360) review

DOA:X With Cars

 It's odd to suggest that a racing game is relaxing, but Test Drive Unlimited 2 continues the original game's concept of being more of laid back cruising game than an actual racer, where you drive exotic cars leisurely around tropical locations. There are races, certainly, but they're not really the game's main draw and you'll likely spend more time exploring the islands in the game than racing against the AI.

And the game is better for that, as the races themselves are either frustratingly hard or ridiculously easy, depending on your choice of car. Some of the cars in the game feature starting bugs (like the Hummer), which takes a second or two to switch into gear at the beginning of a race and/or handling and speed that is inferior to your competition. God help you if you choose the old Mustang as your starting car, for example, as it'll put a damper on the entire game experience due to its wonky, uncooperative handling.

It's just a shame that the handling is the biggest problem, as it's the game's only real issue outside of launch server bugs. The cars didn't handle well in the original game either, but here they're a bit too twitchy, a bit too eager to spin out at low speed or nose into a turn sharper than you intended. Some of this can be alleviated by the generous steering tweaks in the menu, but much of you simply cannot correct on your own.

The rest of the game is a fantastic open-world racer with integrated online. The island of Ibiza looks great, is extremely varied, and is full of races, photo locations, and wrecks to find, as well as other players driving around on their own, discovering roads, heading to a race, or just parked on the side of the road chatting to other people. It is somewhat limited in that you can only see 8 other players at a given time (viewing the map makes it obvious there are many more than that in total), but still works well, and flashing your headlights lets you instantly challenge another player, which at present means you'll be racing against someone in a starting car or someone in an A1 class Arial Atom.

There's a more defined structure to the game as well, particularly in the beginning. It opens with you as a daydreaming valet, and the shrill harpey you're fetching a car for randomly decides to let you enter the Solar Crown series of races that she hosts, and races in. Each class of race (offroad, asphalt, classic, and the various ranks of each) has a little opening and ending cinematic, as do the various license schools you're required to attend in order to earn a license appropriate for entry in a given championship. These cutscenes are terrible...but terrible in an hilarious sort of way, as you gradually get the sense that the developers are poking fun of the weird Sims trappings they've inserted in their own game.

While the meat of the game is the exploration and racing, your level is also increased by accumulating stuff - cars, houses, furniture, clothes, hairstyles, etc. It's all mostly superficial, although you will need extra houses (and, consequently, garages) to store your cars as your stable increases. All of the retail locations for buying clothes or cars or real estate feature other players wandering around inside as well, another neat touch that makes the world feel a bit more alive than it might otherwise. You also get to see how ridiculous other players have made their characters look.

Included with some launch titles is a full-featured casino add-on that lets you wander around a casino on an offshore island, which (in ideal server conditions) is also populated with other players. There are various slot machines, some that tie together and payout a combined pot to the winner based on the other players using the same style machine. Another room has roulette tables, and the bulk of the content comes in the form of poker, which is unfortunately based entirely on competitive play. 'Unfortunately,' only because there don't seem to be many players competiting in the casino content, despite its relatively streamlined nature. In many ways the whole casino add-on would have benefited more from being an actual XBLA title.

But even with it being less than functional and the weird handling, there's still a lot to like about the game. There's a lot to do, a lot to collect, interesting locations to see, and the overall experience of driving around, seeing other players, performing little side-missions, and trying out different cars from the dealerships is as fun as it was the first time around. This time, however, you get nearly twice the room to play around in.

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