TOCA Touring Car Championship
So there you are, about to fall asleep to the sound of the perfect soporific, with a satisfied smile playing winsomely about your gnarled and experience-hardened, yet curiously attractive, face. The perfect soporific is Peter O'Sullivan's voice, droning away over the horse racing on Grandstand. while the satisfied smile's down to a horse with a thigh strain, and Pete burbling on about what a shame it is that it has to be shot in the head.
You slip down one level of consciousness, then another. You're almost asleep, when suddenly there's a horrible, discordant, scarcely human scream and you sit bolt upright, jarring your sensitive stomach, wondering whether the humane pistol wielder has accidentally shot Peter O'Sullivan in the testicles by mistake. But it's only Murray Walker, bellowing about something. Trying to focus on the glare of the TV, you can see people bumping each other about in brightly-coloured sales reps' motorway cruisers. Murray's still screaming. You wonder if anyone will notice the small pool of bile freshly arrived on your shirt front. You decide not and, now fully awake, settle back to watch the touring car racing. After all, it's the only thing the BBC can still afford. You might as well make the most of it.
Where were we?
Sorry about that. Right, this is the only touring car game you're going to see (Europress had one in the pipeline but pulled out because Codemasters have the official licence). It's being sold on the basis of being a simulation rather than an arcade game, and as far as car handling goes, that's definitely the case: you have to do things properly, or you'll find yourself backwards and upside down against a wall, looking embarrassed and wondering how you're going to hide the stains down the back of your racing suit on your way back to the motorhome. So it's brake in a straight line, turn in, accelerate, wibble the steering wheel for effect to impress watching viewers - rather than slam the brakes on and turn in at the same time - slide sideways, add opposite lock and zoom away laughing insanely. If you're used to driving that way, you may get a bit frustrated. Like NASCAR, it takes a while to get used to the way the cars handle.
Casual passers-by will also know you haven't been doing things properly, because they'll see it from your car. Every collision has an effect on the bodywork, and your nicely-drawn, prettily coloured-in repmobile will soon start looking like it was knocked together out of old sheets of corrugated iron. If you try really hard, you can even get the bonnet to fly off. But not into the crowd, unfortunately - the game's distressingly low on the beheading count.
So, a simulation
So, it's a simulation - and yet it has a number of things which are distinctly un-simulationique. For example, of the nine tracks in the game (such as Donington Park, Silverstone, Thruxton, Brands Hatch and Oulton Park), only two are available at the start of the game. You can only race about on the others once you've 'unlocked' them - you can't even have one-off races or time trials on them until you've gained at least 20 points at the two races which take place at each circuit in championship mode. Distinctly arcadey. And if you start a championship you can't get to the next track without doing this, either. (To get 20 points, you need two third places or equivalent - a sixth and a first, for example.) They say it adds longevity. I say it's a bit knob, and you should be able to get everything from the start in a simulation.
The other positively arcadey thing is that there's a bonus track, bonus cars, 'fun' car modifications, an extra view and even a reduced gravity effect all hidden in there somewhere. TOCA's a bit of a schizophrenic.
There are four views: two behind the car, from the bonnet, and a HeadCam (from the driver's head). The in-car view's quite nicely done: your gloved hands fight at the steering wheel, the car vibrates and your head wobbles about like Anne Widdecombe's arse on a bouncy castle. But there's no rear-view mirror - you have to use a kind of look-behind-you button to get a generic shot of what's going on at the back, like the one in Formula 1. This makes it more difficult to cut people up or block their passages effectively (put your own joke in here). So one of the outside views, although a bit arcadey for hardened sim fans, is probably the most useful.
Graphically, TOCA won't take your breath away, especially if you see 3Dfx as an instant cure-all. Motor racing tracks are pretty scantily clad at the best of times (it helps keep death off the roads if the road in question is 200 yards from the nearest solid object) but the trees, stands and gawking geeks that form the backgrounds aren't exactly mind-blowing in their graphical loveliness. Even on a P133 it's still a bit jerky, especially when you're throwing yourself into a hairpin.
TOCA sort of falls between two stools. Driving-wise, it's a viable alternative to NASCAR for car handling nuts - but unlike NASCAR, you won't get bored shitless on endless roundabouts. But you also don't get any options for car setup, and the weird points-based unlocking system is a pain. On the other hand, the door handle to door handle, bumping and barging racing is fun and, although seemingly slow at first, you soon get used to it. There are plenty of network, serial and even split-screen options for multiplayer fun, too. Oh, and the cars sound like great big air conditioners, just like in real life. So that's alright.
Download TOCA Touring Car Championship
Just before I left the fair shores of England to take hold of the collective leashes of this bunch of weirdos, this game was causing a stir. With the Touring Car Racing sport enjoying a spectacular surge in popularity it was the right game at exactly the right time. Over here though, it's somewhat less relevant. Most of the cars are known to American players, but there are a few uniquely European models that will have you scratching your heads. The courses are also all uniquely British (as you'd expect...it's a British sport) and, as a self-proclaimed expert on these things I can tell you that all of them look dead-realistic. Honest guv. What most impressed the discerning British games-play-ing public though, was the way it "feels"--the controls are absolutely spot-on and once you've got the hang of a featherlite touch you'll be screaming around Silverstone behind the wheel of your Renault Laguna in record time. If anything winds you up at all, it's probably going to be the quirky nature of the sport itself rather than the game. The Championship is very much a points-based arrangement and when playing this mode you'll find you have to race every track twice, which may seem a bit odd. Still, it looks good (not Gran Turismo good...but good) and will definitely satisfy car loons.
TOCA's handling is particularly realistic but more impressive is the opponent car Al. As you work your way up through the pack you'll notice them making the same mistakes you make...swerving off the track and bumping into stuff, etc. Graphically it all looks very nice. It's not on par with Gran Turismo, but it still looks OK. It's definitely something for the more enthusiastic racing fan. Johnny England should like it--it's on his turf.
TOCA certainly shines in one very specific area: The physics are realistic. This is definitely not a Daytona USA-style racer. TOCA is the type of racing game where you'll have to take each sharp turn with the utmost of care, or you'll spin out onto the grass and insure a loss. In these regards, TOCA is a bit frustrating. (Is there such a thing as "too real?") It will take most people a lot of practice to place well in the game.
TOCA is the only racing game that offers nearly as much realism as Sony's masterpiece Gran Turismo. Unfortunately, this realism means that you're likely to have an extremely unforgiving racing experience. Countless hours will be required in order to properly compete in races and many more will be needed to get through a season. Still, TOCA is a must-have for serious racing fans who have some time on their hands.
Yet another PlayStation-to-GBC conversion. This time it's South Peak taking their popular racing sim and shrinking it down to the handheld wonder. TOCA will feature nine real-world tracks with different weather conditions and a full-featured championship mode. This summer the Game Boy is the place to be for hardcore racing fanatics.
Snapshots and Media
GameBoy Color Screenshots
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