TOCA Race Driver 3 Review (PS2)
Everyone has had that band or movie or maybe even a television show that they loved, but could never find anyone to talk about it with. Your buddies hadn’t seen it. Half of them have never heard of it. And, try as you might to convince them, people seemed reluctant to give it a try. Call it a cult classic. An underground act, maybe. But you were in on the ground floor. You believed when no one else did.
Inevitably what happens? People discover it. A little publicity begins to circulate. Hype starts to generate. Then, before you know it, your Grandpa is talking to you about his favorite scene in “Clerks” or you watch Green Day sweeping the Grammy Awards when you still remember seeing them in a tiny club and buying a cassette of “Kerplunk” out of a cardboard box afterwards.
In the sports gaming world, we’ve seen a similar path carved out by different titles. The Winning Eleven series from Konami is one example of a cult classic, a critic’s darling that appears to have finally made the leap to mainstream success. Who’s ready to make that leap next?
My money is on Codemasters’ TOCA Race Driver 3 being the release that pushes this fantastic series into the limelight. When TOCA 2 hit U.S. shelves in 2004, the staff at Operation Sports was blown away. The title, which retailed for less than $30, was the deepest and strongest racing experience that the Xbox had seen to that point. The title ran away with the staff’s choice for 2004 Racing Game of the Year. So, needless to say, the anticipation for a sequel was well received.
When TOCA Race Driver 3 hit the market, a few quality racing titles had made a name for themselves in the console world since TOCA 2’s release. A little bit more mainstream. One was even an Xbox360 launch title.
What would Codemasters change for TOCA Race Driver 3 in order to compete?
Thankfully, very little.
If you’re new to the series, let’s get the most important thing out of the way up front. We’re going to treat this like one of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” from my childhood. If you are a fan of fast-paced, crash ‘em up, run-them-into-the-wall style racing, please stop reading and check out one of our fine Burnout reviews.
If you’re more of a "sim" fan; you like the real cars, real feel, real racing, strategy, slow-into-the-curves type of game, read on.
TOCA Race Driver 3 is about racing the right way. There are different styles, rules, and expectations for each unique type of vehicle and race. That hold down the accelerator and try not to hit anything (unless it ticks you off) business will not fly. You will be penalized for it. Not always penalized in the classic sense of the word, but the AI is smart enough to use your indiscretions to its advantage. And the real-world damage model and engine will quickly end your day if you’re careless.
The variety of cars and races are pulled from over 30 different motor sports from practically any championship you can imagine. It literally feels like a couple dozen games in one title. Formula 1, Open-wheel, Indy, Baja, it’s all there and so much more. You can’t help but get your money’s worth out of this title even if you do nothing more than simply try each car once.
There are two distinct experiences that you’ll find in TOCA Race Driver 3; online and offline.
Besides your basic race fare, the offline experience offers two tremendous modes of play for the single player. Those familiar with the TOCA series will be happy to welcome back the World Tour mode. It’s kind of like a story mode - without a cumbersome story to detract from the gaming experience. This mode basically has you jumping from one style to another as you progress through the story. A few different characters will help guide you on your path with some great cutscenes that features some of the best voice-acting on the market.
World Tour shines because it’s unique in today’s industry. Most story/career modes have you building your skills and rewards you for mastering one. In World Tour, this isn't the case. Moving from race to race, you never really have the opportunity to master one type of vehicle. Instead, you have to be flexible. You have to become a great Race Driver instead of a great Indy Driver, Open-wheel Driver, or Formula 1 Driver. You have to adapt to the race that is next. This is a great concept that adds a ton of depth to the game.
Codemasters is also smart enough to realize that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Those offline racers can start a Pro Career and attempt to master a particular race and vehicle style. Learn the rules of the road and how to handle your machine. I found it nice to try to work both modes simultaneously. When I would get stumped in the World Tour, I found the Pro Career a great test track. And with customizable rules and AI, TOCA Race Driver 3 really provides something for everyone.
Naturally, you’ll want to showcase your talents online. Not a problem. TOCA 3 goes online on PS2, Xbox and PC. When we took it for a Sunday afternoon drive, I found little difficulty in finding a race. And, perhaps most refreshingly, I had no problem finding a great group of racers. It’s nice to see a great sim game that pulls in great sim gamers. One complaint is that, while not impossible, a lot of planets seem to need to align in order to get a great connection for racing. The PS2 actually supports fewer racers in a given run, but the lag can be more troublesome if you don’t find the right hook-up. However, it’s worth the time and legwork to find that perfect session for tremendous online racing.
The title is deeper than any on the market. The AI is top notch. And, on top of all that, it’s one of the most graphically advanced titles that we’ve seen on the PS2. The cars and all of the action are rendered to near-perfection, and apart from a few hiccups in physics on some of the vehicles, it moves realistically and beautifully.
TOCA Race Driver 3 is the quintessential sim racing experience available on the PS2. Time will tell if this is the release that pushes the series over the top into mainstream acclaim. In the meantime, those of us that are in on the secret will continue to enjoy a fantastic follow-up effort that is actually superior to a title that won “Game of the Year.”