PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Test Drive Unlimited 2

It’s not often that a racing game actually demands something of its players.

Test Drive Unlimited 2

Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Eden Games
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-16
Release Date: 2011-02-08

It’s not often that a racing game actually demands something of its players. I can remember playing the original Gran Turismo on Playstation and failing to earn my driver’s license before giving up and deciding that I’d just watch my brother play. But in the sense that the game actually asked much of its users, Gran Turismo was not unlike most racers. Once you complete their not-that-arbitrary requirements, you’re ushered on your way to win races, upgrade your car, and dominate racing circuits. Test Drive Unlimited 2 shuns this model in favor of a sandbox world that requires players to explore, innovate, and interact.

The game opens during an extravagant birthday party held in a palatial, albeit contemporary, ocean-side manor. You’re allowed to choose your avatar from one of a number of “diverse” characters: white and black men and women, primarily. From there, you’re escorted to your garage where you’re given a blazing red Ferrari for your birthday, not unlike something you’d dream about. After driving -- probably recklessly -- for a few minutes and being shown the various functions of the controller, a Big Brother-like voice overcomes you and you awake in a valet’s uniform, sitting in the driver’s seat of the car that you were just dreaming about. After much telephonic hemming and hawing about your tardiness to the father of a scantily dressed socialite -- did you drive asleep? -- she essentially offers you a place in a televised racing circuit.

Despite the game’s inauspicious beginnings, it continues in a relatively intuitive manner. After discovering that you don’t own a car or home, you’re afforded a jalopy and small trailer to reside in. At this point, you’re let loose onto an island -- Ibiza -- and told essentially to figure it out. The game, despite teaching you the controls that could be easily discovered by flipping through the instruction manual, offers little or no information on the ever important map system, the challenges that you can discover throughout the island, or where to go.

In this sense, the learning curve for Test Drive Unlimited 2 is frustratingly steep, but that’s also part of the game’s design. A significant portion of play is spent “unrewardingly” in the activity free driving around the island. One of the game’s four experience-building metrics -- competition, collection, discovery, and social -- is designed specifically around your inclination to drive aimlessly around an island until everyone on your GPS/map is marked as explored. But the more you drive, the more you uncover, including car dealerships, tuning shops, plastic surgery clinics, and clothing shops. What you come to realize is that once you have obtained a full grasp of the dynamics of the game that discovering these locations is the quickest and most intuitive way to navigate and progress; with your GPS, you can visit anywhere that you’ve already driven or uncovered without manually doing so, saving time and tedium. However, the process by which this becomes a useful tool is not unlike traditional RPG grinding.

The racing dynamics of Test Drive Unlimited 2 are what really sell the game. There’s a distinct balance between realism and arcade-level fun. Changing weather conditions need to be monitored to determine how your car will react. So too do different terrains change the handling, speed, and functionality of the car that you’re driving. However, getting into what would be catastrophic crashes does no damage to your vehicles, and you aren’t responsible for repairing cars should you treat them with less than the utmost respect. In addition, the three different classes of cars -- asphalt, off-road, and classic -- allow you to not only experience various racing styles, but they keep you interested and engaged in a game that may otherwise fall victim to mindless freeway driving.

The other achievement of Test Drive Unlimited 2 is the relative ease of the AI racing. The game, despite having many real-life driving qualities, allows you to pretty handily blow through the predetermined storyline in order to purchase faster cars and, as the game intends, interact with other Test Drive Unlimited 2 players. Ibiza -- as well as the second island that you can fly to later in the game -- is filled with other players that are doing the same thing as you: driving around discovering hidden secrets and advancing their own careers. The game strikes a perfect balance between time spent online interacting with others and time spent racing against computer opponents.

Despite initial concerns about the storyline and how the game unfolds, Test Drive Unlimited 2 offers an expansive driving experience that simultaneously takes itself too seriously but allows you to enjoy the more arcade-y aspects of the game. The voice overs and cut scenes are all tacky and poorly done, but they’re inconsequential to the aims of the game. So while Test Drive Unlimited 2 often asks you to do things that seem unnecessary and taxing, the payoff is unlike almost all contemporary racing games.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.