Remember Test Drive Unlimited? One of the early examples of always online, open-world racing on consoles, TDU and its sequel were progenitors to the Forza Horizon formula, except with less of a focus on racing and more on being filthy rich living on an island. Not to say these weren’t racing games, but TDU was more about the vibes than the actual competition.
The series vanished along with many franchises previously owned by Atari SA after Test Drive Unlimited 2 released in 2011, but it’s still maintained a cult following. One that publisher Nacon and developer Kylotonn are hoping to capitalize on with a new entry, titled Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown. Today we’ve gotten our first trailer of it.
And, well — it doesn’t tell us a whole lot. That’s mostly because it appears to be pre-rendered. Also, while the date “July 2021" is tacked on at the end, don’t mistake that for the game’s release date. Apparently, that’s just when Nacon plans to release more information.
The footage hits all the familiar beats that TDU2 left off on, particularly the parts that have to do with excess and gambling. At one point, a character tosses the keys to their Range Rover onto a pile of chips on a poker table. I suppose that sounds sexy if you regularly have fantasies about disgusting wealth, but it’ll probably play out a little less exciting in-game when you select “bet car” from like four available options in a menu.
Look — I had a great time with the first TDU. It was very rough around the edges, sure, but it was a novel approach to open-world racing in its day and it wasn’t too indulgent for its own good. Like Sega’s OutRun, it was a refreshing, pleasant escape from the aggressively serious experiences that tend to dominate the genre.
TDU wasn’t about the competition; it was about exploration and the delight of driving the world’s coolest vehicles in a fascinating place. Hell, even the process of shopping for cars and bikes by visiting dealerships and equipping real-life, dealer-offered options was a nice change of pace from standard racing game fare. It made adding to your personal collection feel like an event.
TDU2, though, ejected any modicum of subtlety for a cringey soap opera-esque narrative about being a nobody who miraculously lands a place in a street racing championship consisting of vapid, mostly white rich folks. Think Grand Theft Auto V, only in this satire the jokes never land, the voice acting makes you wince and the characters look super clumsy. But you can still buy a yacht.
I tried to recall the opening moments of TDU2 as I wrote this before searching for a clip of the intro on YouTube. It’s so much worse than I remembered.
Personally, I was never quite sure if the developers intended me to laugh at these people or want to be them. Either way, I wanted to punch every single one in the face when I played TDU2 back in the day, and now I feel a migraine coming on merely imagining returning to that world. I came here to cruise around Hawaii in nice cars, why can’t all these pigs leave me the hell alone?
TDU Solar Crown — Solar Crown being the name of the aforementioned street racing competition — doesn’t appear to revitalize the series in a different context. Without gameplay it’s hard to tell if the tone will differ at all, but I suspect not. The description on the game’s Steam page warns “remember, social status is everything in the world of TDU.” Actually, that reads more like a threat.
At least TDU Solar Crown looks to be based on a sound foundation, mechanically speaking. The game’s creative director, Alain Jarniou (who also led TDU and TDU2's development) has said the physics are derived from Kylotonn’s WRC series, and those games handle pretty nicely.
If the driving experience is satisfying enough, maybe it’ll compel me to try my hardest to play the game while also donning blinders for every cutscene. I pray they’re skippable.