TOCA Race Driver 2006 Hands-On

We visit Codemasters in the UK and get our hands on the PS2 and Xbox versions of TOCA Race Driver 2006 for the first time.

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During a recent visit to Codemasters' UK headquarters we were able to get our hands on work-in-progress PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of TOCA Race Driver 2006 for the first time. Currently scheduled for release in February 2006, TOCA Race Driver 2006 promises to improve upon its predecessor in just about every way imaginable, with greater realism and a greater variety of racing styles at the top of the development team's goal list.

When it was released in April last year, TOCA Race Driver 2--with its roster of 15 distinct racing disciplines--was undoubtedly Codemasters' most ambitious racing game to date. TOCA Race Driver 2006, then, is a mammoth undertaking by comparison, featuring no fewer than 35 different styles of racing spanning some 160 championships. The 35 racing styles in TOCA Race Driver 2006 will be organized into six "spokes"--touring, GT, classic, open-wheel, oval, and rally and off-road--and you'll be able to move up through the ranks in any one of them if you choose to play the game's pro career mode. If you opt to specialize in open-wheel racing, for example, you'll start out behind the wheel of a go-kart and will have to prove yourself in Formula 1000 (formerly Formula Jedi) and Formula Palmer championships (among others) before you're allowed anywhere near the cockpit of Williams' current F1 car, the BMW FW27. The FW27 won't be the only Williams F1 car that you get to drive in TOCA Race Driver 2006, incidentally, since Nelson Piquet's FW11B and Damon Hill's FW18 championship-winning rides will also be eligible for certain events.

TOCA Race Driver 2006 features no fewer than 35 different racing disciplines.
TOCA Race Driver 2006 features no fewer than 35 different racing disciplines.

TOCA Race Driver 2006 will feature more than 80 different cars in total, most of which are officially licensed race cars from competitions all over the world, such as the German DTM, the British GT, and the Australian V8 Supercars. Notable additions to the garage for 2006 will include Baja trucks, monster trucks, sprint cars, and Koenig-tuned Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches. The performance and characteristics of each vehicle will be determined by more than 400 variables, including around 100 (the same number used for each vehicle in TOCA Race Driver 2) that are used to accurately re-create the performance and durability of tires. To give you some idea of just how realistic Codemasters is aiming to make the tires in TOCA Race Driver 2006, some of the variables mentioned during our presentation included the rubber compound, the tread depth, the tire width, the size of the tire walls, the temperature, the weight of the car (which will change according to fuel consumption), and even the altitude of the circuit you're racing on.

Other individual car parts will be simulated with a similarly impressive level of detail, and in championships where it's appropriate you'll have the option to tune and upgrade your ride with new licensed parts. You'll also be able to affect your car's performance adversely, particularly if you're playing with all of the difficulty and car damage options cranked up. Race-ending crashes will be possible, engines will blow if you thrash them too much, and your vehicle's airflow characteristics will change with every dent you add to the bodywork. Purportedly, it'll even be possible for you to alter your car's aerodynamics so dramatically through collisions and such that its downforce is no longer adequate to keep it stuck firmly to the tarmac at high speeds, which could result in some particularly spectacular crashes if you're not careful.

The rules you must adhere to will vary between championships.
The rules you must adhere to will vary between championships.

TOCA Race Driver 2006 will boast a roster of no fewer than 45 tracks for you to wreck at, and since many of them offer multiple configurations, there will actually be more than 100 circuits in total. New locations in TOCA Race Driver 2006 will include tracks in Bahrain and Shanghai, and although many of the circuits from TOCA Race Driver 2 will reprise their roles in the upcoming game, we were disappointed to learn that our local circuit, the Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point), didn't make the cut for some reason. Regardless of where you're racing, you'll have to adhere to the same rules you would in real life, such as getting yellow-flagged for cutting corners. You'll also have to concern yourself with weather conditions, and although they won't dynamically change during a race, they will often vary between your practice, qualifying, and race sessions. One particularly interesting new feature in TOCA Race Driver 2006 will be the inclusion of class-based races such as those seen at Le Mans, where there are multiple races being staged on the same track simultaneously. The British GT Championship races, for example, feature a starting grid with cars from GT, N-GT, and GT Cup classes.

Driving Ambition

TOCA Race Driver 2006 will support up to 21 cars on a track simultaneously, although the number of online players supported by each platform (which has yet to be confirmed) will likely be closer to 16. New online options for TOCA Race Driver 2006 will include practice and qualifying sessions before each race, as well as a spectator mode that lets you watch races in progress from the same camera angles used for TV coverage at each circuit. Another noteworthy addition to the online game is that in addition to your overall ranking, you'll be ranked according to your skills in each of the six spokes and in each of the 35 racing disciplines. So, if you're really only interested in showing off your open-wheel skills online, for example, you won't have to spend time with other disciplines to get the props you deserve.

Don't expect any Gran Turismo-style car parades in this game.
Don't expect any Gran Turismo-style car parades in this game.

As has always been the case with Codemasters' Race Driver games, you won't need to race online to feel like you're up against believable opponents. In fact, given the way many players conduct themselves in online games, we'd argue that you can expect a much more realistic and satisfying experience offline than lining up on a starting grid full of players other than those on your friends list. The artificial intelligence in TOCA Race Driver 2006, based on what we've seen of it already, is even more impressive than that in last year's game.

The actions of each of the CPU drivers in TOCA Race Driver 2006 are determined by a much large number of variables than in previous installments, and it's worth noting that one of the major factors will always be what kinds of cars are being raced--the whole "rubbing is racing" thing doesn't hold true in open-wheelers, for example. Attributes that will vary for each driver will include, but certainly won't be limited to, aggression, their ability to judge stopping distances and racing lines, how skilled they are at overtaking, how well they look after their cars on the track, and even which circuits they know particularly well. The end result, as we saw for ourselves on more than one occasion during our presentation, is that no two races are the same, since the drivers are making decisions on the fly as they attempt to make their way to the front of the field. One new feature that we didn't get to see in action is the rivalries that will purportedly develop between drivers as a season progresses, based on incidents that transpire in previous races.

Many of the cutscenes will revolve around cars rather than characters.
Many of the cutscenes will revolve around cars rather than characters.

In between races, when you're playing in TOCA Race Driver 2006's "world tour" career mode, you'll be treated to a cutscene-driven storyline that, like those in previous Race Driver games, largely centers on your relationship with your mechanic, Scotty. Details on the game's storyline are being kept under wraps for the moment, but we can reveal that this year's narrative focuses more on the cars you'll be driving than on the people you'll be interacting with. We got to see two cutscenes during our time with Codemasters; the first had Scotty showing us around a Formula One car and talking about some of its features, and the second (which didn't have any sound yet) showed Scotty climbing out of a yellow Lamborghini. Both of the cutscenes looked even better than those in last year's game, and Scotty's animation and lip-synching were especially impressive.

We'll bring you more information on TOCA Race Driver 2006 (known as TOCA Race Driver 3 in Europe) as soon as it becomes available.

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