Forza Horizon celebrated its tenth anniversary this month. But long before Forza Horizon, there was Test Drive Unlimited.
Located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu with over 1,000 miles of open roads and busy highways to explore, TDU set the template for modern open-world racers way back in 2006.
After rebooting the long-running Test Drive series for a new generation, a sequel followed in 2011, with Test Drive Unlimited 2 recreating the picturesque island of Ibiza in addition to Oahu.
Since then, TDU has been on hiatus. In the meantime, other open-world racers like Forza Horizon and The Crew have saturated the genre. Over ten years later, TDU is finally making a comeback to reclaim the crown.
Originally slated for release in September this year, Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is coming in 2023 for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. We spoke with Creative Director Alain Jarniou to get the latest on KT Racing’s ambitious and long-awaited open-world racer and find out what will set it apart from Forza Horizon.
Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown won't be a Forza Horizon clone
Over the last ten years, Forza Horizon has become one of the most popular racing game franchises ever. Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown may also be a driving game set in an open world, but Jarniou makes it clear that the similarities end there.
“I play Forza Horizon. It’s a very nice game. It’s also a copy of Test Drive Unlimited!” he joked. “In the beginning, they were inspired by the Test Drive Unlimited license. They’ve done a very good job of making it fun with different game modes. But it’s not the same as TDU. There’s no game like TDU even today.”
The TDU series isn't just about driving. It's also about living a lavish lifestyle. In previous TDU games, you create your own avatar, meet other players, and buy extravagant houses with garages to store your dream car collection.
Forza Horizon 5 is often criticised for giving out cars too frequently. There’s little sense of progression and accomplishment when you can drive the fastest cars early in the game. Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown will take a different approach with progression by making you work to get the best cars.
“In Forza Horizon, you do a Wheelspin and you get two cars. Or you do a mission and you get another car. You’ve got lots of cars in your garage. But you don’t work for it,” said Jarniou.
Forza Horizon games have hundreds of cars. TDU’s car rosters are smaller, but every car feels special. The sense of ownership in TDU games is still unmatched too: you can visit dealerships, choose paint colours, and customise the interior with factory-correct options. This sense of ownership and love for cars will continue in Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown.
“In TDU there are fewer cars, but you choose these cars. The relationship you have with your garage is stronger in TDU than in any other game. You must earn money to buy the cars of your dreams. You spend time with your car, upgrading it, playing with it, and showing it off with other players.”
TDU isn’t a traditional racing series. In essence, it’s about the joy of driving and the thrill of the open road.
While the Solar Crown racing championship is returning from TDU2, it's just as fun to put the roof down, cruise around the environment, and enjoy the drive with the windows down and your favourite radio station on full blast. Once again, Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown will capture the feeling of enjoying an extended road trip with friends.
“I know that many TDU players love to just drive around with their friends with no specific goals. I think that’s the TDU spirit,” said Jarniou.
“It’s a more emotional way to play for players who love cars. I love cars and I love to share this with other players. It’s more about driving and enjoying your cars with your friends than competition and racing. It's a different way of experiencing your cars.”
Getting the driving experience in Solar Crown right is crucial. While it won’t be a hardcore simulation, it will offer a more realistic driving experience than its rivals.
“When you are able to go off-road and climb mountains, it’s not the same level of simulation like a Formula 1 or WRC game,” Jarniou explained. “The idea is to be more simulation than The Crew or Forza Horizon, which are quite arcadey."
“Part of the enjoyment of driving is to have something that’s realistic but not too simulation. But we want to give players the freedom to tweak driving aids to get something that’s closer to simulation if they want.”
Crucially, every car in Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown will feel unique to drive in contrast to Forza Horizon where “you don’t really feel a great difference between cars.”
“I want this feeling of driving the right cars with the right feelings to be stronger in TDU than Forza Horizon. It won’t be a racing simulation – it will be a driving simulation. When you are in a Ferrari or a Beetle, it’s not the same experience. You will feel it. That’s important when you love cars – you want to feel the difference between them.”
Hong Kong Island is smaller but more diverse
Solar Crown is set in a 1:1 recreation of Hong Kong Island. At around 30 square miles, it’s a much smaller map than we’ve seen in previous TDU titles compared to Oahu (600 square miles) and Ibiza (220 square miles).
Some fans are concerned about this, but Jarniou assures us that we shouldn't be worried. To make up for the smaller map size, Solar Crown’s Hong Kong Island will be considerably more detailed and diverse than the locations in previous entries.
“Hawaii is a big island. But when we made TDU1, about 80% of the surface was just roads or countryside. There wasn’t much diversity in terms of gameplay. Hawaii is a nice location but Hong Kong Island is very diverse.”
“On the north of the island you’ve got these big cities with skyscrapers like New York with rich and poorer areas. When you go to the south of the island, there’s lots of vegetation and beaches. It’s a very natural environment.”
“The gameplay possibilities were very surprising when we were looking for a new location for Test Drive Unlimited. We chose Hong Kong Island because it’s a very interesting place. We always want to get something that’s 1:1 scale in TDU. We don’t want a bigger island that's scaled down – we want it to be 1:1 scale.”
Although KT Racing is painstakingly recreating Hong Kong Island with a 1:1 scale, extra roads are being added to bring new gameplay possibilities. “For example, a pedestrian road can become a road you can drive on. We have more roads in the game than in real life. We want it to be realistic but the gameplay is very important.”
When will we see Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown gameplay?
KT Racing has been highly secretive about Solar Crown. We got our first look at the open-world racer in 2020 when Solar Crown was revealed in a CGI trailer, but very little gameplay has been shown since then.
Originally slated for release in September this year, Solar Crown has also been delayed until 2023 with an unspecified release date.
This is frustrating for fans who are desperate to see some actual gameplay. But exactly when we’ll get a proper look at Solar Crown remains to be seen. Put simply, KT Racing will show the game off when it’s ready. We just need to be patient.
“We know that people want to see more of the game. On our side, we’d like to show more of what we’ve done but the game is in development,” said Jarniou. “I think the game will be shown with gameplay trailers quite a few times. But we want to be sure we won’t disappoint TDU fans."
"We know that every image and gameplay video will be looked at very closely and discussed. We will show more to fans as soon as possible. I can say it won’t be in years – it will be as soon as possible.”
“We want to show a very good and beautiful game. We don’t want to go too fast and deceive fans. I’m very excited to give a new Test Drive Unlimited to the community. But I want it to be a true Test Drive Unlimited experience. We’re taking the time we need to make the best game possible."
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