TOCA Championship Racing
Like Screamer Rally, TOCA is getting a bit long in the tooth, and the fact that TOCA 2 is just around the corner means that if touring car racing is your thing, you'll probably be better off with the sequel, which promises to be better in every way. However, in its own right the original TOCA isn't half bad.
Seated firmly in the sim camp, despite its age the hardware requirements are still pretty steep, and you'll find it frustrating at first if you're used to cars that handle like they're stuck to the road with Evo-Stick. There's a good range of cars and circuits, and some nice 'arcade-style' bonuses, but the fact that you can't access all the tracks until you've 'unlocked' them is odd considering the 'sim' status that the game propagates.
There are loads of accurately modelled cars to choose from and they look the mutt's nuts. They also handle like they're supposed to, which means you have to drive them properly: no screaming up to a bend and slamming on the anchors as you make the turn; you've got to brake in a straight line, turn in and gently accelerate out of bends or you'll end up entangled in the barriers. It's tricky at first, but immensely gratifying once you get the hang of it.
There are nine accurately modelled circuits, including Donington Park, Brands Hatch and Silverstone. Only two are available at the start of the game, and you have to 'unlock' the rest by building up your points. This is a bit naff considering this is supposed to be a simulation, and you'll no doubt want to practise driving around the different circuits, but it does keep you at it - for a while, at least.
Network games can get a little frustrating, especially if you don't know the courses like the back of your hand. In practice it's hard to find six people who are all at roughly the same level, which means that one guy will inevitably zoom off into the lead while the others try and content themselves with staying on the track. If you're TOCA mad, then you'll love it. Otherwise...
Originality And Fun Factor
TOCA is a funny beast. It's very much a sim, but it's got lots of features you'd expect to find in an 'arcade-style' racing game. It's almost as if the developers couldn't make up their minds what it was supposed to be, or thought at the last minute that the sim tag would put too many people off. As an out and out sim it's undoubtedly impressive, but the inclusion of an easier arcade mode, where the cars are more forgiving and a more sensible approach to how the game progresses, would undoubtedly give it a broader appeal.
Download TOCA Championship Racing
Apparently Tour Car Championship Association (TOCA) racing is very big across the big pond in Europe. While it is not very popular here in the states, I am always looking for a cool new racing game. TOCA cars are not your standard race cars either. You will not find a Porsche or Ferrari ripping around the tracks. What you will find are Nissans, Hondas and Audis. These things are hopped up family cars for crying out loud. Does this keep the game from being fun? No, but there are enough other things that are sure trying their hardest to ruin the game.
TOCA Racing is billed as full contact auto racing so naturally I was excited. The game uses the Dual Shock analog controller so you should be able to feel every bump and jar from the opposition. The game boasts accurate crash physics and car damage. All of the computer-controlled cars are supposed to be driven according to actual TOCA driver and car styles. Throw in eight different cars and actual European circuit tracks and you have all of the ingredients of a cool sounding racing game. It really should have been.
Before I really start into the specifics of this game, there is one thing you will need to get clear. This is not racing like we Americans are used to. Not only is this racing not like the racing we are used to but the racing in the game is not like the racing in any other racing game on the PSX to date. If you can't get past this you may as well forget even looking at this game. Don't even bother.
I guess I will start with the positives of this game before I go into the longer list of what I did not like. The main thing about this game that I liked was the way the championships worked. You will start the championship by racing a three lap qualification run. Your best lap time out of the three laps would determine your starting position in the race. When the first race starts, you are shown the number of points you need to advance to the next race in the championship. Your finishing position determines your race points so obviously the idea is to finish first or at least near the top of the field. The races themselves are six laps against a field of 15 other cars. This is a great format because you will not only be racing against the other cars but you will be racing for a minimum position. The points are cumulative so if you barely make the points to advance, it will be difficult to advance in the next race.
The other thing that I really liked about the game was the way that the cars showed damage. If you smash your car into the wall, which you will do (I will get to this soon), the side of your car will be smashed up and your back window will shatter. The cool thing about the window is that just like on a real car, the window remains on the car but shattered. Anyway, as you are racing against the other cars you will constantly see pieces of the other cars breaking off and flying by. Since they are calling TOCA racing full contact auto racing you can expect to see plenty of smashed cars.
Now it is time for the not so good. I have just one question: Is every single road covered in ice on the TOCA circuit? Never mind the fact that it is sunny outside. The reason I am asking this is because my car would spin out at the drop of a dime. Let me give you an example. I was driving down the road and my car started to drift a little. I gently tried to correct it and my car instantly started spinning and I ended up off the road and facing the wrong direction. What the hell? The frustrating thing was that I just barely tapped the analog stick but that was all that it needed. If you think that is bad, wait until you hit a corner. I would spend more time spinning out and facing the wrong direction than I did going forward. I can't even count the number of times that I would spin uncontrollably around a corner and smash into the wall. Talk about frustrating.
To be fair to this game, part of the spinning out was my fault. I have the damn American racer mentality which is that the brake button is just wasting space. I am so conditioned to going as fast as possible and power sliding around corners that when I play a game like this I have a hard time slowing down. This game really requires a different mindset to play. You really have to slow down and use your brakes in this game. Once you get the feeling for this the game is better to play. The problem is that if you try to slow down for the corners you will never win any races and no matter how careful you try to be, it is inevitable that you will spin out of control at some point. Talk about frustration.
This game had another problem that can only be classified as strange. For some stupid reason every time I would go from the menu setup screens to a race, the analog selection switch would turn off on the controller. I have no idea why this would happen and I had it happen on multiple controllers across two different systems. This really blows because unless you are thinking about it you will not notice that it happened until you reach the first corner and your car does not turn. I don't know how something like this could make its way into a production version of a game.
TOCA will never be confused with Gran Turismo, that is for sure. This game sports some of the most unimpressive graphics on a PSX racer to date. I was really disappointed with the almost first generation look of the tracks and cars. Nothing looked smooth and the corners seemed to be made up of straight lines instead of a continuous curve. I will say that it was cool the way that the cars showed the damage in real time but this was still not enough to make the under-detailed graphics acceptable.
I really wanted to like this game. I really like racing games and when something new and different comes down the chute I am always there to greet it with open arms. Unfortunately the control issues really killed the overall effect of the game. Like I said above, I know that I was partly to blame but I think it is a little bit ridiculous when you are just trying to correct you car while floating on a straight road that your car will start spinning. This made it so difficult to stay competitive throughout a six lap championship race because it seemed like every time I would take over first place I would end up smashing into the wall. Too bad too because with a little more work on the controls I may have been able to overlook the graphics but since I spent so much time spinning out of control I had plenty of opportunity to just look around.