ToCA Race Driver 3
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It Must Be really tough to work at Codemasters. Every morning you get up, shower, towel off, dress, then drive through sunny Warwickshire to the magnificent gaming pavilion at its centre. But having driven for half an hour or so, you then have a job that involves you driving imaginary computer cars all day - comparing them to your morning drive and ticking boxes about gears and inertia-dampening fields.
At the end of the day you have to get in your car AGAIN and go home. And, presumably, once you're home you won't be able to think of anything apart from the bit of your journey when you were just turning left down The Parade at the top of Royal Leamington Spa and your clutch felt slightly wobbly. You'll start worrying whether or not that contradicted one of the 'wobbly clutch' realism boxes that you ticked earlier in the day. Then you'd have to do it all over again the next day, and even if it was the weekend your wife might ask you to drive to Sainsbury's. Anyway, here's the TOCA 3.
Download ToCA Race Driver 3
Just Like The never-ending war in the office over which flavour of Space Raiders reigns supreme, there's a massive divide in the world of driving games. On one side you have the arcade racers: these high-octane games aren't too smart but they're all about fun. They've watched The Fast And The Furious far too many times to give a toss about the laws of physics or even the performance of real cars. They didn't even notice that someone's engine failing because a bit of their car's body fell off doesn't make any sense, and they insist on every car in the world being fitted with enough nitrous to make your eyes bleed because their focus is solely on enjoyment.
Then on the other side you have the hardcore driving sims: these are the ones who look down their nose at you in disgust should you fail to know the difference between a camshaft and camber. Obsessed with recreating the real-world experience of driving, these guys couldn't care less if they're not accessible to everybody: after all, they're the closest thing you're ever likely to get to driving some of the world's finest automobiles. Only rarely does a game stumble into the no-man's-land between the two. But now, TOCA Race Driver3's done just that, and we're here to see if it can survive in this war of the machines.
First things first, let's get to grips with the mechanics underneath. TRD3 features three modes: World Tour, Pro Career and Simulation. In World Tour, you make your way to the top of the racing pile by progressing through tiers, each of which offers a selection of motorsports to pick from. This is basically a rehash of TRD2's Career mode without the storyline, but it has been improved with a larger selection of choices at each tier, meaning that your chances of getting lumbered with truck racing have been greatly reduced.
Pro Career's a new mode that offers the chance to specialise in a particular branch of motorsport, from open-wheel to off-road. Each discipline requires you to win a championship of around ten races in each vehicle (starting with the least |x>werful), before progressing to the next level. You can also purchase upgrades in this mode, although thankfully they're limited to tuning products rather than letting you add Kenwood stickers to the rear window. In contrast to World Tour, Pro Career allows more time to get acquainted with a certain style of driving and therefore improve your skills in that discipline, and thus will appeal much more to serious driving fans. Rounding out the selection is Simulation mode which simply offers free rides and time-trials with tracks and cars that have been unlocked in the other modes.
Although the addition of Pro Career mode should extend the life of the game way beyond that offered by TRD2, the modes aren't the main focus. No, as every fan knows, TOCA's strength lies in offering enough motorsport to humble both the Goodwood Festival Of Speed and Top Gear rolled into one. The number of different racing genres has more than doubled, and while there are a few dud newcomers (see 'Wacky Racers', left), most of the additions are real gems, for example, the legendary Group B rally cars. In their debut appearance, these flame-spitting monsters' combination of tyre-shredding power and serious sliding make for some fantastic driving over the varied terrain of the UK rally stages.
Other brilliant additions include the sexy rides in the GT series, the gorgeous but frail Mercedes Silver Arrows from the 1930s, the infamous BMW Williams F1 car, along with some down-and-dirty Baja Beetles.
Codemasters has done a magnificent job of making each separate vehicle handle convincingly different, from the steady acceleration and understeer of a Honda Civic to the wheel-spinning power and manic oversteer of a Mosler. Just managing to shoehorn all of the different driving styles in is a massive achievement, and with a driving model that's relatively easy to get to grips with, it's accessible to everyone. However, hardcore drivers are likely to be disappointed when they plug in their steering wheel by the lifeless and lack-lustre force feedback that fails to communicate the road's surface to the driver. Besides that, the game still plays well through a wheel and it's just as at home on a pad too, so unless you're bonkers about realism, you won't need to worry.
There are many features that you can tweak to tailor the driving experience to your needs. If you're a more serious driver, you may want to try out the harder difficulty setting and the new race rules, flags and practice and qualifying laps, which add a massive dose of realism to the title. However, if it's simple 'get in and go' racing you're after, you'll find yourself nicely catered for too.
Visually, we just can't help but feel that despite some new tweaks such as bumpmapping, the engine could do with some serious sparkle to back up the variety on offer. While everything looks perfectly accurate, the cars have a tendency to look dull and flat, instead of the shiny, reflective surfaces we expect. That said, the tracks are all modelled well, and if you're after a real visual treat, head for the UK rally stages with their spectacular winding tracks through gorgeously-modelled trees, narrow country lanes overlooked by the local wildlife and imposing grand manors.
The AI's impressive too, with cars both ahead and behind you falling prone to mistakes and spinning spectacularly off the track. Sometimes the annoying tendency of opponent drivers to aggressively stick to the racing line still crops up though, meaning that if you plan to take that perfect line, you run the risk of getting a little too friendly with the side panels of your opposition.
What's more, when things do get out of hand, they really go with a bang. Crash into an opponent or part of the scenery and you get to see the excellent Terminal damage engine in full effect. Windows smash, sparks fly, panels get dented and bumpers even hang off and drag on the ground. It's not all just pretty effects either; there are mechanical consequences too. Hit something head-on and you're in danger of busting your radiator, leading to cooling problems and perhaps even allowing your engine to overheat. Normally a cheater's paradise, driving off the track will now make debris cling to your tyres, reducing their grip.
These detrimental effects ultimately serve to improve your driving skills, as you discover it's easier to win with a complete car rather than one that has steam pouring from the bonnet and is missing a couple of tyres. However, choose to still use the car in front's rear bumper as a way of saving on your brake pads and your return to the pit lane will be greeted with some less than happy opponents in the cut-scenes.
By straddling the thin line between arcade racer and driving sim, TOCA Race Driver 3 runs the risk of alienating both ends of the spectrum. Indeed, hardcore fans will probably prefer the full-on petrol-head's dream that is GTR?, while arcade fans may be happier with something that takes itself a less seriously, such as NFS: Most Wonted.
That said, if you're a fan of any kind of motorsport at all, you do need to grab yourself a copy of TRD3. Let's face it, thanks to Codemasters spectacularly managing to squeeze an entire sporting genre onto one DVD, as well as the ability to take your skills online should you finish the mass of races on offer, there's some serious miles to rack up before tiring this game out. In fact, given the mass of content, it could be the only driving title you'll need for the entire year.
We explore the realms of the slightly unhinged world of niche motorsports
We wholeheartedly applaud Codemasters' efforts - the variety of motorsport it's managed to cram onto one little disc is astounding, but there's some decidedly strange inclusions too. I mean, lawnmower racing? Yes, you can take your very own Honda-powered grass-cutter out for a spin. Feeling decidedly more 'motorised wheelchair' than burbling bastion of four-wheeled power, these were definitely added more for novelty value than in the interests of real racing (they don't even cut the grass!). Monster trucks also make an appearance, and while these things might be fun to watch crushing cars while piloted by surly American red-necks, they're a complete handful to race, with front wheels that pull off the ground under acceleration, resulting in some spectacular wheelies but not much forward motion. Super Trucks have also returned although frankly, the less said about them, the better.
Feeling inspired by some of Codemasters' quirky selections, we had a look about to find out just what peculiarities might be included in the next version. A quick search of the Internet revealed that Codies has barely scratched the surface, with such oddities as caravan-pulling, swamp buggy racing, golf cart racing and tractor racing all yielding results. Bung this lot together, throw in Dastardly, Muttley and Penelope Pitstop as main characters and we reckon it'll be a massive hit Or maybe we should just stick to writing..
The stroppy Scot returns...
Although purists will probably throw their spanners at the mag in disgust we have to admit to being quite partial to the story mode featured in TRD2. Not only was witnessing Rick's blood pressure soar an added incentive to finish a race, but it also gave a quick time-out from driving and we were a bit sad to see it disappear in this version. Instead, the cut-scenes this time around merely relate to the racing events you've just achieved, such as qualifying on pole position or pissing off your opponents, with Rick making an appearance every now and then. However, rather than just venting his anger at you or getting exasperated at the intervention of various females, he does actually have something worth saying this time. In the cut-scenes between races, he often gives you the lowdown on the next car you'll be racing, introducing its strengths and weaknesses and giving hints on the best way to drive it Of course, he's also there to cheer you on from the pit as well, pointing out any damage and generally subjecting you to the kind of nagging only a whinging wife can match. Wonder if he can cook...