“Test Drive” Crashes and Burns

Within the 30 to 40-year-old lineage of video games, very few titles have been able to withstand the accelerated pace in which technology changes the aesthetics of the industry. Nintendo’s “Mario” series, Squaresoft’s (now Square Enix) “Final Fantasy” and Capcom’s “Street Fighter” are a sample of only a handful of titles whose ancestry dates back to the 1980s.

The “Test Drive” series, first released in 1987, is another title whose roots go back to the formative years of gaming history. Yet, the series still has enough life to breathe another game into the contemporary arena with its newest addition to the family, “Test Drive Unlimited 2.” However, despite (or perhaps as a result) of this long lineage, “TDU2” presents many clashes between contemporary and classic video game aesthetics that fall short of today’s seventh-generation console games and computer games.

At first glance, the visual appearance of “TDU2’s” world and the objects within it seem average at best, as the game seems to ignore the graphical advancements that video games have achieved since the last iteration of the “Test Drive” series in 2006.

While the game boasts geological accuracy to the island of Ibiza (located roughly 50 miles east off the coast of mainland Spain), its design consistently lacks a spark of vitality, limiting the game’s environment as a glib model instead of an inspiring representation.

Similarly, the vehicles, while succeeding in being proportional and behavioral duplicates of their real-life counterparts, also seem to be lacking an enlivening spark, as elementary lighting and reflection effects dull the edginess of their design. For example, as environmental objects (trees, buildings, light posts, etc.) approach you, their jagged reflections on the roof or hood of your car will appear abruptly instead of gradually.

The handling of the vehicles in and of themselves also seems a bit unrefined. While versions of “TDU2” on PC may bypass this problem, PS3 and Xbox 360 releases exhibit uneven throttle controls that present a serious drawback and perhaps even a sign of negligence. Despite the capability for PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers to give variable commands through their depth-sensitive trigger buttons, “TDU2” unevenly allocates trigger depth to throttle.

For instance, pressing the trigger down slightly does literally nothing, while the middle of the trigger gives throttle at nearly 100 percent with little to no variables in between. This makes the beginning of races particularly difficult, as balancing a perfect launch between a dud roll and peeling out is unnecessarily exhausting. For this same reason, drifting well in the game is virtually impossible.

In a brave attempt, “TDU2” features a story that, unfortunately, only adds to the frustration of its experience. Shallow characters with plastic design, apparently cheap voice acting, choppy camerawork and an embarrassingly trifling storyline not only serve as reminders of how good the game isn’t, but literally intrude on the experience of racing itself.

“TDU2’s” cliché storyline places the player as an unsung nobody who must work through the ranks in order to prove himself the top racing hotshot on the island. To do so, the player must increase his levels of “Competition,” “Social,” “Discovery” and “Collection,” adding an element of gaming consistent with role-playing games rather than racers. While winning races increases your Competition level, the other three levels have little to do with racing itself but are necessary to elevate in order to advance through the game.

For example, although I have enough race money to upgrade my car’s performance, my low Discovery level prohibits me from buying the upgrade. The Discovery level is particularly tedious, as the means of increasing it are taking photos, driving on all (literally all) the roads and finding car wrecks, and this causes me to aimlessly wander and explore an environment that I am already disinterested in. Monotonous? You bet.

As a means of solace, I turn to my car’s radio, which hardly alleviates my apathy, as apparently the entire island of Ibiza only has two stations featuring short playlists and shamefully un-funny commercials.

Despite the overwhelmingly shoddy construction of “TDU2,” its online multiplayer does have a few merits. Advertised as a Massively Open Online Racing (M.O.O.R) game, the online mode and single player mode are well threaded together, for upon connecting, you’ll instantly discover other players zipping around the city that can be chased down for one-on-one challenges. Alternately, the virtual city has a building in which players can gather in order to create or join speed contests that vary within a handful of game modes. However, the mechanical and graphical faults featured in “TDU2’s” single-player mode follow you relentlessly online.

Perhaps in an attempt to honor its lineage as an arcade racer while simultaneously accommodating to current trends of realism and online gaming, “TDU2” doesn’t present much that is either new or interesting, which consequently gives a product that is, in even the most optimistic sense, a pastiche of games from the early to mid 2000s.

Broken game mechanics, unexciting physics, outdated graphics and a distracting narrative lead to an experience that was not only unremarkable, but even uninviting, bland and sadly, boring.

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars