Test Drive Unlimited 2 • Page 2

No limits.

As a sweetener to getting involved in clubs, Eden's promising treats. There are some very special cars that can only be purchased by clubs, and the whole thing has the chummy air of an MMO guild to it as you approach the 30-person club limit. It's a fitting addition for a game which already feels a bit like an RPG as you tool around an open world, taking on missions and watching your stats go up.

The other means of player progression are far more intimately involved with sitting behind a wheel. You can level up through exploring the game's huge environments and making discoveries (stumble across enough wrecks and you'll be able to bolt together entirely new vehicles), while good old car-collecting ties deeply into the game's preoccupations with luxury and consumption.

Beneath all the new distractions it's worth remembering that this is also a driving game. The good news is it's looking like an excellent one. Eight-player races promise to be punchy and hectic, damage has been included for this instalment - while it won't affect performance, it certainly looks good, ranging from paint scrapes to actual pieces of your car falling off - and car models have been overhauled with far more detailed interiors and a nice new metallic paint effect amongst other tweaks.

Most importantly, the handling has been extensively redesigned to give each car its own personality. It's astonishing the difference this makes: an Audi TT hugs the road with a polite rumbling sound, while a Ford Mustang can be fishtailed all over the shop as its V-8 engine booms. You don't need to be told that one is a classic muscle car and the other is a jumped-up graduation present for the daughters of Tory MPs: just driving them will fill you in about that.

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The addition of off-road courses is based on how many players wanted to explore in original. You can still go off-off-road too, though, if you like the feel of grass and rocks against your chassis. Um.

There's definitely no shortage of tracks to drive them on. TDU2 moves the action to Ibiza, a world of palm trees and hi-spec apartment complexes, which has been purposefully riddled with hundreds of miles of roadways for you to blast around. Missions lurk every few metres by the looks of it, and creating your own courses is as easy as pulling up the map and dropping in waypoints. If you come up with a track you're particularly happy with, you can share it very easily, and place wagers on people beating your own completion time.

At 380 square kilometres - and with 930 kilometres of road - there's plenty to explore, and the game is at pains to break up the environments into distinct ecologies ranging from beaches to forests. A new day-and-night cycle is freshly in place and is already bathing the landscape in bleached morning sun one moment, cinematic moonlight the next, while a dynamic weather system means that sudden lightning showers will change the way your car handles as well as adding a bit of drama. Roads are divided between asphalt and off-road tracks, and there's a new class of off-road vehicles to get muddy in.

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Would.

When you tire of Ibiza - my younger sister did several years ago - you can unlock its airport and blast back to Hawaii where the entire island of Oahu has been retooled from the first game with the new progression system in mind. It's an incredibly generous touch, and there are plenty of new missions waiting for you in the old neighbourhood, threaded alongside hundreds of miles of new roadways.

Eden's referring to its game as a "luxury lifestyle universe", and for once that's a sound bite that fits perfectly. This is something approaching lifestyle software, in the way it grants you virtual access to the kind of world that probably only otherwise exists in some of the limper Puff Daddy videos, in its options to buy not just Ferraris and Mustangs, but yachts and Bauhaus-styled mansions in which to store them.

Gran Turismo may have more cars, but only Test Drive works such a bizarre fantasy around owning them. The result is something that already feels like a true original, and while the social aspects are pleasantly bonkers, the fact that it's all tied into the cars makes it more meaningful. Besides, it's hard to complain when the core of the game has been so confidently improved upon.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this autumn.

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