As I have not had the most fortunate of histories with P.C games and getting them to work properly, I went back to basics a little when I asked my friend if I could borrow a game. He doesn't have a massive collection of P.C titles although when I spotted good old TOCA Toring Car Championship collecting dust I decided, mainly out of curiosity, to see how it compared to the PlayStation version and if it had stood the stern test of six long years of ageing. TOCA was an absolute cracker in it's day (way back in 1997) - as it's title suggests, it is a touring car racing game based on the cut-throat British sport. What put TOCA at the front of the field was it's stunningly realistic handling and physics engine - a far cry from the ultra-forgiving nature of the then-recent hit Formula One. Plus the superb, bumper-to-bumper action that made the racing so compelling an enjoyable probably had something to do with it too. As it turns out, the P.C edition is nigh-on identical to the PlayStation version - except you have to go through the instalation process and, in most peoples cases, use a keyboard instead of a joypad. Despite the rapid evolution of the racing genre in recent years, TOCA feels every bit as solid and demanding as it ever was. It certainly isn't for beginners or the impatient - the realistic handling and car behaviour is notorious for it's cruel nature. If you jab the keys, the car will start to slide round a slow, agonising and time-consuming spin. TOCA is a truly punishing beast, and succeeding at this racer is as much about being smooth with the controls and easing the cars round corners as it is about going really fast. Driving with confidence and commitment will only get you so far before you inevitably out-brake yourself slightly or hit one of the many bumps in the road at an unfavourable angle. One thing is for sure, it requires a heck of a lot of patience to master. Graphically in it's time
TOCA was fairly reasonable. Whilst by no means spectacular-looking and even a little sparse at times, the circuits nevertheless delivered an impressive viewing-distance (how far ahead you could see) and, with the exception of the start of races when the field is bunched up, a generally good frame-rate. The cars were well-defined; each model was highly-detailed and recognisable, with the added bonus of damage parameters allowing for various parts of the car to be damaged depending on the type of impact it took. Damage affects both the driving experience and the look of the car; windscreens can be smashed, bumpers torn off, bonnets buckled and bodywork dented - all in a days work here. On the downside, scenery has a nasty habit of popping into view from nowhere and as a whole the game is a tad blocky. Presentation is of a high standard throughout - easy-to-use menus and attractive selection screens are very nice, and in-game the speedometer and lap/position read-outs are well-placed and don't prove troublesome to check every now and then. On the audio front the game is sound (sorry) enough, featuring the odd line of a dialogue from ex-F1 driver/Top Gear presenter Tiff Needell describing championship standings as they unfold, as well as the convincing growls of souped-engines car engines. On to the modes of play - single race, championship and two-player. Two-player first, and the truth is, it's a little naff. The trouble here is there are only two cars racing each other as opposed to the 16-strong field of the single player racing. Because most of the fun in TOCA comes from the wheel-to-wheel pack-racing element, this effort is a missed opportunity and gets dull quite quickly. Single-race is fairly self-explanatory, and the main long-term challenge stems from the championship mode. Choosing from one of the eight cars; which include the Nissain Primera, Audi Quattro and Honda Accord, you must strive to get as many points as y
ou can from each and every race so as not only to have a shot at the championship but to retain your seat in the dog-eat-dog world of Touring Cars (well, almost). Getting points and victories early on isn't too tough (comparatively), but you really need to stock up on results early on as later rounds in the championship are hellishly tough. Adding to your troubles are wet-weather races, that put another interesting spin on proceedings. All in all the championship should take quite a while and adds a great deal to the longevity on offer. As each car behaves differently it is worth while trying them all out to see which suits your driving style the best. For instance, the under-powered Nissain Primera is an ideal choice for beginners to the game as it features virtually impossible-to-lock brakes and takes corners super-smoothly; the Vauxhall Vectra is a bit of an all-rounder with fair speed and handling whilst the Peugeot 406 is extremely powerful but corners like it's ice-skating. All of the circuits in the game were modelled on their real-life counterparts, and because of the huge diversity of styles (Brands Hatch is short, Thruxton is fast, Donington is twisty etc.), racing is rarely short of challenging and exciting. An added bonus these days is that you'd don't need a massively high-tech computer to run it - requirements include: Windows '95 or onwards, 4MB 3D graphics card, 16MB RAM, keyboard and mouse (surely everyone has them!) and a mere 30MB of hard-disk space for instalation. Well, they say a week is a long time in politics, then 6 years must feel like several generations in gaming. Sure, TOCA Touring Cars may have merely been the foundation for the series, which has expanded greatly in recent times, but considering it's age it still plays remarkably well. For less than five quid brand new, it is well worth the admission fee to attend this strict, tough lesson in how to make a 'real' racer
. Top fun.
I'll be the first to admit I'm not a particularly huge fan of motorsport in general and certainly not of driving games on any computer or console platform. The reason for this is probably through growing up with numerous seriously awful driving games on the 8-bit Spectrum and Amstrad computers such as Chase HQ and Continental Circus (amongst others), with their, faster/slower controls and bumbled bee-trapped-in-a-tin-can engine whine but little sense of realism. I always stunk at those games and I've improved none in the genre over time either. Of course, driving games are hugely improved these days althoug few have tempted me back into playing them a little more often, but there is only one group I come back to time and again and that's Codemasters' Touring Cars franchise.. The TOCA championship is in my view the most exciting of them all because it basically pits some very closely matched mass production, road model, 2 litre 4 door saloon cars against each other, with very little to choose between the performance of one model and the next. It all comes down to driver ability (because of the tight restrictions placed upon the manufacturers to ensure competitiveness) which makes for some awesome pack racing action with plenty of bumps, shunts and on course drama in every single race. If you've tired of Formula 1's race fixing, space age electronics and hi-tech tweaking here, there and everywhere to gain a millisecond edge, political crap and of course the dull supremacy of one driver/car above everyone else then do check out the TOCA championship or failing that -this game or it's brethren because you'll love it. Codemasters' first foray into the world of touring cars may not have been everything a fan could desire from such a game, but it was a damn good start and seeing as you can pick up a copy for next to nothing now(mine was a fiver), its worth considering if you need a cheap driving fix. OK, so what do
you get for your money? Well, as this is officially licensed by TOCA Codemasters has been able to include all the real cars and all the real drivers from the 1997 season and include every last little detail right down to accurately representing the official advertiser sponsoring on the cars! The tracks themselves (Donington, Silverstone, Thruxton, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Croft, Knockhill and Snetterton) are modelled down to the last inch from ordinance survey maps for increased realism and even the drivers personalities have been recreated in the computer AI, so each driver has a very different reaction to on course events. Ram a bolshy driver by accident (or more likely on purpose to gain an edge) and you'll soon find them filling your rear view mirror with vengeful intent - it's great! You get to pick a car from any of the 8 models which took part in the 1997 season(Peugeot 406, Renault Laguna, Audi A4, Volvo 540, Vauxhall Vectra, Ford Mondeo, Honda Accord and Nissan Primera), choose to race either a single race, time trial or championship and you're ready to race! It's erm, almost worth picking one of the top cars to knock out at least one top driver from the race here(Renault or Audi!), as you take that driver's place! Two cars from each manufacturer race so dumping a Renault out doesn't save you from getting thrashed by Menu or Plato I'm afraid - just one of them lol! Before the race/championship you are given different options to change, selecting form thing like automatic gears, or manual gears and selecting your car. The options screen is quite poor it has to be said, particularly in car selection where you are given some drawn graphics of the available models and must simply click on to select it. There is minimal information given here where you'd think, given the official license by TOCA, Codemasters could have put a lot more effort it. Still, it's on the track which matters so it's a minor gripe - altho
ugh one improved upon in later games, it has to be said. Most options only apply to the single race/time trial events, where you can set up things like weather conditions to suit your choices, but in Championship mode these are pre-selected and are the same for each race. it would have been nice to have these as random weather conditions, but again, it's a minor gripe. Graphics TOCA's graphics aren't as smooth of fluid as the later releases, nor are they as detailed, but they certainly aren't bad - depending upon the speed of your machine and level of hardware acceleration at your disposal. The system requirements are however quite low by today's standards (included at the foot of the review) so you'll probably get away with some of the higher resolutions without too much of a downgrade in performance on most machines - but if things are slowing up you'll have to accept a reduction of graphical detail which can be changed through the options screen. At it's best performance, your car is quite detailed, right down to having your name sticker on the back window and the real, official advertising sponsorship that car carried during that season, but degrades to quite plain and 'squarish' as you drop down the resolutions - most won't have to drop below an average setting(I didn't even on my older 200Mhz system with a Matrox Mystique 3D accelerator), which still looks good. Remember of course here you are looking at a game which is around 5 years old so don't be looking for perfection as you aren't going to find it. Particularly, the in-car mode is quite badly drawn, but it's passable. As you continue to race you'll pick up knocks and shunts which are mirrored on your car which will suffer from dents and bumps, or if you're really doing grrrrreat, a smashed out windscreen and missing bonnet - see that fly off after a big ol' shunt. Sound The one
huge gripe I would have about this game is the sound effects, or rather the in-game music should you choose to assault your ear drums with it. This is frankly quite awful and surely there's not one single gamer out there who plays with it on?! Fortunately, the option is there to switch it off - you'll be wanting to do this immediately by the way. In terms of actually race effects, you're looking at the usual wasp-in-a-tin-can array of engine noises, which change in tone depending on which camera angle you've chosen to drive with - helmet cam, gives a more muffled in-car sound for instance. Erm, I suppose this isn't too aggravating, and you do get to hear the gear shifts etc. but I've never found a game which truly recreates engine noise effectively! The bumps and shunts are great though, I'd have preferred a little more violent effect to them...geez, I'm so picky, but you know what I meant - the bumps and shunts sound very computer generated. Gameplay The area in which TOCA excels is the gameplay which is the reason I still come back to it years after I bought it. The pack racing action of the real motorsport is brilliantly recreated here on the PC and is twice as much fun to play as it is to watch. Each race is preceded by a time trial where you race to get the best position on the grid and after the initial couple of tracks, which are quite easy after a few games, it becomes imperative to get a good placing or be doomed to struggling up through the jostling pack whilst the leaders storm away without these hindrances. Racing amongst the pack is however hugely enjoyable so sometimes it's more fun to hang back and bump your way through and shunt off some of your opponents - especially those you know are going to come back looking for revenge! A little niggle is they seem to be able to send you spinning off the track with a little nibble at your rear bumper, often without any ill effect on their own performa
nce...why is it computers always cheat? *sigh* The game physics have been whinged about a little by racing purists and at times you'll find the steering a little 'twitchy' but I can't say it detracts from the enjoyment of the game - again, these are things improved upon in later games in this franchise if you find this a problem. This may not be entirely accurate when it comes to cornering and handling(the first track almost encourages you to come last on the grid because you can drive full pelt into the corner and ricochet of the opposition there to gain the lead for instance!) but it's a lot of fun. There are noticeable difference between the different cars in terms of handling and performance (better acceleration, traction etc.) so it's worth experimenting to find the one which suits you best and with 8 different cars, there is plenty of replay value even when you do master the tournament, because there are then 7 very different cars to master it with again. Another great feature is the different camera angles you can choose from, the main different ones being, in the car or outside of it. Racing viewed from inside the car is flippin' hard, I can say and adds a completely different dimension to the game - I always choose the behind the car view myself as I find that's the only one I can even compete under! Again, once you've mastered the game from one angle, try it from another - I guarantee it's a whole new experience! Unfortunately, you can't race a whole championship unless you are doing well in the driver championship tables because you'll be dumped out of the game for reasons best known to Codemasters. you have to master a track before you can move on, even in single race mode, you can only race on those tracks which you've unlocked in Championship mode. This always bugs me, but what can you do? Master those tracks! If single player mode wasn't good enough for you there is als
o the option to play with up to 4 players (split screen) on one system or up to 8 through network play on the PC which is enormous fun(Erm, slightly off topic for a PC game review perhaps, but just say I think the Playstation version is limited to just 2 players - but don't quote me on it!). Overall Did I sell it to you yet? Maybe just a little bit? OK, enough waffle, it's a great game, especially for a fiver, although to see some of the little niggles and ommisions dealt with you'll want to look at TOCA 2(also £5 at Amazon.co.uk I might add!) which is certainly an improvement upon this one. My advice though is to buy them both, because they're worth it. This is a superb mixture of arcade racing and simulation which is guaranteed to have you coming back for more and if not, you've only lost a fiver, so where's the risk?! Happy racing :o) Minimum System Requirements Windows 95/98 16Mb RAM 4X speed CD-ROM Drive 30Mb Hard Disk space 4MB 3D graphics card Pentium 166 CPU Recommended System Requirement Windows 95/98 32Mb RAM 8X speed CD-ROM Drive 30Mb Hard Disk space 4Mb 3D graphics card Pentium 200 CPU Official Website: http://www.codemasters.com/touringcar/index_b.htm
You may wonder why I choose to review this game now, a good 4 years after it's initial release. The reason is quite simple - I just bought it! I didn't plan to wait this long, and indeed I have played this game and it's predecessors quite a lot before now. I just happened to be in my local Electronics Boutique when this game caught my eye. The reason was that it only costs £5, having been re-released in the ultra-budget Sold Out range (along with some other gems like Colin McRae Rally and Jimmy White 2). For £5 you only get the CD in a nice DVD style case - the manual is included on the CD. When the game was released I wouldn't be at all surprised if you could play it in DOS (yes, it is that old) but the new version includes a nice Sold Out installer. Pop in the CD and a few second later the Installer loads up, using a combination of Macromedia Shockwave and Flash. Of course, if you don't have these, or indeed Adobe Acrobat then they will be needed to run the installer (thankfully they are included on the CD). You may wonder why I'm spending so long on the installer, but I'm coming to the good bits! As I said, the game box comes lacking a manual. This is included on the CD in Adobe Acrobat form. This is simply the original game manual but on your PC, which obviously helps keep the costs down. This can be printed if you so wish, or alternatively you can just keep referring to it if and when you need to. That's all very useful, but it's what you would expect. However, connect to the net and you'll be treated to some rather useful information. The FAQ that comes with the installer is rather clever - if you're connected to the net it will display the latest, up to date information, as well as links to the latest patches for your games. In addition to this you can access online hints, tips and cheats for your specific game. Fancy buying some more Sold Out games? Then you can do that too, straight from the Sold Out ins
taller (and you even get free next day delivery). In addition to this you can browse the entire Sold Out library. (The Sold Out site actually offers a few free old classic games such as Space Invaders, Pong etc, not exactly modern but fun never the less!). Now, I hope you'll forgive me for taking so long over what is a minor part of the game - but it really is impressive! It's not complicated programming, just a good design feature which saves a lot of time preventing the need for you to visit various web sites. Anyway, you'll be thankful to know that I've rambled enough and am going to review the game itself, so here goes. As if the name doesn't give it away, this game is based on the British Touring Car Championship, albeit that of a few years ago. All the cars, drivers and tracks are there as they should be, so from a realism point of view it's off to a good start. This also transfers to the racing, so don't expect an arcade blast here - it's a simulation, not a quick blaster!. Unfortunately this realism also means that the game is easy. Far from it! Imagine handling a Ford Mondeo at 150mph. Doesn't sound that easy, and it isn't. You have to have respect for the cars and the track, braking at corners, taking the right line, not crashing in to the other drivers too much and generally driving like a real life driver would! This doesn't mean the game is boring - far from it! While Formula One is all about racing lines and pin point precision, touring cars is a closer and more physical affair. The odd nudge here, or push there is actively encouraged. Rather than a precession of cars all taking the racing line, it would be best described as pack racing, with a number of cars jostling for position from start to finish. The racing is definitely fun, and much less surgical than a game like Grand Prix 3. Of course, forgetting about the other drivers for a second, keeping your own
car pointing the right way isn't that easy. To start with the handling can be hard, although you soon learn to take things easy and eventually you'll be able to get round a lap without crashing! Then of course, you have the various weather effects to contend with, with rain, snow and fog all out to stop you! Put them all together (with the 16 other drivers) and you have yourself a fairly hard game. The games main mode is the Championship, a tour of all the tracks in the country (although you visit a few tracks twice). In keeping with championship at the time the game was made, you have two races (of the same length) at each race meeting. Each is preceded by a qualification session, but unlike a lot of games getting a high position on the grid isn't essential as overtaking is easy. My only gripe with the championship mode has to be the way your team issue orders that you must score so many points per race. This means that basically you have to score 20 points at each race meeting (2 races), and as winning scores you 15, you're going to need to place pretty highly to achieve this. If you don't meet the requirements you're sacked! This is basically a way to add an extra element to the gameplay, as it is also used to unlock the tracks for use in single races. To begin with you can only race on two tracks, Donnington and Silverstone, but once you have reached the others tracks in the championship mode they are available to play whenever you want. This may add another element to gameplay, but it is annoying when you have to keep doing a race over and over just because you're a few points short. The tracks and cars are varied enough to add some life to the game. Cars have different performances, so it's much harder to win in a Peugot than it is in a Renault. Tracks range from the tight and twisty to the fast and open, with some old favourites (i.e. Silverstone) in there. Naturally, there's some really annoying corner
s, and bits that will catch you out every time, but generally it's the other drivers who will annoy you - having personalities of their own, some will try to push you off the track, while others will crash out after having an ambitious lunge down the inside at a corner. The AI really is quite good considering the age of the game. Of course, being 4 years old the game will have a few problems. It's biggest problem is called TOCA 2. There's nothing 'wrong' with the game as such, it's just that it's sequel is better. However, for a fiver I've sat and played it for quite a few hours, so as value for money goes you can't really beat it! The graphics aren't bad, of course they aren't great either, but then they are 4 years old. Whack 'em to full detail (of course your new PC can handle it!) and they look quite crisp, but often pixelise close up. While they're nothing special, the graphics don't detract in any way from the game. Sound is actually quite good, with effects sounding very realistic. Music on the other hand leaves a lot to be desired, showing how primitive music was in the pre Wipeout and Gran Turismo age! One point to note is that when this game was made no one had heard of a GeForce3, or even a TNT2, hence the options for 3D accelerators are limited, meaning most people will have to use software mode. Not that it matters, as most PC's should easily cope with this game, minimum requirements are Pentium 166Mhz Windows 95 or later 16Mb RAM 4Mb Graphics Card Sound Card 30Mb HDD space Overall it's a great game, with an even better price. It's well presented, and still fun to play, so you can't really go wrong!
This game is a few years old now and its starting to look that way now, especially in the graphics department. The game has all the normal options you expect from a racing game these days including a championship mode were you get points over the different courses. There is also a two player mode and time trial over the different courses. The game has a fair few cars to choose from just don't expect there to be as many as what you would find on Gran Turismo. The graphics in the game are reasonble although maybe a bit to blocky. The second in the series has much improved graphics although you will have to pay an extra 10 pounds for them. Although this is quite good the playstation has such a large array of racing games many of which are better than this such as Gran Turismo and Colin Mcrae.