I have been having a blast reliving my childhood every Sunday on this here Traxion channel. Back when it all started, I decided I would do a series where I replayed one of the most diverse racing games ever made, Codemasters TOCA Race Driver 3.
This game, known as DTM Race Driver 3 in Germany and V8 Supercars 3 in Australia, contained fully licensed content from every corner of the motorsport world including IndyCar, British GT and Formula Palmer Audi, as well as the aforementioned DTM and V8 Supercar series.
There was also a lot of other content, like a lot, a lot… Well over 100 playable championships across two different forms of career mode is not something you see very often, especially nowadays.
Of course, going into this series I was well aware of the impact nostalgia would have on my experience. I knew it would be rose-tinted spectacles and all that, and there was no real way of avoiding this. However, if I can consciously make the separation between nostalgic sympathy and objective truth, I can at least have a go at answering the question ‘how well does TOCA Race Driver 3 hold up 15 years after its release?’
Also, as an adult, do I still view the game in the same light as I did as an eight year old boy? Wait, this game was a 12+ game, wasn’t it… Lets just go with 12 then…
I’ve already explained just how many different championships there are in this game, but the thing that impresses me most about the content is the variety of styles. We have road cars, touring cars, GT cars, muscle cars, historic cars, single seaters, track-day cars, stock cars, rally cars, historic rally cars, rallycross, historic rallycross, buggies, oval trucks, circuit trucks, monster trucks, sprint cars, go karts, quad bikes… and Lawnmowers?
The track list is just as extreme. Over 80 different layouts across 37 real world circuits, as well as 13 pretty awesome fictional layouts. This was the largest collection of real world circuits present in any game at that time. They even featured the correct Bahrain short layout, 15 years before the Grand Prix was held. Even F1 2020 didn’t have the correct layout, meaning Codemasters were 15 whole years ahead of, well, Codemasters.
So then, was this a case of quantity over quality? I’d say yes, a little bit, although it wasn’t for the want of trying. The issue here is inconsistency. The tracks were created using topographic GPS based data, and although this means that the distances and corner dimensions tend to be accurate, the bumps in the road are where we hit our first bumps in the road.
The elevation changes often leave a lot to be desired, especially at tracks such as Spa and Oulton Park, known for their elevation changes in real life. Learning the circuit isn’t just about learning the layout, it’s about learning this games specific versions.
This is quite fun to be fair and the overall variation keeps things fresh throughout the gaming experience, but the quality is not at the level of some other popular racing games from the same era. Back to the cars… is this another example of quantity over quality? Well, to answer that question, let’s move the discussion on to the physics.
I really don’t know what to make of this objectively. If you fire up this game expecting simulation you will be disappointed, but you could say the same about quite a few current racing games that also claim to have realistic handling. I feel like this was an early attempt at something which has now become known as (and I hate this word) “simcade”.
There are two handling settings to choose from simulation and arcade. This was a neat idea, in that arcade mode gives you more grip and allows you to push harder with less frustration, whilst simulation mode really forces you to treat the cars and corners with respect. The majority of people playing this game will have been using a PlayStation or Xbox controller rather than a wheel, so this game had to cater for this mass audience.
I’m not going to complain about TOCA Race Driver 3’s attempt to incorporate realism into a widely accessible handing model, but I am going to complain about its inconsistency. Yes, I know, there were hundreds of cars to try and get right, and clearly when certain cars were really focused on, they felt good.
I loved the directness of the junior formula cars such as the Formula BMW and Palmer Audi. I loved the weighty handling of the Clio V6 and the GT Tuning Cup Cars. But then you had cars that felt as though they hadn’t been tested properly before being given the green light.
The Oval Truck feels like a boat with no rudder, the Subaru 22b couldn’t make its mind up about whether it was a dragster or a sports car, the Ultima Can-Am is like someone has strapped a jet engine to an antelope and the Williams FW18 was quite simply, PAIN.
It’s a shame that so much of the experience depends on the particular car you are driving. I think I would actually prefer it everything was a little more generic and similar if it meant there weren’t quite so many howlers to deal with throughout the career mode.
This issue is summarized well by my experience with the rally discipline. Many of the cars felt woeful to the point where I had given up on even attempting these championships. Then, for the final rallying option I was presented with the Group A Mitsubishi Evo 6, and suddenly, rallying was awesome. If only they could have nailed a similar feeling for the other cars, it could have formed a special part of the game.
Now you make think I’m being harsh on the physics and holding it to modern standards… after all, its fifteen years old. But then, so is rFactor on PC, and so is Gran Turismo 4 on PlayStation 2. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that TOCA Race Driver 3 was built for multiple platforms instead of being focused on one.
I don’t know, but it’s a long way off those two industry leaders in the handling department, even if you take the word simulation out of the thought process.
The graphics are less of a sticky point. They are quite simply, alright. With so many different cars and tracks to get right visually, I feel like it was a decent enough effort, and aside from the damp colour pallet occasional odd proportion, the game still looks okay for its age.
I particularly like the replay feature and feel that the damage model, both in terms of physics and visuals, is ahead of its time. Crashes look spectacular and if the replay cameras catch your big slides from the right angles, it still looks fairly epic and cinematic to this day. Impressively, the game upscales really well too.
Playing on a PC in 4k is crystal clear once out on circuit, even if the lower quality menu graphics look understandably ‘pixel-y’. On a PS2 or Xbox 360 using a boxy tv at the time, I remember the graphics being pretty decent.
World Tour Mode
It’s time to talk about the pièce de resistance of this title… World Tour mode.
I absolutely love this.
What you have is essentially a tier based career mode system that allows you to work your way through the ranks and pick your path to the top of the sport. This is actually a little confusing as there is another game mode called “Pro Career”, where you work your way through all of the available series in each separate discipline of racing, so in essence, we have two separate career modes doing a similar thing.
The reason that in my opinion, World Tour mode still remains one of the best single player racing game experiences to this day, is because it takes the games biggest strengths (depth and variety) and exploits this to its full potential. World Tour mode essentially wrings the neck out of the plethora of content. You never get bored, because you always know something brand new is around the corner, and as the game gives you options, things never get stale or repetitive.
Dynamic cutscenes with our slightly inappropriate father figure “Rick” played by Tom Cotcher also add to the immersion and really help you feel like you are living out the career of a young racing driver. As Rick says, “It’s great fun!”. Now, yes, the cutscenes have aged pretty poorly, both visually and in terms of what’s actually said at times, but there is nothing quite as crass or cringy as the original TOCA Race Driver, and we do have to remember that this is a game of its time.
I feel like if the game was coming out in 2021, things would be done a bit differently. Let’s see what happens with GRID Legends for example, unless they use Rick, and Rick is a real person… He gives off an eternally inappropriate vibe doesn’t he…
Rick isn’t the only dodgy character in this game.
The AI drivers all had it out for me throughout the world tour mode experience. To be fair, I probably treated them equally harshly, but at least I acknowledged their existence. One of the two fundamental issues with the AI is their complete and utter ignorance.
They quite simply don’t know you are there most of the time. If they are faster, they will try to drive through you, if they are slower and you go for a move, they will turn in anyway. They don’t leave space, they don’t hang back and if you rejoin after a small off, you better make sure you avoid the racing line until you are up to full racing speed.
The second fundamental issue is inconsistency. Much like the cars themselves, things would drastically change from one race or series to the next, even one corner to the next on some occasions. On the same difficulty level, I never knew whether I was going to be the slowest car on the grid or the fastest. I would literally win one race, and get lapped in the next.
This does keep things interesting, but means that your results at times feel like they are entirely dependent on the AI rather than your own performance. Within each specific circuit, at least we get consistent inconsistency. You quickly learn which corners the AI struggle with, and which corners they manage to carry more speed through than the rocket from Mario Kart would manage. Other AI quirks include them being unable to get round certain corners properly in certain cars, and all of them turning into Ayrton Senna when it’s raining.
But let’s cheers this up a bit, on the occasions where the AI are managing similar lap times to the player, the racing can be huge amounts of fun. It gets a bit mad, but when you learn the behavior of the AI you begin to get into a racing rhythm, passing in sections where they are slow, and then trying to hang on through the tougher sections. Despite the frustrations, I can guarantee you that there will be some really enjoyable races, and as this isn’t always the case, you will appreciate them when they happen.
For me, it’s the quirks that you don’t often see in modern racing games that give this game character in 2021. Like an old Alfa Romeo, imperfections give things personality, and sometimes it’s those imperfections that connect you with a game. You find these flaws and you feel like you know the game, you know its character and you know its vulnerabilities… this is especially true with older titles, when we didn’t have constant patches and updates to iron out flaws.
Let’s chat about some of these imperfections… First of all, the replays… At first when playing through world tour mode, only 4 or 5 minutes of any replay would actually save, but this randomly changed at some point and suddenly the full races could be watched.
Then, we have the qualifying glitch. If you were to qualify for a race and then save the replay of said race, the replay would show an entirely different race to the one that actually happened… And this would always involve a random crash in the first few corners…. The only way to break this issue was to watch the replay straight after the race had finished before saving it.
Another personal favourite, the slo-mo pitstop glitch. In races with mandatory pitstops, the replays would often save in slow motion, sometimes it slowed down after the pitstop was made, sometimes from the beginning of the race. Fun times…
Another quirk is the impossible nature of some of the championships. The one that most people will be aware of is the final tier, where you are forced to try and beat the 2005 Williams F1 car in a 1996 Williams F1 car that handles like its drunk and is generally between 5 and 10 seconds a lap slower.
The one that stood out to me was the US Dirt Series found in Tier 14. You are forced into a Pontiac Firebird which is clearly far slower in a straight line than the Buicks that you are up against, and somehow, you are expected to win on ovals that are nearly flat out all the way. It’s practically impossible without cheating.
By the way, on that subject, there are some really cool cheat codes available, but as the URL no longer exists to register, there is no way of getting your bonus code and therefore, no way of actually obtaining those cheats, without hacking the game in some way… which is a cheat in itself I guess… Some 5D Sudoku going on here…
So then, with my objective hat on, what do I think of TOCA Race Driver 3? I think it’s a fun racing game with a ridiculous amount of content, plenty of flaws and some really innovative game modes. This wasn’t a fully polished product, even at the time, and this is exaggerated by what we have come to expect from video games today.
For a 12 year old kid with a PlayStation 2 in 2006, playing on arcade mode or easy difficulty, this would have been a blast. It was the ideal casual racing game for new racing fans, and even existing petrol heads that were willing to give gaming a go thanks to the incredible content on offer.
For serious gamers or racers who wanted a more realistic or refined experience at the time, they would have been better off with Gran Turismo 4, rFactor, GTR2 or Grand Prix Legends. Going back to my original questions, how well does this game stack up 15 years on, and do I view the game in the same positive light having replay it as an adult?
Well, I can honestly say that there are only two reasons you would want to pick up this game and play it in 2021. To experience specific content from this era of motorsport, or for nostalgia purposes. If it’s the former, then you should prepare for a strange and relatively disappointing gaming experience, but If it’s the later, then you are well looked after.
The handling may not be what you remember thanks to modern technology spoiling us, but the World Tour mode is every bit as enjoyable a game mode as you remember it being. The character is all still there, it hasn’t gone missing over the years and you aren’t recalling it incorrectly. Sure, you may pick up on a few new issues that we weren’t trained to notice 15 years ago, but it makes the experience all the more enthralling.
They say never meet your heroes, but in this case It was a pleasure because I never remembered this game being the best driving experience of all time, I remembered it being a fun racing game with endless possibilities and an engaging single player experience. All of this remains true to this day, and I haven’t even needed to take off my objective hat.
What are your best memories of this classic title? Let us know in the comments below! If you enjoyed my full playthrough series of this game, make sure you subscribe to the Traxion channel because I am delighted to reveal that in the next series, I will be playing through this games natural successor, Race Driver: GRID. Hit the bell icon to be notified the moment episode one goes live, and until then, keep it pinned!