It's no lie that it takes us a good long while to start enjoying our time on Ibiza. We're talking a few minutes shy of four hours, if our watches aren't slightly slow. In that time notching our first three vehicle purchases, earning the three entry-level licences that go along with them, and following that up with winning the first trio of multi-challenge competitions. We discover two estate agents, two car shops, one second-hand dealer.
We run the gauntlet of professions that profess to be Ibiza's beauticians - personal shopper, a barber who's services cost more than a month's rent, and a plastic surgeon - all in order to walk and drive like driving royalty on this sun-kissed isle. We purchase our first condo. And between all this, eat up a lot or road.
All this, and yet we still have trouble maintaining a smooth power-slide into a sharp right hander when needed.
If Test Drive let you approach driving the world's most coveted cars with as much ardour as it lets you guzzle on the pure petroleum of life's other excesses, we'd be happy to toss the keys to our other racing titles into the toilet. Shame then that when it comes to getting behind the wheel, TDU2 slams you back down to earth with an awkward prang of your front fender and a bitter swallow of realism.
Eden Games, and god bless the developer for offering something different for racing fans with its sandbox world that's big on roads and challenges, doesn't offer the player any enjoyment in their work towards owning the four-wheeled elite, such as that Ferrari so tantalising offered in the game's rather nifty intro dream sequence.
The cars, be they Classic, Off-Road or Asphalt class, handle with neither the precision of realism afforded to contemporaries like Forza III or Gran Turismo, nor with the assured yet deft touch of the arcade boys. Instead, they're stuck the muddy middle ground, tyres suck spinning in the dirt of sluggishness, which take hours of practice to gain any traction. While you grapple with those opening hours, TDU2 offers all the excitement of a Dad of three who believes going one mile over the speed limit is rush enough.
And we understand narrative-wise, this is all part of the progression system as you attempt to work your way up the Solar Crown, TDU's multi-tiered racing tournament which is the backbone of the game's single player mode.
But with driving schools offering little depth or aid in your handling (and failure) of their tests outside the noted objective ("overtake without hitting another car", 180 without hitting a cone") you'll expend more penalty points and curse words where you should by rights be appreciating a racer's finer mechanics to achieve success. The opening competitions are a grind, nothing more. You don't so much tease the control out of judicious use of the triggers, but more tap with the speed of a morse code operator in desperate need of the toilet.
So that's a rather large hump to work your way over before the game starts opening up. You discover locales and dealers by driving past them, and nicely the in-game mini-map will highlight the roads you've been down in blue, giving you some direction when you're driving free of the competitions. There's also the rather excellent F.R.I.M system, which accumulates money for every close dodge, jump and power-slide you do. You can gamble multiplying your earnings instead of banking the winnings, but one hit and you're bumped back down to zero.
It's a nice distraction while powering between GPS marks on your map. Most of these will unlock as you travel, or as you rise through the ranks. You'll be overwhelmed at first, as the game throws its range of wares at you rapidly via multiple phone calls (we're assuming these are hands-free), and you're unlikely to have made it to one GPS position before two other calls come in. If their frequency had been slowed slightly, the information would have been much more digestible.
However, you will find a bunch of the these side-missions will flag up on the map but will be unavailable, either because your set of wheels aren't up the challenge yet, nor is your licence. Rather than demo the range of modes on offer, these unavailable options infuriate. From time attacks disguised as taxi jobs, to transporting dream rides from dealerships to new owners' houses which double as attempts to make an mistake-free race, these would offer fun respite for those wanting to learn car handling without any forfeit of championship points.
Four hours in and we find our pulses quickening for the first time since we set foot on the island, with the long sweeping freeways of the island's outer ring replaced with tight winding streets and 90 degree turns around near vertical climbs through a cliff-side town. Even the Off-Road championship, over the mountainous terrain in the distance, can't excite even half as much.
We had a hard time figuring out to which audience Test Drive Unlimited 2 was pitched. Its emphasis on embodying the lifestyle of racing's best won't interest hardcore racers beyond its rag to riches framework - bragging rights are going to be upheld on the road, not on a virtual villa or metrosexual clothing. And it is a game that is keyed in to community: you can set and attempt to beat challenges set up by other players, or flash those on the road with you and set up your own rules and racing circuits.
But the driving experience isn't as refined as other realistic racers, nor is it interested in handing you the dream of driving the world's finest cars without earning the right through hard graft or shirking the realism-heavy handling.
But it does offer a lot of variety and choice for those willing to attempt the grind and those to whom the car mechanics feel pitched just right. A game for those that want multiple play styles and plenty to do, and dedicated racers to play against for a long time to come. And with that, it's audience becomes clear.
Sandbox racing is a niche field, and the gamers that fraternise in that racing circuit have already a champion in which to flock to, and have been doing so four four years now.
So to those that have been playing Test Drive Unlimited for nearly half a decade now: welcome to your new home. Familiarity under a new sky awaits.