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TOCA Race Driver 3

After playing TOCA Race Driver 3 for some serious hours, the one word that comes to mind is: Comprehensive. It seems to be the current trend in automobile based videogames to deluge the gamer with more tracks, cars and options than you can shake a stick at. Codemasters have gone down this path with the latest incarnation of their long running series, TOCA, multiplied by a factor of ten. Anyone who has been impressed by the sheer numbers involved in games such as Project Gotham Racing or Gran Turismo will be blown away by how much is on offer in TOCA Race Driver 3. You want Supercars? Monster trucks? Go-karts? Any and every vehicle with four wheels is on the roster, giving the player an incredible variety of choice when the urge to burn rubber takes hold.

But letís set it in reverse for a minute, and start with a history lesson. TOCA Race Driver 3 will almost certainly be the culmination of its predecessors on the current console platforms. Initially, with the first two games, the TOCA license was purely a Touring Car license. As the series has expanded through six games, the license has meant less due to the expansion into all modes of four-wheel transport. TOCA Race Driver 3 then is accumulation of five years and a half dozen games worth of knowledge and experience. From the natty yet cool intro theme onwards, this invaluable learning curve becomes evident.

As I mentioned in my introduction, TOCA Race Driver 3 leaves no stone unturned in its creation of the most comprehensive racing game on the market at the moment. There are six different disciplines used for all the gameplay styles, which range from the old school racecars of the Classics discipline to the familiar Touring Cars of previous iterations. Each of the six disciplines deals with a different section of racing vehicles, which vary from the aerodynamic F1 to the durable Off-Road. But the catch is, they wonít all be playable from the outset. Indeed only the very slowest racecars and vehicles will be available at the beginning of the game, as the gamer faces the mammoth task of unlocking each of the disciplines, their cars and race tracks separately. What this equates to is a staggeringly large game that offers the kind of longevity and replay factor mostly the domain of sports titles and role-playing games. The one major problem that TOCA Race Driver 3 offers is Ė where to start?

Pro Career mode is the answer. Pro Career mode is the obligatory, catch all mode that takes you progressively through each of the disciplines. Half Life is the most obvious example of a game throwing you straight into the action without explanation or recourse to introductory exposition, but TOCA Race Driver 3ís Pro Career mode pushes it close, with the gamer rushed straight into the first qualifier before your introduction to Rick begins. Rick is the face of this newest TOCA game, a chirpy Scottish mechanic who can be a bit irritating but is essentially your guidebook through the game. Appearing in brief cut-scenes at the beginning of the Pro Career and before particularly challenging events, Rick relays information and occasionally offers tips and advice during a race.           

One thing you wonít be short of is races. With 43 locations in 13 countries and over 80 international racing circuits covering 150 miles of courses, there is an abundance of tarmac to chew up. With varying environments, particularly in the Off-Road category, and so many real world tracks to set alight, repetition simply does not become an option as you plot the best racing lines and decide on the easiest places to overtake. This becomes even more important because each of the various vehicle categories have distinctly different skill requirements that often include forcing the gamer to change their style of racing. Whereas Oval racing is all about maintaining patience and driving line, Touring cars requires much more aggression in pushing through the pack and dictating the pace. These subtleties of design are what often separate first from last, when a rush of blood can cause a spin onto grass or gravel forcing you to watch helplessly as several cars whiz past. With full rules and penalty flags in play, it simply isnít a case of smashing through the cars in front until you have the lead. A variety of skills and learning are required to succeed and there will inevitably be a lot of low placed finishes before your driver stands atop the podium. During this process you will change vehicles like they are going out of fashion.

The variety of vehicles on offer and the fantastic looking vehicle models make TOCA Race Driver 3 a real pleasure on the eyes. All of the tracks and environments are colourfully detailed Ė although this is more the case for the roadside environments, than the further away objects such as grandstands etc. The vehicle models are authentic and accurate, deforming in pleasing, if occasionally random, fashion. Damage incurred during the race really does affect driving conditions and how the car handles. For example; your wheel alignment may take a serious bump, forcing the car to drift unless you take tight control of the steering. What this effectively does is force the gamer to consider certain situations, over-taking for instance, in terms of both the immediate benefits and long-term consequences of an action, in relation to the race. Also the different vehicles show this accumulation of damage in various ways, Open-wheel racers get visibly banged up quicker and more obviously, but pound a car for long enough and itíll be plain to see.  

In the presentation department, the blocky menu system for the front-end user options is aesthetically a bit of an eye sore, but nothing you notice overly once engrossed in the game. The physics engine is realistic, allowing for tuning in all of the complex areas of vehicle construction that can make a difference to the race and that petrol heads the world over love. The sound is pretty much what you expect from a racing game; some nice little sound effects with background music you can nod your head to. What little voice acting there is, comes across clear and sharp with some semi-humorous moments. Although Rickís Scottish accent does get a bit tiresome after extended playing time. In terms of presentation TOCA Race Driver 3 is never going to set the gaming world alight, but it does do a slick job of being accessible and comfortably negotiable.

Racing games are often more fun to play in multiplayer mode, and TOCA Race Driver 3 is no exception. With split-screen, system link and online options, gamers have a choice of how many human opponents they wish to take on, up to an online maximum of eight on the PS2 (this figure rises to 12 on both PC and Xbox). All of the various disciplines and sections are available, allowing a wide variety of races or tournaments. One great aspect of the multiplayer experience is that the game uses a ranking system, which, depending on your performance, adds or deducts points to the overall ranking.

 In conclusion, TOCA Race Driver 3 is everything you want in a racing simulation. It possesses vast quantities of options, tracks, vehicles and races to sink your gaming teeth into. Longevity is significant, likely numbering in the months for average gamers, and as a result there is real value for money on offer. It is a fitting send off the series on the current platforms and bodes well for the inevitable step-up to the next-gen consoles in the coming months.   

Graphics: Itís a racing game so the tracks are all important and work very well. It does suffer from being a bit boring now and again, but nothing major.

Gameplay: For the main everything works smoothly with the frustration brought about by the level of accuracy needed.

Lifespan: Comprehensive, I donít need to say anymore.

Conclusion: Occasionally frustrating difficulty and over-precise movements for non-racing fans but overall so much to do and achieve, it wonít get boring.

Final Score: 8/10

Owen Jones © 2006

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