TOCA Race Driver 3
The racing genre is one of the most fiercely competitive in gaming terms. Quite frankly, there's something for everyone. Whether you want the intensity of rallying, the realism of Formula one or - heaven forbid - the idiocy of racing as a certain Crazy Frog, then it's there, ripe for the picking. In this respect, Codemasters have been clever in their TOCA series. The latest effort features not just one racing discipline, not two, not even three, but thirty-five, that's how many, and over 120 championships. There's GT, off-road, trucking, touring cars, oval, historic motors and kit car racing, to name but a few. Now, if that's not what the phrase 'hitting thirty-five birds with one stone' was invented for then it really should be. However, there's another saying you might know that prefers quality over quantity. After all, what's a wealth of cars and tracks worth if racing on them is as enjoyable as having motor oil dripped into your eyes through a pipette? Thankfully, you'll be pleased to know that TOCA Race Driver 3 doesn't disappoint in terms of gameplay either.
The bulk of TOCA Race Driver 3 consists of two distinct career modes. The first, world tour is an uncluttered career mode that sees you as an up and coming racer, competing in 32 tiers compromising the numerous disciplines that the game has to offer. In order to progress upwards through the championships you must finish in a set position after a predetermined number of races. As you'd imagine this is easier said than done as you rise through the ranks, tweaking your vehicle along the way. You'll discover that you naturally enjoy racing certain vehicles more than others; some are naturally easier to control which is often a deciding factor, though no championship lasts forever so even if you do end up driving something not to your tastes it won't be long until something more to your liking crops up. To support you along the way is a trusty Scottish trainer/partner/mechanic. He provides encouraging commentary before, during and after races, but his frequent occurrences are short affairs that don't hinder the flow of the game. In fact, the video snippets are enjoyable affairs and you'll probably feel like you've become his adopted son after a couple of hours play. I don't know why, it just happens. The second main mode is the pro career mode. Here you choose just one type of motor and work your way from the bottom to the top in all the competitions on offer in that division of racing; great for the choosy among us.
Either way, every type of race is enjoyable to be a part of thanks to a real sense of speed and weight behind most of the vehicles. You'll notice the difference most notably in the handling, learning to judge how a truck handles differently to a rally car (especially if you skip from one to the next in competition) is essential on your path to career success. In addition, keeping you on your toes are a set of AI controlled competitors that definitely aren't soft, in fact they're pretty ruthless from the off. If you lose your line on a corner they'll think nothing of clipping you as they pass, sending you skidding off the track and knocking you from first to last position before you can say, 'excuse me, Sir! That's not very sportsmanlike conduct now, is it?' In normal mode there's a chance for you to catch up if you mess up early on, but in hard mode you can kiss goodbye to poll position. Thankfully you can restart any race without forfeiting the championship you're in, which is fair, because some races involve more than a couple of the kind of tense encounters that leave your pad soaked from sweat. Delightful.
As well as playing the part, TOCA Race Driver 3 also looks the part. The 70 or so licensed vehicles are beautifully smooth and detailed-looking recreations of their real life counterparts. With so much detail you might forgive a little slowdown at top speed, but to Codemasters' credit there isn't any of that either, even when tight angled corners get crowded with everyone jostling for position. Every track seems to be faithful to its real life twin, too and they're all full of the obligatory advertising, trees and barrier scenery that you'd expect. The only problem with them is that the crowd looks about as stiff and unexcited as an ironing board... if ironing boards were living objects, that is. However, the only time you'll ever notice this is when you're not zooming by at over 100km/hr, after a crash or a misjudged corner. Speaking of crashes, this is one of the game's biggest boasts and it doesn't disappoint either. Different types of bumps and scrapes produce the expected damage to your car, ranging from chopped up tires if you ride over too much gravel to losing your windscreen if you're competing like a total maniac. Of course, the most spectacular results occur when you decide to just turn around and speed head first into the unaware cars coming the correct way around the track. The mechanic shouts 'You're going the bloody wrong way!' as if you didn't know you'd reversed a full 360 degrees from the start line, which makes for an entertaining race and some even more entertaining replays.
If you're after a comprehensive racing title that'll last you a long time then TOCA Race Driver 3 is the game for you. Chuck in a split-screen multiplayer mode, online play and all the other usual modes (time trials and all that jazz) and you're sorted for a long time to come. If there's one complaint it's the precision necessary to succeed in completing some of the championships. In a lot of the more difficult races one mistake and your attempt to win is over, and while you'd expect a degree of skill to be involved in it, the winning or losing of a race due to missing the line of a corner by a millimetre can get mighty frustrating. This fact is compounded by the sensitivity of some of the controls, with even the minutest of touches of the analogue stick when necessary, sometimes seemingly insufficient. Otherwise, TOCA Race Driver 3 is a definite improvement on the last in the series and a title that would sit proudly amongst anybody's games collection.