Road to Solar Crown - Chapter 1: The Origins

With the next game in the long-running Test Drive franchise coming out next year, we'll take a look at the series' past, right from the beginning.

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A Brief Introduction

If you're particularly young, the name Test Drive probably won't ring many bells, and it's quite easy to see why; the last game bearing such name was released way back in 2012, almost ten years ago, and it was far from successful.

However, counting a total of 20 games released over the span of nearly 35 years, the Test Drive franchise is actually one of the longest-running series in the racing game genre, as well as one of the most influential; Believe it or not, the early Need For Speed games have more ties with the Test Drive series than you can probably think of.

In this series of articles, we'll be taking a look at the history of Test Drive, starting from its origins in the late 80s, all the way to the newest game in the franchise, Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown (which, assuming things don't go wrong, releases exactly one year from now), and how it came to be.

Grab your keys, turn on your engines and put the pedal to the metal!

A Distinctive Driving Game

This is where everything started (Image credit: www.mobygames.com)

This is where everything started (Image credit: www.mobygames.com)

The origins of the Test Drive series can be traced back to 1987. That year, a videogame developer known by the name 'Distinctive Software Inc.', based in British Columbia, Canada, created a racing game destined to become very successful and influential. Its name was 'Test Drive'

Test Drive was published by Accolade, and was immediately praised for its realistic (for the time, at least) car handling, sounds and graphics. Originally developed for the Amiga, it was soon ported to the Atari ST, Commodore 64 as well as DOS.

Test Drive featured highly detailed spec sheets for each car. Talk about attention to detail! (Image credit: gamesnostalgia.com)

Test Drive featured highly detailed spec sheets for each car. Talk about attention to detail! (Image credit: gamesnostalgia.com)

In Test Drive, players could choose one between five of the most iconic sports cars from the era, more specifically: the Chevrolet Corvette C4, Ferrari Testarossa, Lamborghini Countach 5000 QV, Lotus Esprit Turbo and the Porsche 911 Turbo.

All five cars were reproduced in staggering detail, and each one of them featured a highly detailed spec sheet. Such feature had never been implemented in any other driving game before, and it perfectly set the tone of the game as a serious driving simulator for true petrolheads.

Each car had a very, very detailed interior (Image credit: www.uvlist.net)

Each car had a very, very detailed interior (Image credit: www.uvlist.net)

The only camera angle present in Test Drive was the first person camera, something which allowed players to admire the beautifully crafted interior of their car, while also making the game even more realistic. The game even featured a working rearview mirror, how cool is that? (Take that, The Crew 2!)

Each of the five cars drove differently, and their behaviour accurately resembled that of their real counterparts. Additionally, each car had its own distinct sound, which further increased realism and immersion.

- Video credit: World of Longplays

The player's objective was to 'test drive' the car of their choice on a twisty cliffside mountain road, while also trying to get the best time possible.

While doing so, players had to avoid crashing into traffic, driving off the road or getting pulled over by the police (by either slowing down before encountering them, or flooring it). It was also possible to blow the car's engine.

Players had a limited number of lives, and each crash/blown engine cost a life, as well as 30 additional seconds on the player's time. Running out of lives or crashing into a police car resulted in a game over.

Don't forget to fill 'er up! (Image credit: gamesnostalgia.com)

Don't forget to fill 'er up! (Image credit: gamesnostalgia.com)

The course was split in multiple sections. The goal was to reach the gas station at the end of each section (the car pulls up there automatically), fill up the car and continue until the finish line was crossed. Bonus points and an extra life were awarded for completing the section without crashing.

Test Drive combines the enjoyment of driving five of the most exotic sportscars in the world with outrunning 'Smokies' on mountain highways. What more could a race car junkie (or arcade fan) ask for?!

Computer Gaming World

Reviews for the game were generally positive, with Computer Gaming World stating that, while there may have been more competitive titles on the market, Test Drive combined "the enjoyment of driving five of the most exotic sportscars in the world with outrunning 'Smokies' on mountain highways. What more could a race car junkie (or arcade fan) ask for?!", while also commenting on the fact it offered "outstanding graphics and the potential to 'hook' every Pole Position fan".

Compute! also praised the game for its realistic graphics and sound, but criticized it for only having one course.

Test Drive was a big commercial success. By 1989, more than 500,000 copies had been sold across all the platforms it was released for. It was clear that people liked the game, so it wasn't long before Distinctive Software set out to make a sequel.

Round Two

The ideal sequel? (Image credit: www.mobygames.com)

The ideal sequel? (Image credit: www.mobygames.com)

The Duel: Test Drive II was released two years after the original Test Drive, in 1989.

In terms of gameplay, TD2 was pretty much identical to its predecessor, but with a few additions. Like in TD1, players picked an exotic supercar from the available selection, then chose a difficulty level, which determined whether the car would use an automatic or manual transmission.

The first big improvement TD2 had over its predecessor was the presence of multiple sceneries, in place of the cliffside road from the first game. Also, like in TD1, the course was split in multiple sections (each one with a different scenery), and the gas stations from the first game also returned, though this time the player had to stop there manually; driving past a gas station without stopping would cause the car to run out of fuel, thus costing the player a life.

- Video credit: World of Longplays

But, as the title of the game implies, the most important addition was the possibility of competing against another car, which could either be controlled by the CPU or by another player. In this mode, the car that reaches the gas station first wins.

Like in TD1, players had to avoid traffic and evade the police along the way.

These additions were very welcome, but they came at a cost. Because of them, the number of cars available to choose from was reduced from five to just two: the Ferrari F40 and the Porsche 959.

Like its predecessor, The Duel: Test Drive II was originally released for the Amiga, later being ported to pretty much every other computer/console available at the time, including the Amstrad CPC, Apple IIGS, Commodore C64, MS-DOS, MSX and ZX Spectrum, which massively differed in quality.

The Atari ST version was released in 1990, with the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis and SNES versions following suit in 1992. These versions featured a third, additional car, the Lamborghini Diablo, which wasn't available when the computer versions of the game were released.

The car list from one of the later console versions of the game (Image credit: www.sega-16.com)

The car list from one of the later console versions of the game (Image credit: www.sega-16.com)

In the years following TD2's initial release, Accolade released a total of four 'data disks' containing additional cars and locations for the computer versions of the game. These comprised of:

The Supercars disk (Corvette C4 ZR1, Testarossa, Countach 25th Anniversary, Esprit Turbo, RUF CTR)

The Muscle Cars disk ('69 Camaro ZL-1 COPO, Corvette C2, '69 Charger Daytona, '67 Pontiac GTO, '67 Shelby GT500)

California Challenge disk (7 additional stages set in California)

European Challenge disk (additional stages set in 6 European countries)

The Corvette C2 Stingray, one of the additional cars from the Muscle Cars disk (Image credit: www.myabandonware.com)

The Corvette C2 Stingray, one of the additional cars from the Muscle Cars disk (Image credit: www.myabandonware.com)

Like with its predecessor, reviews for The Duel: Test Drive II were positive, and the game sold well.

Reviewers suggested that fans of TD1 would enjoy TD2 more than its predecessor, thanks to its additional features and improvements, but recommended those who didn't like the first game to steer well clear. The game's installation was also criticized for being overly difficult and frustrating.

The Duel: Test Drive II would be the last game in the franchise to be developed by Distinctive Software. Their time as the franchise's developers was destined to be short lived, and ended along with the 80s. The following decade would be a turbulent one for the series, but that's a story for another day.

"Road To Solar Crown" will return next week with "Chapter 2: The Early 90s". Stay tuned!

> Chapter 2: The Early 90s >

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