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Test Drive Unlimited 2: A whole new racing experience?

Ninety-nine problems but being rich ain't one...

Test Drive Unlimited was a game you loved in spite of one million obvious problems. It was an early-generation Xbox 360 exclusive released two months before the world's first PS3s hit shelves in November 2006.

A direct port later arrived on PC, and a half-baked remake made it to PSP and PS2, but Test Drive Unlimited 2 is the first the PS3 will ever see of Test Drive, so PS3 gamers have a lot of catching up to do.

See, much of what makes TDU2 so good is best expressed in terms of what made the original bad. TDU2 is a game built upon colossal, wholesale improvements to some of the original's most fundamental mechanics but it's a game which remembers everything that made the original so good.

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TDU was the world's first - and still only - massively multi-player online racer on console. Over a thousand miles' worth of GPS-mapped Hawaiian roads made for the most expansive environment ever featured in a racing game.

That is until Fuel came along and filled a disk with half a country's worth of bugger all, and thousands of players - many of whom still play even now - meant there were people to challenge, events to enter, and clubs to join everywhere you wandered or drove.

There was an online auction system, a full track designer and sharing system, dozens of houses to buy, hundreds of cars and motorbikes, and hundreds of events culminating in the spectacular 'Millionaire's Challenge' - a brutal time trial around the entire island's heavily-trafficked roads with just one hour on the clock and 120 miles of road to clear.

Anything less than an average 120mph in rush-hour traffic would lose you the race and one million dollars. It was a perfect idea spoiled by imperfect execution.

The world's first ever rich bastard simulator had an engine which couldn't keep up with the game's ambitions and a handling model which made the cars feel like they were made from cement.

Bike handling was so bad it got a special patch a few months down the line, and on day one the auction, racing club, and track-sharing systems all went down and stayed down until well into 2007.

It was a colossal game and even when it wasn't broken, most players didn't even know where to start - there were races, speed challenges, point-to-points, time-trials, hitch hikers thumbing rides, people asking you to deliver packages, and assholes trying to run your Audi off the road in half a million pounds' worth of Ferrari.

But TDU was great. It was huge and unlike any racer ever; if you could forgive its faults it was the very definition of 'endlessly replayable'.

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Now, some five years later, all those mistakes have set TDU2 up to be (what we hope will be) the most improved sequel of the generation.

JIM'LL FIX IT
Still some six months from release, the game is complete and playable from the beginning to the end, and sitting down with the first six hours reveals a list of changes so extensive it's practically a whole new game.

There's a full story this time, putting you in the shoes of a valet and entering you into a world you don't belong. It's a whole world of street and - for the first time - off-road racing hosted by the filthy rich, all of whom are abominable bastards who deserve only to be relieved of their cash.

It's also a world you can bail out of at any time to just go explore the island of Ibiza, but Ibiza isn't a replacement for the original's carefully-mapped Oahu; hit Level Ten and you'll unlock the airport and can jet on out to the Hawaiian island.

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