TOCA Race Driver 3
It may not be focused, but this is still one of the better racers around.
PS2, Xbox, PC
By John Gold
While most developers of driving games are content to pick one driving style and do it well, Codemasters has gone the other way entirely by trying to ram as many styles as possible into its TOCA Race Driver series. This approach has worked well for the company, and the success of the second game meant that a sequel was inevitable. The only question is whether there's enough new stuff here to bring you back.
The short answer is: maybe. (Hey, we never said it was easy.) While there are a variety of new modes and a few changes to the highly touted career mode, this does feel a lot like last year's version. Neophytes will still find one of the deepest driving games around, which is a good thing, as long as you like your driving games with a healthy simulation bent. If, however, what you're after is OutRun-like thrills, you should probably steer clear.
If you're like me, the first thing you'll do after creating your profile is to jump straight into the World Tour mode. Here you'll venture deeper and deeper into the verdant jungle of driving styles while the frankly fantastic cut scenes provide the theatrics and drama of your quest through the ranks. Just like last time, it's worth noting that while the off-track stuff could easily have been written off as an add-on to the driving, which naturally forms the meat of the game, the effort that's gone into getting the story elements down is ever-present.
This quasi-story based mode will give you a taste of the multitude of car and race types, which are present as optional components in each of the 30-plus levels. From Baja Buggies to 4 X 4 Monsters and Formula Palmer crafts to rally cars - if you can drive it you'll probably find it here. And while all the styles behave differently, the veracity varies, straying into frustrating now and again. 4 X 4 Monsters, I'm looking at you. There's also the issue of difficulty, which can sometimes be unflinching. You could find yourself storming though some levels, only to run head first into the difficulty curve in the next. There are multiple styles at each level, meaning that if you're completely rubbish at racing Formula Fords, you can instead give the GT class a go.
This gets even worse (or better, if that's your thing) once you start playing in the individual career modes, which break down the cars into classes, including Classics, Open Wheel and Off Road. Need for Speed this is not, and you'll soon learn that making real progress in the tougher modes is dependant on your natural ability and your willingness to put the time into getting better. And that's ignoring the additional depth courtesy of your ability to heavily tweak the bolts of each car.
What makes the game impressive though is that even while it's kicking your ass you can't help but marvel at how well it's all put together. Hit a wet rally track and not only will your car slip and slide across the gravelly courses, but the tar sections will glisten as the rain beats down upon you. It's in conditions such as these, where you have to keep your car together at all costs and still concentrate on keeping up with the pack, that the game draws you in, coaxing you into willfully submitting yourself to the commitment getting better requires. And when you hit the wall and shatter your gearbox, my guess is you'll gladly restart the level, knowing full well that, for the most part, you failed because you simply weren't good enough.
We live in a time where the mass market is getting all the attention, many people wanting quick thrills and immediate gratification while ardent gamers are made to suffer shallowness, but TOCA Race Driver 3 has made a stand against that fashion, calling rather to the hardcore who will spend hour after (after hour after hour) savoring the sumptuous banquet of automotive engineering.
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TOCA Race Driver 3
Trailer (normal quality)