Getting behind the wheel of an unbelievably expensive sports cars is the high-gear appeal of most racing video games, but Atari’s latest racer, Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2), takes the need for speed beyond the driver’s seat — this game, the latest installment in the Test Drive series that began nearly 25 years ago, is about life in the fast lane in Ibiza, with a game narrative that places the player in the role of a lowly valet attendant who gradually works up the social ladder by winning cash races.
TDU2 (recently released for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC) features an “If you can see it, you can drive to it” open-world environment in which you can explore the entire island at your leisure and since your valet character lives in a trailer, being behind the wheel is far better than heading home. And, to make the thousands of other players driving around the Mediterranean island green with envy, you can purchase posh real estate with scenic views, don fancy threads from tony boutiques and even alter your avatar’s appearance with cosmetic surgery.
The lifestyle elements of TDU2 followed the design decision to change the game’s showrooms from a backdrop into a physical environment that could be explored from a first-person perspective, says Atari’s Vince Farquharson, one of the game’s producers. “From there we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if other players were walking around that environment, also checking out cars,” Farquharson said. “And then we thought, wouldn’t it be great to be able to talk to each other? And to be able to customize your appearance?”
TDU2 isn’t all about nightclub ethos, of course, it still has plenty of Bugattis, Ginettas and Ascaris to go around. In addition to placing more than 100 vehicles at your eventual disposal, the title includes a number of gameplay changes directly inspired by social driving behavior that developers observed in the first Test Drive Unlimited. According to Farquharson, the developers heard from many players who said they enjoyed the racing elements of the game, but preferred simply driving around Oahu—the setting of the first game, and also unlockable in this sequel—with their friends and enjoying the sights.
“That’s interesting and unusual behavior,” said Farquharson of the non-competitive player activity; he expected that in a racing game, by default, most people would be interested in racing. “That still surprises me. But when you think about it, in the first game you had a beautiful island and lots of lovely cars. That’s a lifestyle we’d all love if we had millions of dollars.”
To appeal to these non-competitive types, the developers included cooperative multiplayer game types like Follow the Leader, a challenge in which players follow randomly chosen leaders who have sole access to the game’s GPS system, and Keep Your Distance, in which players must maintain a minimum distance between themselves and the driver ahead of them.
The developers also added a Social skill to the game’s advancement system, which rewards players for participating in cooperative challenges, making friends, joining racing clubs and for participating in the game’s community racing center, in which players can post challenges either to their friends or to the larger TDU2 community.
Another element that differentiates this game from its predecessor is the introduction of off-road vehicles thanks to a rebuild of the four-wheel handling model and the fact that, just as in the previous game, the entire island is explorable, whether paved or not.
“One of the first things people would do in the first game is take their Ferrari off-road and start driving up mountains,” said Farquharson, who says the developers momentarily considered rewarding players for engaging in such activity. “But then we thought, hang on, why not just do off-road vehicles? So we did, and those handle completely differently. They skid around and throw mud everywhere. They’re a lot of fun.”
According to Farquharson, most players will spend the first few weeks exploring the game’s vehicles and single player narrative-driven elements. In the months to come, they’ll start moving into the massively multiplayer online game mode, in which they’ll start exploring the social aspects of the game.
“Social doesn’t necessarily mean fancy clothing and lots of plastic surgery,” said Farquharson, who points out that building a club and cooperative multiplayer challenges are also social. “But then again, maybe it does. Maybe that’s what you and your pals are into. And the cars are nice as well. Who knows? But you have to give them the choice, right?”
— Mike Winder
RECENT AND RELATED
VIDEO: Arkham City begins to prowl