Codemasters certainly isn't afraid to go head-to-head with the big boys. The ToCA Race Driver series is now onto its third iteration and while the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport have been making all the headlines, ToCA has been gathering quite a fan base. Not content with the huge selection of vehicles and race types from Race Driver 2, The Race Driver team have gone to town with their latest game, creating one of the most complete racing packages ever to grace consoles and PC.
Over the course of the game you'll get to take part in over 35 motorsports, spanning more than 100 real championships. These are split into six main categories: Open-Wheel, Touring Cars, Oval, Classics, Off Road and Rally, and GT. If you thought you'd be limited to traditional race cars you better think again, as you'll get to drive karts and SuperTrucks, take part in the US Dirt series and the Nissan Off-Road Challenge, and even race in a BMW Williams F1 car. And that isn't even half of it. To say the package is impressive is an understatement.
If you're familiar with previous games in the Race Driver series, the World Tour is a story mode of sorts, seeing you move from one racing discipline to the next, with your ever present team manager Rick on hand to tell you what the thinks after each race. Due to the nature of the World Tour, jumping from karting to dirt racing to monster trucks, it's incredibly entertaining. It might not be for everyone as it doesn't really let you hone your skills at one particular discipline, but for everyone who grows tired of doing the same thing over and over, it's a great way to enjoy most of what ToCA Race Driver 3 offers.
'Codemasters has done it again. Race Driver 3 is the best game in the series.'
If you want a more focussed experience you can start a Pro Career in one of eight racing disciplines. Each championship is tackled in a realistic manner, with full race rules and flags in operation. The Pro Career Championships certainly aren't for casual race fans, requiring knowledge of race rules and a good deal of racing skill. If you're not 100 per cent in the zone, the Pro Career will prove to be a frustrating experience, with flags being waved every few seconds and time penalties being issued before you've had a chance to get into second gear. It's worth it though, making victory all the sweeter. Each Pro Career championship can be tackled in normal and hard difficulty, and trophies earned unlock bonus content. Additional trophies can be earned by setting fastest laps and by playing online.
In Pro Career championships, Time Trial and Free Race modes you're able to tune your vehicles if you so wish. This certainly isn't essential to your success, but tweaking things can improve lap times and give you an edge over your opponents. Adjustments can be made to downforce, transmission, anti roll, tyre compound, tyre profile, break bias, ride height, suspension, and toe and camber. There's plenty to get your hands dirty with if you fancy yourself as a bit of a mechanic, but novices would be best advised to give tuning a wide berth. Certain championships also let you upgrade your vehicle. With a whole slew of upgrades on offer, it's about as deep as you want it to be.
While racing can be made incredibly tricky by turning Pro Simulation on, there's something in ToCA Race Driver 3 for almost all racing fans. Hardcore simulation fans will appreciate the level of detail in each vehicle's driving model and see how small changes in the tuning and upgrades can affect how cars behave on the track. Even with this depth of simulation available, the World Tour mode caters for everyone, with a huge gulf in racing styles and the option to choose your path, enabling even the most novice players to experience a vast selection of racing disciplines. Once you've unlocked championships in the Pro Career or World Tour mode you can race them at your leisure in the Free Race mode. Race set-up is fully customisable too, letting you tailor rules and opponents to your exact requirement.
If you think you've got what it takes to become a real racing legend, online play lets you test your skills against the best in the world. While the Xbox and PC versions will give you most competition, letting you race against eleven human opponents, the PlayStation 2 version is no slouch, with support for eight players online. As with all games, lag is a problem if you don't get into a good game, but find a group of players with good connections who are willing to play to the rules set up, and you'll find ToCA Race Driver 3 well worth playing online.
Next-gen racing games like Project Gotham Racing 3 have spoiled us somewhat, but ToCA Race Driver 3 looks great for a current-gen title. All versions of the game look superb, sporting smooth frame rates, a staggering 21 cars on track at once and an impressive level of detail in vehicle models and the environments. The ToCA series has always been at the front of the pack with damage modelling, and it's better than ever here. Not only does it look authentic, but it actually has an impact on how your vehicle handles on the road. Audio is equally impressive, with great engine sounds for each of the unique vehicles. The only real blemish comes from the odd less than spectacular texture on the home console versions, which don't look quite as impressive as the PC game.
If you're a racing fan ToCA Race Driver 3 is really a no brainer. It's got game modes and racing disciplines bursting from every polygonal seam and it's smart enough to cater for beginners and novices alike. World Tour and Pro Career game modes will take a long time to get through, and the online play will keep you playing for many months to come. It's hard to think of anything else the guys at Codemasters could have crammed into the game, and how they've managed to retain a high level of quality throughout is quite magnificent.