We've got a lot of fond memories of Test Drive Unlimited. Released in 2006, it took an entire island full of single-player driving challenges and populated it with other people - strangers, usually - playing the game at the same time. A quick flash of the headlights and you could pit yourself against them as well. We'd never seen anything quite like it.
The racing wasn't much cop, but it didn't matter. Players banded together and simply cruised around Hawaii in their chosen car - no driving game did ownership pride better. But this being the infancy of Live on the Xbox 360, Eden's multiplayer tech was fiddly. Getting together could be a profound pain in the botty.
Now it's 2011, five years later, in the dazzling age of Xbox Live Party, and there's a sequel. Surely now we'll be able to tap a few buttons to hop into a game with some friends and razz around in our Pagani Zondas? Well, no, not really, because in spite of the fact that this is a game built around social interaction, actually getting together with friends is an awkward, frustrating experience.
TDU2's social options are a bizarre mishmash of the in-built Live tools and clunky game-specific elements. Join a friend's club, and their name and online status will appear in a list of club members. Try to add them as a friend, though, and the game leaps to the Xbox Live Friend Request screen, utterly confusing the Xbox if you're already friends with that person.
Invitations to get together can be sent from within the game, but they only appear briefly and aren't logged - so if one arrives in the middle of a race, you'll have to make a snap decision. Assuming you manage to track them down and join the same session, you can 'link' to them to ensure that no matter how far you wander on the map, you'll remain visible to each other. The only problem is that if you actually want to do a challenge, that link is broken, so when you've finished the activity you'll be back in a sea of strangers. Don't get us wrong, those strangers provide a great backdrop as you commute between mission locations, but the joy of the game is pounding the tarmac with friends - something that's been made unnecessarily difficult.
At least there's entertainment to be had on your own. TDU2 boasts more variety than its predecessor in almost every area. The biggest addition is probably the new offroad events, which break up the asphalt-based action with some drifty, dirty scrambling. In spite of more glamorous vehicles, one of the most glorious moments was chucking a hulking Volkswagen Touareg down a winding route carved into an Ibizan hillside. Suck it, Ferrari.
Whatever vehicle you prefer, they're once again reproduced in obsessive detail - even letting you choose what colour stitching you want on the seats of your car. The fidelity of the models might not be up to that of Forza, but you'll still spend inordinate amounts of time poring over the details before you pay out for a new ride.
It's a shame the environment you'll be blasting around isn't a smidge prettier. It has its moments of low-fi beauty - usually at sundown on a cliffside road - but clearly the pressure of combining 200mph supercars, player traffic, and an entire island's worth of terrain takes its toll on the polygon count and texture detail.
We still enjoy TDU's novel approach to open-world racing, and no game has attempted anything similar since Fuel. There's plenty to do, two whole islands to explore and, if you can persuade the game to connect you with a mate or two, hours of pleasingly aimless road tripping to do. But when a game built for release in 2011 on a foundation of socialising has such an obtuse system for connecting with other players it's something a teaspoon of sugar in our petrol tank. Title updates could presumably fix this but, as it is, TDU2 feels just short of the triumphant return for an Xbox 360 classic that we were hoping for.
Fiddliness makes for trouble in paradise
- Two huge islands
- Some achingly desirable motors
- Offroad racing is refreshing
- Finding friends is tough
- Not the prettiest of games