Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown preview: Forza's fashion-conscious cousin revs up
Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is in a weird spot. As a franchise reboot of a series that's been around since the eighties, it's tasked with delivering an open-world driving experience that offers something a little different to Forza Horizon's unique brand of four-wheeled carnage and festival vibes.
Originally announced in 2020, Solar Crown has seen several delays, as well as the cancellation of the last-gen versions, and I'd be honest, I was starting to worry.
Thankfully, at Gamescom 2023, I was able to enjoy a guided tour of Hong Kong Island, and while Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown won't be to everyone's tastes, there's something unique here.
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Rise and Grind
My last Test Drive game was Test Drive Unlimited back in 2006, a game I got with my new Xbox 360, and while I remember being absolutely floored by the visuals back then, I think it'd have a hard time looking as good as Solar Crown.
With a 1:1 scale recreation of Hong Kong Island, a diverse locale full of city streets, winding roads, and a perfect setting for a dynamic weather system, Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is putting its best foot forward. It looks great, from the buildings to the dirt paths to the cars themselves.
As with TDU back in the day, Solar Crown is described as a "lifestyle" game. That means that while driving around and trying to overtake opponents is still a big part of the game, there's more of a focus on building your rep through stylish clothes, popping down to the local nightclub, and then splashing a whole load of cash on a shiny new car.
To that end, Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown offers the chance to wander social spots, meet friends in the lobby of your swanky apartment to party up, or just go car shopping to drop the GDP of a small country on a new Bugatti.
Developer KT Racing is keen to impress the purchasing experience of a new motor, too, letting you wander the dealership freely, rev the engine, and pick manufacturer-approved customisation options.
It's all a little Second Life, and I'm interested to see if that helps it build an audience of petrolheads and life sim fans alike. I'm also a little cautious that its focus on saving up for the priciest cars in the world may make it a little grindy.
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Take the wheel
After my group had picked our new wheels, it was time to test them out on a city street circuit. I've always found myself to be pretty capable behind the wheel of cars in racing sims, but the sheer G-Force from the Bugatti Veyron had me showing myself up in front of other journos.
It's a good job, then, that KT Racing is promising tailored objectives - Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is PvP only, meaning you'll always be pitted against other players. Since not everyone can win, players will be tasked with objectives like finishing 4th or 5th, while better players will still jostle for first.
The idea is that players can work on improving their positions gradually, while also getting the hang of their vehicle. Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown isn't a sim-racer, but it does offer bespoke handling to each car in its catalogue, meaning it'll take time to learn the intricacies of each so you don't end up hurling your hard-earned car into a wall like I did a few times.
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I'm curious to see more of Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown's lifestyle systems and mechanics. As fun as its racing is, that'll be the area that sets it apart from genre contemporaries.
Still, if nothing else I'll meet you all at the nightclub once I've wrapped my car around a tree.
Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is currently slated for 2024.