Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown Feels Like it Needs More Time in the Oven

an artist 's impression of a ferrari showroom with cars on display .

an artist 's impression of a ferrari showroom with cars on display .

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is an interesting proposition. Distanced over a decade from its open-world predecessor, Solar Crown follows the new popular kid Forza Horizon so closely that it loses part of its own unique identity. Despite this, Solar Crown also seems like it wants to try its own spin on things, even if it doesn’t quite pay off based on a build shown at a recent preview event.

Our play session came during a frankly baffling trip to Paris in which I was invited to take a look at a new steering wheel by Nacon. Not to test the steering wheel, or to see how it works in action, though I did get to hold it. That’s beside the point though, as while I was there I also managed to get a hands-on with Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown, the long-awaited return to the classic Test Drive series.

New horizons

While the series came well before Forza Horizon, this new reboot feels like it is desperately trying to replicate it. Maybe that’s the intention, but it feels like this could just be Forza Horizon 6.

Either way though, the Hong Kong recreation that developer KT Racing and publisher Nacon have built here is extremely impressive. While I didn’t have time to fully explore this dense, urban map, it feels extremely true to life in a way that other racing game maps simply don’t.

Nissan Skyline in Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown
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It also feels nice to actually drive around, which is easily the most important element in any racing game. Cars mostly feel responsive in a way that feels right.

The big thing is that driving around a road in Hong Kong just feels like driving a car in Forza Horizon does. It’s nice to see that, despite years in the oven, swerving deftly around a corner feels as good as it does in say, Gran Turismo 7.

The city itself has been hyped as a 1:1 recreation of Hong Kong Island, so it’ll be interesting to see if it actually feels like that at launch or if somebody has dramatically shrunk down a city to fit it into a video game, as we've seen in other open-world racing titles.

Needing more polish

The cars themselves look…fine. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them, but they fail to shine even against games like Assetto Corsa. While they drive okay, a surprising lack of animations when playing in first person makes it feel like you’re not actually doing anything to control the vehicle.

This isn’t as much of an issue in third-person, but it means you’re faced with fairly bland-looking car models. As a result, players have to pick and choose what they’d rather see: boring car models or a steering wheel that doesn’t even look like it’s turning.

Ford GT in Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown
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A large amount of concern from fans stems from the fact that Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown was first revealed almost four years ago now. The title was delayed from 2022 to 2023 and then delayed yet again to 2024. Long delays are always worrying for any fan.

There’s also the fact that this is the first game in the series in over a decade, with Test Drive Unlimited 2 released in 2011. Solar Crown has a lot to prove, and you can feel it in the way it presents itself. Sadly, there are a lot of problems that still need to be fixed before it can even attempt to be one of the greats.

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Worryingly, nothing else in the game matches the bar set by the aforementioned Forza Horizon. Animations feel stiff, especially in first-person mode where it barely looks like you’re actually steering your car.

There are no pedestrians dotted around the map either, meaning that, while it might look like Hong Kong Island, it doesn't feel like it. It’s also not exactly the most impressive title graphically. While that’s absolutely not the be-all-end-all for a title like this, it makes you wonder exactly what has happened over the past four years and if the game should be delayed again for more polish.

Chasing the crowd

There’s still a chance that the developer can pull this off, but you’ve got to be pretty special to match the titans of the racing genre. With a recently announced and looming September release date on the horizon, I’m really not sure that Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown has what it takes.

The original Test Drive Unlimited was the test bed for what Forza Horizon and The Crew would eventually perfect. It offered a different vibe, one of exuberance rather than rebellious racing culture. Solar Crown feels like it's following the crowd instead of leading it.

BMW i8 in Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown
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Can Test Drive Solar Crown possibly live up to the expectations that fans, and indeed the dvelopers have set for it? In a recent interview with VideoGamer, game director Guillaume Guinet called the game a direct competitor to not only Forza Horizon and The Crew, but also the upcoming monolith that is GTA 6. But that doesn’t feel accurate with the game’s current state.

Travel and accommodation for the event was paid for by Nacon.

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