In a year without a new Forza Horizon, this famous old open world racer is here to live out your ultimate automotive fantasies

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown demo
(Image credit: Windows Central)

Test Drive Unlimited first launched way back in 2006, with a successor following in 2011. It's been over a decade since this open-world racer had a new installment, but 2024 is the year the franchise rises like the phoenix. 

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is a modernized take on what made the previous titles acquire almost cult status among its fans. The game is a sequel of sorts, taking the DNA of the old Test Drive Unlimited titles and bringing it into the present day. It's playable solo, but the social aspects are a big part of getting the full experience. It's more than just racing. 

In a year when there is no new Forza Horizon game, race fans are probably finding that there's an itch that needs scratching. Having spent a little time with the Steam Next Fest demo of Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown, I think this is the one to do it. 

I'm not going to focus too much here on graphics, or performance, though it certainly plays well and looks incredible. That's mostly because the demo is an early version and the finished product isn't due for another few months yet. 

Some familiar ideas with added immersion 

Like in real life, in Solar Crown you can wander around a dealership looking for your next ride.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

For this type of game, there is only so much you can do. Much like Forza Horizon 5 or The Crew Motorfest, the core of Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is driving around a big open world map taking on races and other assorted driving challenges. Alongside the Solar Crown itself, you get the option to join one of two clans, each of which has their own HQ, their own progression system, and their own races separate from the main track. 

What sets Solar Crown apart, though, as with the older Test Drive Unlimited games, is the added immersion you get over competing titles. You can get out of the car, walk around, and interact with social spaces, even when choosing a new ride. 

I love that when you're looking for a new car to buy with your hard-earned cash, you can walk around a dealership looking at what's on offer. You can see the cars, you can see NPCs 'shopping' and just generally feel more like you're making a real decision over just buying something for the purpose of taking on a specific type of race. 

Taking in the sights of the Streets HQ.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

The same applies to upgrading your car, you go inside a workshop. Everything feels more deliberate, and building a garage of tasty racers feels overall more rewarding. Like you've actually achieved something.

Solar Crown takes the idea of a CarPG and adds more depth and meaning to the role playing aspects, all with simple, but effective touches. The extended RPG elements really help this one stand out. 

Beautiful cars, a sprawling open-world to drive them in

Hong Kong is the stunning backdrop to the Solar Crown.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

I'm not going to dwell too much on the graphical prowess of Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown, because this is just a demo and the game is still a few months away from release. Nevertheless, what I have seen is certainly impressive. 

The cars look sensational, and particularly pleasing is the added detail you get over other titles of this type. When you buy a car you don't just get to pick its color, you get to choose the wheels you like best, and how you want your interior to look. Like you would when you go and buy a car in real life. It's a small touch, but I like it a lot. 

Who doesn't like a bit of tan leather on their orange Mustang?  (Image credit: Windows Central)

The backdrop to the Solar Crown is Hong Kong, and the developers have recreated a 1:1 likeness of the island that they say took three years to build. I've only visited Hong Kong once before, but the parts I've seen in the game definitely exude the feeling of reality. The city is big and sprawling, but equally packed with tight streets, splashes of neon lighting, and creates some challenging races.

Hong Kong is far more than just a city, though, and while I haven't explored the more rural areas yet, Nacon has, it seems, given the same love to those. The environment just feels right for a game like this.

Rewarding skill, punishing mistakes 

Weather conditions, no barriers, no rewind, skillful driving is definitely rewarded.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

I think playing too much Forza Horizon 5 has actually made me a little soft. At first, the lack of a rewind feature made me angry. There's no undo when you go too hard into a corner, and there are no barriers to bounce off and keep going on your merry way. 

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is hardly a sim, but it's certainly more realistic in its approach to racing. The weather conditions matter, driving skillfully matters. If you're in a big old RWD Mustang, as I spent most of my time with, stamping on the throttle on a wet road out of a corner will result in wheel spin, uncontrollable sliding, and usually losing places in a race. 

But after a little adjusting, this is how it should be. Having rewind at your fingertips gives you a do-over every time you're a little too vigorous. Solar Crown wants you to become a better racer. You don't get a second chance in a real life race (which, sadly, I know from first-hand experience). You just have to 'git gud.' 

A racing game that rewards skill and punishes mistakes. (Image credit: Windows Central)

An unfortunate byproduct is that every race is run like an online multiplayer. If you need to pause because someone knocked at your door, you can't. Your car will just keep moving, and the race will carry on without you.

But once you get comfortable, it's immensely rewarding stringing a good result together. You'll get frustrated, but you'll learn from your mistakes. Make sure you upgrade your brakes as soon as you're able to. Races are won and lost in the corners.

A must-play for open world racing fans

Solar Crown will be a welcome, long-awaited return for Test Drive Unlimited.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

Even after just a few hours, I know this is a game I'm going to pour a lot of hours into. Honestly, I probably knew that anyway, but having finally played it, Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is shaping up well. 

The very fact there's no new Forza Horizon game this year also means that Solar Crown won't be quickly overshadowed, and has its best possible chance of shining. It's been a long time since we had a new game to play from this famous old name, and all signs so far are that the wait will have been worth it. 

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is set to launch on Xbox Series X|S, PC, and PS5 on September 12, 2024. 

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at