TOCA Race Driver 3 Challenge Final Hands-On Preview
With Codemasters' touring car sim given a European-only release, we spent some time finding out if it's a raceworthy game.
For its debut in 1997, Codemasters' TOCA series took the much-loved sport of touring car racing and put it in the starring role of an authentic video game simulation. Since then, the games have expanded to cover a variety of other motorsports, including GT racing and rallying. Previous entries have even included a story mode in which you play an aspiring rookie driver. TOCA Race Driver 3 was the most comprehensive version when it was released last year on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC, so it has taken a while for the release of the PlayStation Portable version. Dubbed the "challenge" edition, this portable conversion sprinkles a series of tests and events into the world challenge mode, which aims to break up the gameplay while improving your driving skills. Receiving a finished copy of the European game, we wasted no time in taking it for a spin so that we could report back with our final hands-on impressions.
Those of you who are familiar with TOCA's realistic driving model will find that the PSP is just as faithful in that area as its counterparts. Staying on the track is the most important skill to master because any diversions will send you spinning faster than a figure skater in an Olympic final. This level of realism also extends to damage, so it's no good just using other vehicles as bumpers. Any crashes will damage your vehicle both aesthetically and technically, with doors falling off and internal components breaking apart. Exterior damage is clear enough to see, but any resulting technical problems you incur are displayed alongside the speedometer. Both will impact your general performance, and a trip to the pit lane is inevitable after a severe shunt, although this will almost certainly put you out of contention for the race's top positions.
The result is a game that requires accurate braking, as well as turning and acceleration through corners. Luckily, TOCA goes to great lengths to help with these requirements. Before you're allowed to try any proper races in the world challenge mode, you have to take part in a series of tests that are designed to enhance your driving ability. For example, in the first of these challenges, you complete a lap while navigating a series of cones, which is very similar to one of Project Gotham Racing's trickier modes. Penalties are given if you miss a gate or hit a cone, and you're awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal based on your overall time. Other challenges include a braking test, driving along a line in the road, maintaining an average speed, or making it through a race without incurring damage. If you complete these tasks at the bronze level or above, you're able to qualify for the championship.
The championships are divided up by country or continent and increase in difficulty as you progress. The first championship is the UK grand prix at the novice level, with the US, Australasia, and European events following the UK event. There's also a final master challenge that combines tracks from all four levels into one huge event. As racing fans should expect from the TOCA series, the 36 courses include such favourites as Brands Hatch and Silverstone from the UK, Hockenheim from Germany, and Barbagallo from Australia. There's also a nice mix of different racing styles, with regular races supplemented by duels, the aforementioned skills tests, plus a really cool mode in which you must get a car that's about to collapse around the last few laps of a race.
In addition to the championship mode, this edition of TOCA also offers a series of single events that are perfect for delivering a quick racing fix. The free-race option allows you to tailor an event to your exact requirements, including the make of car, the team livery, and the driver at the wheel. You can tweak everything from the opponent artificial intelligence to the grid positions and qualifying stages. If you're a bit of a petrol-head, you can even customise your car across seven different areas, such as gears, tyres, and downforce. Then you can take it for a test drive and save your setup for future use. If you've opened up tracks in the career mode, they then become available for selection across all the other modes, and you can change the weather conditions from sunny to rainy if you want more of a challenge. As you'd expect, TOCA also includes a time trial mode for solo races against the clock, although you can save ghost-car data for comparison in future attempts. We also like the way you can save replays to the memory card and view them back from the main menu.
However, TOCA really comes into its own in multiplayer. If you have PSP-owning friends, then you'll be able to compete with up to three of them with one copy of the game. While it's true that it takes about two minutes to distribute and set up a game with friends, it was simple to set up, lag-free, and highly enjoyable in our test. It's up to the person with the game to set up all the track and car conditions, while the other players just default to the same car and team as the host. At least if there are only a couple of you playing, you can still drop in some AI rivals to make it a bit more challenging. In the unlikely event that you have up to 11 friends with a copy of the game, then you can all play together, and we imagine that it's a bit quicker to set up too.
TOCA Race Driver 3 Challenge seems to be an enjoyable addition to the PSP library and looks like it will be well worth investigating for fans of motorsports or just driving games in general. The world challenge mode maintains interest thanks to its mixture of racing styles and should keep you busy if you want to win all the gold trophies. Beyond this mode, the mix of time trial and multiplayer game modes will offer longevity especially because the game supports four players from one disc. A demo of TOCA Race Driver 3 Challenge is currently available from the Sony PSP Web site, while the full game is available for the console exclusively in Europe now.
GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.