During these retrospectives at TheXboxHub, I try to remain as positive as I can throughout them: I sung the praises of the original Kinect peripheral, announced my love for the controversial Final Fantasy XIII and even declared Toy Story 3 as one of the greatest videogame film tie-ins.
But I now arrive at Test Drive Unlimited 2. The series may have a cult following, but ten years on this game still upsets me. It was one of my most anticipated games ever, with a concept years ahead of what Forza Horizon could achieve. But it remains one of the buggiest launches of a game I can remember, completely tarnishing my memory of it.
Releasing in February 2011, it is the sequel to Test Drive Unlimited. Building upon TDU 1, the second game featured two 1:1 scaled islands: Oahu from the first game and the island of Ibiza. Combined, there was over 1864 miles of road to cover, and these being open-world driving games, you had the opportunity to drive all of it.
I’ll be honest, I do have a slight prejudice towards open-world driving games: Burnout Paradise never captured my heart. Whilst it was never going to compare to the likes of Takedown – though few games ever will – Paradise just took all the fun out of the Burnout series for me, and I put that down to the transition to open-world. The same goes for Need for Speed Underground 2; vastly inferior to the first Underground game.
Of course, the Forza Horizon series bucks this trend by easily being the benchmark for open-world driving games. But even I struggled with the second and third entries in that series; a series which probably owes a lot to Test Drive Unlimited.
There was a lot of pre-release info leading up to the launch of Test Drive Unlimited 2, including the fact that any pre-orders would include the Casino DLC for free. An online multiplayer casino sounded like a brilliant idea then – hello, The Four Kings Casino and Resort – and it was perhaps this that convinced me to take the plunge and pre-order the game.
As well as there being a fully playable casino, TDU 2 was way ahead of its time, for both good and bad reasons. A number of ideas made this a fully connected social game within a driving game. You could create an avatar and go shopping with it for some new threads and accessories, or visit your local plastic surgeon for some cosmetic upgrades (I did say not all ideas were good). But this did mean your avatar had to race around in a bandaged-up head for a few hours before unveiling their fresh new look.
You could also become a property magnate and purchase new, gorgeous houses on both islands. These could then be customised in a variety of ways to suit your interior delights. Test Drive Unlimited 2 was all about living the high life as a racing driver; not slumming it in some tents at a music festival with races around it.
These innovations extended into the racing itself. Sure, it felt at times you were driving a tank no matter which car you chose, but TDU 2 wasn’t concerned about collecting classic cars or even offering you the chance to drive a bog standard Ford Focus or Golf – if it was a fast car, it was in here to be driven… unless it was a Porsche, but it did have RUF at least. Potato, potato.
TDU 2 tried new things such as Speedtrap events or having to earn licenses before being allowed to drive a faster class of car. Speedtrap events had you racing around a small grid of streets hitting speedtraps as fast as possible against seven other cars simultaneously. The faster you hit a trap, the more points you scored, the winner having the most points at the end. Speed events had you score points but only after you were above a pre-determined speed, with the winner again having the most points. You were still racing, but in new and different ways.
Misbehave on the roads though, and the cops would be alerted and chase after you. We’re not talking GTA V-style where the army would roll in after you, but you could be fined if caught.
But trying new things can only get you so far – you need to execute them as well. And it is tough to execute anything when you have a launch as bad as Test Drive Unlimited 2 had.
Launch day came and I was as giddy as a kipper: the driving and racing could wait, because I wanted to jump straight into the casino and earn my fortunes before hitting up the car showrooms (in TDU 2 you actually had to drive to showrooms and browse the cars available). I inserted the disc and pressed start, and that was as far as I could go. Being hooked up to the internet to get the full experience came at a cost of actually being able to play the game.
Of course, server issues were blamed only after the initial buzz had died down. Before that though I tried everything I could think of to get it to work: installed the game, and deleted everything else off my 20GB HDD. I refused to play the game ‘offline’ because that defeated the object of everything I wanted from TDU 2, so had to concede defeat until the game was patched.
Those patches came, but it could never really get over the initial issues that plagued the game. Some 18 months after the game launched, I gave it one last try, only to be greeted with the same ‘unable to connect’ issues.
It wasn’t a complete disaster; there was a period of a few weeks where I was able to play the game to some extent. I did get to experience the laughably bad dialogue, interesting game modes and, yes, I spent a lot of time in the casino. Never won my millions though, unfortunately.
Some would say that they were never switched on, but the servers for TDU 2 did go offline permanently towards the end of 2018. A sequel is in development, but I am going into that one with far more trepidation.
The botched launch of Test Drive Unlimited 2 though did teach me a valuable lesson about the ‘hype train’. Since this game, I have always tried to keep a more composed head on things that I look forward to, with varying degrees of success. I guess everyone needs a TDU 2 to disappoint them to learn such lessons? Looking at you Cyberpunk 2077, that I’m sure people will have had a similar experience with.
But what are your memories of Test Drive Unlimited 2? Did you suffer as badly as I did, or were you fortunate enough to be allowed entry by the servers? As always, let us know in the comments. Oh, and if you still want to pick up a copy of the game, the Xbox Store will sort you out.