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Test Drive Unlimited 2 Multiplayer Preview

Updated Tue, Mar 01, 2011 by Ethec

Though Test Drive Unlimited 2 can and should be considered an MMOG in many respects (as our recent interview with the TDU2 team proved), we may not see a traditional open beta or public stress test for the game between now and launch. That being the case, developer Eden Games and publisher Atari invited us to take on some of their developers in series of TDU2 multiplayer matchups and share our findings with Ten Ton Hammer readers.

We expected the same smooth online performance, glorious graphics, and impressive slate of cars as in the original. So, would TDU2 live up to our expectations? Could you have fair multiplayer competition even if you hadn’t sold a kidney to pay for elaborate racing sim peripherals? And, what about those nasty exploits that so sadly skewed the leaderboards in our original tour of Maui? Those questions were first and foremost in our mind as we kicked the virtual tires in a closed beta multiplayer preview of Test Drive Unlimited 2.

Massively Open Online Racing and Multiplayer Challenges

In TDU2, the islands of Ibiza and Oahu are ludicrously detailed sandboxes on a scope that few games ever approach. From two stunning renditions of real-life islands covering thousands of square miles to the minutest dashboard details for 90+ cars, TDU2 offers exceptional realism on a macro and micro scale. It’d be easy for players to get lost in the details of these cars or in the mountainous hinterland, but the game does an adequate job of keeping players connected through text chat, which is on-par with what you’d find in a typical MMO. Unfortunately, as of this printing, no integrated voicechat is available for PC players, so you’ll want to link up with clubmates via Vent.

While waiting for other players to join the race, you can check out other players' cars and even climb in.

For MMO players who are used to coordinating servers and factions with friends prior to logging in for the first time, TDU2 appears to use a kind of intelligent phasing. That means that while you’ll only see a selection of the total online players driving around the universe, you will be in easy contact with friends and clubmates. Simply press a button on your friends list and you’ll find yourself in close proximity to your friend. Better yet, your friends can invite you to participate in a multiplayer challenge and be instantly transported to the race “lobby” (where you can walk around other cars, open the doors, and even get in opponents’ cars – what better way to taunt your rival than by creasing the seat leather?).

Every challenge is, in essence, a multiplayer challenge, since you’ll always be competing against other players’ times on the leaderboard. But TDU2 offers a variety of head-to-head competitive formats, most of which were found in the original. All challenges start from a standing stop, and the challenge creator (or first in) can set vehicle class restrictions and whether or not collision is allowed for the racing challenges:

  • Race – The simplest and most numerous challenge type: follow the checkpoints and the first player across the finish line wins. Races are as varied as the landscape of the islands, ranging from flat and relatively straight races in classic cars (a joy to drive for new and keyboard / mouse players, since they’re relatively underpowered and easy to control) to curvy mountain roads in off-road vehicles.
  • Speedtrap – For this challenge, players race each other to post the best speed through 3-5 radar “traps.” Unlike the offline version, human players won’t always choose the same route as you do, leading to some interesting results (read: head-on collisions).
  • Speed – Compete against other players to find the best route and earn the most points. The more you go above a specified minimum speed, the more points you earn. In our playtest, this was the least multiplayer-y of the head-to-head challenges, since you’re not likely to run into other players in a full throttle drag race except for briefly at the starting line (or if, of course, another player is gunning for you, but this would lower their score).

TDU2 also offers several innovated co-op multiplayer formats ideal for friends and clubs and fun for pick-up groups:

In Keep Your Distance, players must work together and stay together to quickly finish the challenge... together.
  • Keep Your Distance – Stay within a certain number of yards of car in front of you (or, if you’re the leader, the car behind you) while going as fast as possible to earn as many points as possible. In our playtest, this was much harder than it sounds, since the test is done in traffic. Finishing is pretty easy, finishing fast is rather hard.
  • Follow the Leader – At the start of the race and at each checkpoint, one randomly-chosen leader can see the next checkpoint. Once the leader crosses the checkpoint, the rest of the pack has a certain amount of time to get through the now-visible checkpoint. In our playtest, again we found that your biggest opponent is the clock, not the finish line. It’s easy to finish if your leader babies you, hard if your leaders push the limits.

Finally, the game offers two more spur of the moment modes designed for online play:

  • Instant Challenge – Set up your stakes via the options menu and head out on the road. Flash your headlights at any other player sets up an instant challenge, a quick, impromptu race with your pocketbook on the line. Invite a few friends once the challenge is set, and you could be talking significant stakes. No racing for pinks, though!
  • Chase – TDU2’s nod to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is more than just a nod. Group up with a few other players and smash into one of the NPC police cars patrolling the island. Raise your violation level enough and you’ll trigger a chase. Your group will split up into cops and criminals teams, and things play out predictably – cops win if they stop the criminals, criminals win if they ward off the cops long enough. The chase plays out in traffic, and cops have an EMP pulse and some specialized cars to aid their task.

Unfortunately, chase proved hard to set up – finding a police car, stopping the police car, grouping up, and smashing up the police car takes time, and if an NPC vehicle stops long enough, it will de-spawn. Since the game does include cop and criminal ranks, here’s hoping Eden Games makes this system more accessible by launch day.

Eden-Games.jpg

A little trouble is stirring over at Atari subsidiary Eden Games, developer of the Test Drive Unlimited games.

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