Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown Is A Dream Game, But Can It Become A Reality?

The pitch for Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is spectacular. It’s a car game rather than a racing game. Sure, you race around the map to get to where you want to go and compete in races to achieve your goals, but that’s only an extension of the game’s celebration of cars. Burnout is about high octane racing and smashing into opponents, Need For Speed is about underground culture, Forza is about racking up every car in existence, Gran Turismo is about precision. And Test Drive, in its purest form, is about cars. I hope the rest of the world shares the developers’ vision.


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Don’t expect to have a fully loaded garage in Test Drive. It tries to simulate a love of cars as best it can, which means not treating them as disposable toys but as luxury goods. When you visit a showroom, you don’t just select from a menu of cars by checking out the stats, you physically walk around the shop itself. You can inspect the interior, inquire about customisation, and take it for a brief test drive (hey, I get it now!) before committing. It leans more heavily on the social side, with a home you can redecorate, new outfits to buy, radio stations to peruse, and everything building to the sensation of a world being lived in.

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It feels great to drive around Test Drive’s island city, and the extra bonuses for pulling off particular moves, though nothing new in racing games, add to the package as they feed into the idea that you’re saving up for something more. The driving itself was a little less forgiving than I would like, but for a game that takes cars so seriously, it makes sense that it doesn’t allow for arcade style drifting through turns.

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown Official Concept Art
via KT Racing

It all sounds great, and I enjoyed my time with it, but something was constantly scratching at the back of my brain. All the time I was listening to the devs and speeding through the city, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it felt like Riders Republic. Both Test Drive Solar Unlimited and Ubisoft’s extreme sports title put a lot of stock in online play, not just as an avenue for competition, but as a foundation of the experience. If the audience isn’t there, the foundation cracks and sinks.

We’re told that every race you play in Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown will be an online race. If not enough racers are available (which sadly I think will be the case on a huge map), you’ll be paired against bots, which saps all the life out of things. Since the dev team is clearly aware that this may be a necessity in short order, wouldn’t it have been better to go with active NPCs who could have story and personality themselves, and aid this vision of a lived in world, rather than let online players shoulder the responsibility?

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown Delayed Into 2023, Leaves Last-Gen Behind

Another feature mentioned makes sense on paper but feels actively off-putting in practice. To counteract the differences in skill level, some players will be told that finishing in fifth place will count as a victory for them. I understand this design – if there are four players racing you will simply never beat, then offering an achievable goal stops you from hitting a brick wall with progress because some try-hard with 1,000 hours is trolling the community by repeating the beginner races. But the glory of racing games is to win the race – no one wants to hold a good, clean line and finish in a respectable middle of the pack placing.

That’s the problem with these always-online games – they need a casual audience to reach a critical mass, but casual audiences won’t stick around to get whomped. You can’t create a world of aspiration where you move through the city to a penthouse apartment and save up from a rickety lemon to a supercar on the power fantasy of finishing fifth in every race you’re in. No matter what the game is, online play is always dominated by a small elite, and a small elite cannot sustain a social world. The two sides of Solar Crown’s world-building are like petrol in a diesel engine. It just ain’t gonna run.

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I would love to be wrong. I enjoyed my time with the game, it looked great, and there was a lot of passion to create a very specific type of car game. But the over-reliance on an online community responding in droves is the game’s Achilles heel, and ‘we need more people to play’ quickly becomes an impossible problem to fix. Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown launches next year, and I hope by then there is a robust enough single-player option that lets me live out my supercar buying fantasies in peace, and not just rely on beating the worst bot and calling that a victory.

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