A glamorous, raven-haired beauty clad in a slinky dress wanders through a showcase of the world’s most expensive vehicles, her high heels clicking on the tile floor. I’m that raven-haired beauty, and one of these cars will soon be mine.
The game is Test Drive Unlimited 2, Eden Games and Atari’s second trip into the world of massively open online racing. The game is one part competition, one part exploration, and one part social interaction, as much a lifestyle title as it is a racing game.
The first game gave players a chance to leisurely drive or race across the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu. Now players will explore the island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea, with an updated O’ahu unlocked after players reach a certain level. The first game was large. The second game is 2.5 times larger. According to my Test Drive Unlimited handler, that should keep the game relevant for many years, and that’s before robust planned downloadable content.
Back in the dealership, my sexy avatar is browsing vehicles. She checks out a sleek black number, zooming in, opening the door, and climbing inside. Another member of the press is present – he managed to score the male avatar – and he gets in the driver’s seat.
I can move my head to watch him drive. I can give him directions, should I so choose. I cannot, however, change the radio station.
I spent many hours in the original Test Drive Unlimited just driving around, exploring the island. This time around I’ll be able to let someone else do the driving. This is the ultimate lazy person’s game.
We’re not driving together today, however. I have to pick my own car, so I look for a little something in red. I opt for the Lancia Delta, not because of any real knowledge of the vehicle’s performance, but rather because it looks cute.
Our handlers let us hit the road, driving around, checking out the scenery. It’s a gorgeous game, just like the last. Water shimmers, leaves shift in the wind, and bushes shake as I plough through them, the urge to off-road too strong.
Unlike the previous game, the sequel features day and night cycles, weather effects, and damage modelling on the cars. Running into rocks and trees, the damage modelling it the most readily apparent feature in my case.
My fellow test driver and I are urged to try a competitive race. We find each other on the map, hook up, and he challenges me. I accept.
The race begins with a purple line on the mini-map, showing my route. Since my Delta has more pickup that the shiny black car he choose, I leap off the starting line, immediately shunting in front of him. Shortcuts are permitted, so with so fancy rock-dodging I’m soon crowned the winner, raising my competition level with experience points.
Yes, Test Drive Unlimited 2 has levels. Sixty of them, spread across five different categories – competition, collection, social, discovery, and global.
After a few more races, including a cooperative game of Follow the Leader, in which only one of four cars in the race knows the correct route to follow at any given time, we head to my apartment.
Well, I head to my apartment, and then invite my fellow journalist inside, earning me social experience points.
The apartment is luxurious, of course. There’s a dining room, living room, kitchen, and pool area. Each piece of furniture can be customised with different colours and patterns, purchased using in-game money.
Looking out the window or over the railing of the back porch, the game world sprawls out below us. If other players were online, we’d see them racing past. Ibiza stretches out as far as the eye can see, and all of it drivable.
All of it mine.
Or it will be, when Test Drive Unlimited 2 hits the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on September 21.