Product Type: other PC games
Newest Review: ... 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 th... more
Tour-de-force in it's day
Member Name: tom1clare
Date: 08/08/03, updated on 08/08/03 (71 review reads)
Advantages: Challenging, compelling action, Good value, Close racing
Disadvantages: Very tough, Looks dated by today's standards
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.