Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown is an ambitious open-world CaRPG that needs more polish

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With over a decade since the last instalment, you might think that Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown was hoping to pip Forza or The Crew on the podium. After my two-hour preview with KT Racing’s upcoming title in Paris, I revisited the aforementioned racers to figure out where it really stood. Not long after, I realised that Test Drive is partaking in an entirely different race, which it does with bleeding passion and equally concerning error.

Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown is set in Hong Kong. I only had two hours to explore as much of it as possible, all the while learning the different mechanics that the game promised. To set the stage, the game is centred entirely around the Solar Crown competition, a challenge for drivers to prove themselves as the Solar Champion. You have a simple aim – to be the very best. And a simple path to get there – just drive.

Work in progress – gameplay footage – Image via Nacon.

Knowing I had a very limited time in the preview, I committed to spending much of my time exploring in a Nissan 370Z, one of a few cars available in the preview. Others included a Alpine A110 Legende and a Ford Mustang GT, each with vastly different handling and driving experiences. You are let loose on the open road, a facet of the Test Drive franchise that I have long admired. I felt a bit aimless at times – which is by no means a criticism – though I was always happy to press down on the pedals and see where the next bend takes me. As Guillaume Guinet, Solar Crown’s Game Director at KT Racing, had assured me in our conversation together, this is exactly what the Test Drive experience is all about, and I didn’t doubt him for one second.

Work in progress – gameplay footage – The Alpine A110 Legende (2018) via Nacon.

The driving experience in Test Drive did not fail to meet any of my expectations. It was fun, immersive, silly at times, and grounded at others. It was hard to find much fault in this aspect. Similarly, the IP could not exist without its commitment to realistic car design. Now, I’m not a petrolhead or one of the War Boys – I still ride a pedal bike everywhere – but the experience of unlocking a new exhaust for my car felt aptly rewarding. That said, the preview build did tease plenty of dealerships, races, and events that were unfortunately inaccessible, meaning I was limited to the few that were available. From the looks of things, there was a limited variety and I worry that the repetitive framework has the potential to wither fast.

Unlocking new cars and upgrading them seemed only to be possible through funds, which are only available through racing and driving. Speaking to developers, it was clear that the driving experience and the role-playing experience were thought of as equally responsible for the game’s ‘fun’ factor and appeal. Similarly, they wanted to ensure that it wasn’t going to be too easy to unlock cars as in other games. I liked this idea as it actually made me feel some sort of affinity for my Nissan, and racing in it was all the more rewarding.

Unlike other games in the Test Drive series, the latest iteration sports a one-to-one scale replica of its setting. I’ve never been to Hong Kong, so while I can’t speak to its accuracy, there was a commendable sense of fidelity. But, knowing that Solar Crown wore its realism as a badge of honour, I was a bit cautious heading into the preview, especially since it’s hard for me to deny the idea that games are for escapism and fantasy.

Unfortunately, if you scratched too hard at the surface of Solar Crown’s setting, you would have found a world bordering on hollow that needed a lick more interactivity, action, and believability. Perhaps this was a symptom of the preview build, which was limited to the five or six other players I shared the roads with. Similarly, there was a faction war between two clans that I wasn’t able to kick-start, though this was likely due to my poorly managed time in-game (I spent quite a lot of my minutes trying to get brutally T-boned by other cars at an intersection, and even more trying to drive off the summit of a mountain). Luckily, KT Racing have promised new features every three months with Solar Crown, and I will be paying close attention to see what their first actions are to ensure this world feels as lived in as the Hong Kong it’s modelled after.

Work in progress – gameplay footage – Image via Nacon

The Test Drive IP is old. Since 1987, it’s seen iteration after iteration, often seeing frequent tosses between developer and publishers. It’s now been well over a decade since the last game was released, and it’s found a new home at KT Racing.

The Parisian developers had previously been responsible for the WRC series, before losing that licence to Codemasters and EA in 2023. Its Creative Director, Alain Jarniou, has previously worked on Test Drive: Unlimited and its sequel, which the KT team proudly declared as they previewed the game to press. There’s a clear sense that the team has respect for the IP, and even more so for its fans. While I might have criticised aspects of the game, it showed an equal proportion of promise. It’s fun, but it’s not fully polished yet. As a live-service driving MMO, it’s the post-launch period that is going to make or break this title. 

Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown is releasing on September 12th later this year, which the trailer teased with wry – playful – digs at its fans. Descending dates long off in the future, slowly but surely close in on a tangible launch date. PlayStation, Xbox, and PC are its platforms of choice, and depending on how well the developers approach its post-launch content, this has the potential to be a game for the ages. 

You can also read our interview with Solar Crown’s game director here.

About the Author

Amaar Chowdhury

Amaar loves retro hardware and boring games with more words than action. So, he writes about them daily.

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown

  • Release Date: TBA
    • - 31 December 2021 (PC)
  • Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X
  • Genre(s): Racing