After years and years of anticipation, we finally locked eyes on Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown gameplay yesterday during Nacon's TDU Connect presentation. While the game didn't quite shout 'next-gen racer' during its gameplay debut (we're hoping it'll be nice and polished up for 2024), it did look very Test Drive Unlimited of old, and that excites me a lot given how much I personally loved the series on Xbox 360.

The first game in particular was incredibly impressive at the time of release. In 2006, racing fans were treated to a huge open world affair that took place on an impressively large rendition of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In fact, TDU 1 was probably the first truly open world racing game many Xbox players would have experienced at the time, given that Need for Speed's locales were always limited and the likes of Forza hadn't gone open world yet.

It wasn't just the sheer scale of Test Drive Unlimited that impressed either; the variety of content within its open world was a huge plus point too. This series has never been solely about racing - collecting cars, accumulating houses, visiting casinos, taking part in GTA-like delivery/escort missions are huge parts of the experience as well. Back in the day I used to be obsessed with getting perfect scores on those expensive car deliveries in TDU 1!

While I never took to the sequel quite as much, mostly due to vastly inferior driving physics, it did modernise in other areas, even debuting features that eventually became staples in franchises like Forza Horizon. Day/night cycles made their debut in TDU 2, along with the game's F.R.I.M mechanic - an instant reward system that works much like Horizon's skill point feature. Oh, and the sequel got another huge map with the introduction of open world Ibiza, doubling down on the series' impressive sense of scale.

These games just had a certain style too - one that hasn't really been replicated in the genre since. Forza Horizon probably comes closest in this regard, but it's such a finely tuned racer at this stage that I miss some of the qwirks of TDU; like being able to explore player houses on foot, enter clubs and casinos, and interact with bits and pieces of each vehicle in the showroom.

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown is definitely giving off old school TDU vibes in that first gameplay showing, and while that might mean it won't be quite as polished as the likes of Forza Horizon 5, it hopefully means we're going to get some of the series' signature personality back in this third entry. The proof will be in the now-2024-shaped pudding of course, but I'm starting to feel a bit more relaxed that Test Drive Unlimited is in good hands over at KT Racing.

Did you play much Test Drive Unlimited? Let us know if you're excited for Solar Crown down below!