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Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown is one of this year's best surprises

Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown is one of this year's best surprises

Solar power

I have a confession to make: I'm not even slightly interested in cars. I know they have four wheels (most of the time), and that they're very much a safe space for Gary Numan. Beyond that? What I know about cars couldn't fill a postage stamp.

In spite of my relative automobile apathy I, somewhat paradoxically, really do enjoy driving games. I love the chaos of the Burnout series, the cool of Need For Speed, and the sheer scale of the Forza Horizon games.

I recently sat down to spend two hours exploring the virtual streets of Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown, the new MMOcarPG from KT Racing and Nacon. What I'll say from the off is this: if I don't care about cars, and I had as good a time as I did, I think enthusiasts of the genre are going to love this game.

The first new Test Drive in 13 years is going big, offering up players the kind of arcade-style street racing you'd find in a Need For Speed game, blended with a level of fine tuning and attention to vehicular detail usually reserved for the PlayStation Gran Turismo games. Wrap this all up in an open world sandbox inspired by Xbox's Forza Horizon series, and you have a recipe for success.

While I'd certainly be happy with a racing game that simply picks the best and brightest aspects from various different series, Solar Crown is keen to bring its own ideas to the table. Where KT Racing's latest really stands apart from its peers is in how you progress.

The likes of Forza and Need For Speed are only too happy to let you live out the ultimate racing fantasy, showering you with beautiful cars and endless customisation options from the very beginning. Solar Crown wants to make you work for your success, with a much slower and more methodical progression system that is designed to ensure you develop a genuine bond with the car you drive.

As in real-life, you don't just abandon your car for a shiny new model every other day based on your mood. You're encouraged to stick with what you have, upgrading parts and changing things up as needed to suit the requirements of certain race events.

Solar Crown is a game that's designed to be played for a long time. The very best cars aren't supposed to be available after a few hours of play. Certainly, after my time was up I'd just about managed to get some slightly better wheels.

While this might sound like a slog for the time-poor gamers out there, I have to admire KT Racing's clarity of vision. This is a team that has a love for cars, and knows that players who do ultimately work to get the very best vehicles in the game will feel amazing because they've earned them. Oh, and since it's basically an MMORPG you can show off your superior wheels to all the nerds just starting out. That's going to feel great, right?

Every inch of your car can be customised, naturally, and you can even buy yourself the slickest new threads and most expensive penthouses. Really, everything in Solar Crown is designed around showing off your successes in various ways, and I think that's kind of glorious.

The racing itself is everything you'd hope it would be. Driving around Hong Kong Island (a massive map split into multiple regions and districts), I was rarely short on things to do. There are speed traps that encourage you to smash through them as quickly as possible, special wrecks to find that can be taken to garages and fixed up, and plenty of races with other human players or NPCs.

While the world itself obviously isn't quite as graphically breathtaking as something like Forza Horizon 5, Solar Crown is stunning in its own way. Clearly the most time and effort has been spent on making the cars look properly next-gen, which is right and proper. Even then, the rain-slicked streets and gently humming neon lights of Hong Kong make for an impressive spectacle even at high speeds.

Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown releases 12 September, and I'm super excited to see exactly how this game evolves.

Featured Image Credit: KT Racing

Topics: PlayStation, Xbox, Need For Speed, PC