It’s been over 10 years since the release of the last Test Drive Unlimited game. Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU 2) was released all the way back in 2011 with the original Test Drive Unlimited (TDU) from way, way, back in 2006.
So, with so much time between releases, what does Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown need to do to stand out and succeed in 2023?
I was a huge fan of the Test Drive Unlimited series when they first released. I remember staying up and going to my local GameStop to wait outside until midnight to get my hard copy of the game. Yes, it was released that long ago you still had to go to a physical store to collect it.
I also pre-ordered the game which meant I got access to the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport which was the game’s flagship vehicle.
When it was announced that the series was making a return, I got incredibly excited. While the series was ahead of its time back then, by now other games have caught up and offer many of the same features.
Here’s what we think KT Racing needs to add to stay true to the original while also improving on a successful formula.
A life-like map
When you look back now at the first Test Drive Unlimited games now, they might not look special by current graphical standards. Plus, games like Forza Horizon and The Crew offer big open worlds that take players hours to explore.
But it’s only when you go back and play the original TDU and TDU 2 that you then start to understand the scale of the map those games had.
The original TDU map was 1,545Km² with the sequel’s being even bigger at 2,116.6Km². Those are some gargantuan numbers, but how does that compare to current games?
Well, Forza Horizon 4 which was released in 2018 had a map size of just 72Km². That means that TDU’s map was 21.5 times bigger than Forza Horizon 4’s map with TDU 2’s map being 30 times larger!
Even better, in the second TDU you could then go to the game’s airport and fly back to the original game’s map and drive around. So, you got two large driving maps in one game. For a game that was released in 2011, primarily for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, that’s mightily impressive.
That’s not to say these environments were perfect. With the maps being so large it could feel like a chore at times driving to certain areas and unlocking the whole map. Discovering all the roads was difficult and, while not an official event, felt like its own challenge. You would know if you explored a certain road as it would turn blue once you started driving on it – something the Forza Horizon games are inspired by, when the routes turn from grey to white.
When you did start exploring, that’s when you released the world itself felt pretty empty. While AI-controlled cars roamed the streets, there wasn’t a huge amount of them and when you did come across one, they were driving slowly – it felt like they were an afterthought.
That’s one thing that Solar Crown will need to address. Players aren’t just enticed by an open world simply because it’s large anymore. The world itself needs to have challenges to complete, items to find, and most importantly, it needs to feel alive and not like I’m the only one driving in it.
Having a big open world is fine, but being able to keep players exploring and occupied for hours on end is what the world must achieve, and it needs to have a unique character.
This ties into the world feeling lived in. One distinctive element of the Test Drive Unlimited series was visiting dealerships to purchase cars. You couldn’t just go to an in-game store/menu and buy it digitally.
What made it more realistic was the fact that certain car brands had different dealerships. You couldn’t visit a Honda dealership and buy a Maserati. No, if you really wanted that trident, you drove to a Maserati-specific outlet.
Once you got to the dealership, you would get out of your car and enter the dealership where you would find the cars you could buy on the showroom floor. You could walk around the dealership freely, and if you weren’t sure which to buy you could take it for a, get ready for it, test drive!
This is something that we think must be featured within Solar Crown, and thankfully they have been confirmed to return. However, we’ve not seen them in action yet, and it sounds as if most (apart from Ferrari and Lamborghini will feature a mix of vehicle brands. How you interact with other online players and move around them will be a pivotal feature.
Being able to freely walk around dealerships and choose which car you’d buy is something still unique to the series. I should be able to pull up to a brand-specific dealership, hop out of my car, walk in the doors, and walk up to any car and buy it. It won’t be enough to just have it feel separated and not a free-roam experience. This is one of the most important aspects that they must get absolutely spot on.
The return of houses
As it stands, while dealerships and workshops have been confirmed for Solar Crown, homes were a key part of the erstwhile title’s appeal too.
Before buying a new car in previous games, you needed to make sure you had enough inventory space across your house to store it.
Each house offered more or less garage space depending on its size. If you bought a mega-mansion you could store more cars than if you bought a little two-story. As you progressed through the story, you would earn money which could be used to buy houses and cars.
In TDU 2, houses were taken to another level by allowing players to customize how the inside of their homes looked. If you felt like a change in furniture color or floor material? You could do that. Think F1 22’s F1 Life, but more immersive.
Just like dealerships, houses were freely accessible. While they didn’t offer much more than just storage, the ability to walk around was still a great addition. Once you wanted to leave, you would walk to your garage where your cars were stored and get in one for a drive.
We’d like to see them return but also act more than just storage. This could be for inviting friends over to play games, sleeping through the night if you don’t want to drive in the darkness or even managing player stats. Making houses have actual in-game use will go a long way in keeping players occupied when they aren’t driving.
A licensing system
Want to hop immediately into a Bugatti Chiron and start racing it? Well, that wasn’t the case in previous games. The earlier games had a licensing system where you were required to pass different driving tests to start racing faster cars.
While the driving test can probably be reworked, we think the return of a revised license system will still be a good addition while also aiding in story progression. Having to earn the best vehicles or unlock the toughest challenges is what we’re here for.
A strong variety of cars and bikes
This is probably the most important element.
We hope Solar Crown has a large variety of cars. A game like this is flawed from the start if there isn’t a significant number of cars to work towards collecting.
TDU 2 offered over 75 cars ranging from sportscars to supercars and hypercars. We’ve received some info on cars that will be in the new game, so far, but we reckon there will need to be a lot more in order to satisfy our requirements.
It would also be a bonus if the development team did offer the opportunity to drive motorcycles too. TDU 2 had this, and while they weren’t as much fun as the supercars, having the option added extra variety, plus the KT Engine Solar Crown uses has previously been used for cars (see WRC) and bikes (see TT Isle of Man or RiMS Racing).
We could keep going on with other items like car customization and the casino, but we need to end the article at some point or else we would both be here forever…
Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown has some big shoes to fill for a series that’s been gone for over ten years. In the meantime, titles such as Forza Horizon 5 and Need for Speed Unbound have filled the void, plus The Crew Motorfest is set to arrive within the same year.
The original games were special and if they follow the general concept of those, KT Racing and Nacon should be fine. That’s not to say we just want re-skinned versions of the original two, however. We still want to see new features brought to the game while improving the mechanics of the original.
What do you think they have to add to Solar Crown? Let us know in the comments below.