TOCA Race Driver 3 proves that there is a third way. It sits in a racing genre that has effectively split into two splinter groups. On one side there’s the deathly-serious simulation, where everything has to be gleaming and mistakes are routinely punished, yet for the dedicated player there’s one hell of a challenge. Sneering at them from the other side of the room are the arcade-focused racers, the Burnouts and Need For Speeds of this world, whose ethos insists on fun above everything else.
TOCA Race Driver 3, wisely at it turns out, sits in the middle. It centres around the TOCA racing car tour, which in turn means that you’ll be driving many different cars of many different classes, across a selection of testing courses that range from familiar tracks to far less welcome trails. In short, there’s a lot of good variety, and while the trade off is that often you’ll find it a struggle to keep readjusting to different vehicles and environments, that’s part of the challenge of the game.
As well as opting for the likes of standalone races, there are two main ways to approach the single player game. The world tour is the easier, as you’ll get to most of the action that bit sooner. The challenge is in the Pro Career mode, whereby you pretty much have to work your way up from the very bottom to the very top. Along the way you’ll find yourself driving a wide assortment of vehicles, with very different handling, speed and braking abilities.
And that’s one of the reasons that TOCA Race Driver 3 works so well; it never allows you to get complacent. Just when you’ve got used to one style of car, the game quickly whips you onto the next, which then requires you to work out again just what you can and can’t do. Our tip: when you get onto the small Formula One cars, slow down before you get to a corner. You’ll thank us for that.
The other major factor in TOCA Race Driver 3′s success is the races themselves, though. This is a series that’s never been shy about putting you on a track that at times feels chock-full of other drivers, with you having to bustle your way past umpteen vehicles on the way to the front. It’s not easy, either. Be overly aggressive or take illegal shortcuts, and you can expect to be hit with a time penalty.
Likewise, this isn’t the kind of game where an itchy accelerator will see you through. How many racing games have you played where the first third is a breeze, happy to let you sail to the front and get your confidence up with seemingly little challenge? This isn’t one of them. It’s not wildly difficult, but it does make you earn your first place positions, and you’re often rewarded with your team boss celebrating, which makes a change from the caustic comments he occasionally blasts into your eardrums on the way round the course.
We had a lot of fun with TOCA Race Driver 3, appreciating particularly its balanced yet varied gameplay and the range of vehicles you get to step behind the wheel of. The courses are challenging – especially when you move away from the comforts of a racetrack – and there’s a healthy long-term challenge here.
In multiplayer mode it’s a blast, as you’d expect. It’s fair to point out, though, that it’s not a huge move forward from TOCA 2, as is increasingly the norm in sporting games, and there’s no new must-have killer feature.
And yet TOCA Race Driver 3 is still a very good game, which we suspect will last you an awful lot longer than most of the stuff on the shop shelves at the moment. That alone should make it worthy of recommendation.