The TOCA Racer Driver series has become the jack of all trades of the racing genre. Its huge variety of vehicle and race types have made it a favourite among racing fans anyone looking for something a little different in their racing games. Its punishing, but highly rewarding driving model has also struck a cord with many gamers, with some corners firmly believing that TOCA Race Driver 2 offered the best racing experience of any modern title. It's no surprise then that it's back, and everything's looking pretty great leading up to its February release date.
TOCA Race Driver 3 is said to contain double the content of the previous game and while I haven't been counting, there's an awful lot of content here. You'll get to take part in over 35 motorsports, spanning more than 100 real championships. These are split into the six main racing categories: Open-Wheel, Touring Cars, Oval, Classics, Off Road and Rally, and GT. Throughout the game you'll get to try your hand at karting, SuperTrucks, the US Dirt series, the Nissan Off-Road Challenge, the British GT- GT Cup, race in BMW Williams F1 cars and more. It could well be a racing fan's dream come true.
It's all well and good having a lot to do, but the driving is what matters. Thankfully, things are looking great in that department too. Veterans of the series will slip right into gear and newcomers can ease into things thanks to the tuneable difficulty. Having never driven a race car it's impossible to say how realistic things are, but turn all the driving aids off and things are by no means easy. If you think Gran Turismo is hardcore then think again. The great thing about TOCA, though, is that that you can hop around racing disciplines whenever you get bored. If IndyCar isn't doing much for you, why not fire up a 4x4 Monster truck? The range of vehicle types on offer is simply staggering.
It's expected, but it's worth noting that every type of vehicle feels different. To succeed takes more than any other racer out there as you have to learn how to drive so many vehicles. Sure, you've had to adjust to new cars in games before, but few games have tasked you with some dirt racing in buggies, followed by some rallying and then some V8 Supercars. At the moment the rally stages seem a little difficult compared to the other championships, with my best efforts barely being enough to make a podium finish. Increasing the game's overall difficulty simply makes these stages next to impossible, but hopefully this is an area that will be looked at prior to release.
The core gameplay mode is the World Tour. Here you pick and choose your way up a ladder, taking on championships as you wish, with Rick (the team manager from the previous game) once again appearing to help you on your way and give you information during the races. The CG video sections featuring Rick look pretty great and his comments are occasionally very useful. Each rung on the ladder offers a number of race types, so, for example, if you don't fancy your chances with the sprintcars, the Formula Palmer Audis might be more your thing. If you get stuck you can try one of the other events in order to move to the next set. Alternatively you can focus on one of the main racing categories and build a career. The Pro Career mode lets you hone your skills solely on GT, Off Road, Touring Cars, Historic, Open-Wheel, Rally or Oval racing. Difficulty can, of course, be tuned to make the game as challenging as you wish.
The TOCA series has always excelled in realistic damage modelling and TOCA Race Driver 3 is no exception. As well as looking impressive each vehicle's gears, steering, suspension, engine, wheels and tyres can all be damaged. How vehicles take damage varies too, with Open-wheel cars being easily susceptible to taking tyre damage, while trucks are sturdier and can take a rougher driving style. Damage to one area alone will hamper your vehicle's performance, but severe damage to multiple components will end your race. Damage to bodywork can also have a serious impact on the way your car performs and handles, altering your its aerodynamics and down force.
While the game still has some development time left, it doesn't look like it'll be winning any awards for its visuals, but still looks impressive. Being simultaneously developed for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC is bound to limit things somewhat, but draw distances are excellent, textures are sharp and car models look great - even when they've fallen apart after a few heavy collisions. Lighting and weather effects are perhaps the only areas that give the game away as current-gen. Compared to the very latest games the lighting seems a little flat (There doesn't appear to be any lovely HDR lighting here) and rain effects aren't a patch on those seen in the latest Need For Speed title.
TOCA Race Driver 3 is set to ship with split-screen multiplayer modes plus online play on all three systems. We'll test the online modes in time for our review, but everything looks to be in order, with quick games, custom races and a lobby system. Hopefully the online performance can live up to the rest of the game.
There's a load of stuff that remains to be looked at, including car tuning, upgrades and driver AI, but all that and more will be covered in our review in February. With a month of development time left there doesn't appear to be any major problems, with a few difficulty and technical issues being the only negatives to the current experience. For now you'll have to make do with our new screenshots in the media section and prepare for a high score (barring a monumental development disaster) next month.