From the Database of Home of the Underdogs
Copyright 1997, Codemasters
TOCA Touring Car Championship is a great racing game from Codemasters that remains relatively unknown to many racing fans. A passionate and wonderfully comprehensive review at MobyGames says it all:
“TOCA Touring Car Championship is the official game of the BTCC, which stands for British Touring Car Championship. I doubt whether a lot of people outside the UK have heard of the BTCC (here in the Netherlands we can receive the BBC, so I had seen a few glimpses of the action), but don’t let that spoil your fun. Of course driving a Nissan Primera on the Snetterton circuit isn’t as glamourous as let’s say speeding through Monte Carlo in your Ferrari F1 car, but I actually enjoyed the fact that the game focusses on a niche. Allmost all the tracks were completely new for me (we all know Hockenheim, Monza and Suzuka by now don’t we). Silverstone was the only circuit I’d seen before.
In TOCA there are nine different circuits to race on: Donington (GP and short version), Silverstone, Thruxton, Brands Hatch Indy, Oulton Park Fosters, Croft, Knockhill and Snetterton. The championship consists of 12 rounds of two races each for a total of 24 races. This means you’ll have to race four times on certain circuits in a full championship. Since all tracks are located in the UK and are based on real tracks, there’s not a wide variety of exotic locations (it ain’t Need for Speed). But still, the tracks themselves are quite different. One has a lot of corners (Croft), the other has long straights (Snetterton) another is very short and bumpy (Brands Hatch). I got the impression that Codemasters put a lot of effort in recreating the tracks as accurately as possible.
In TOCA you race in modified versions of common street cars (8 including Honda Accord, Ford Mondeo, Renault Laguna etc.). Each car feels a little bit different. You don’t have the option to modify your car. That’s fine with me since I take no joy out of changing tire pressures etc. Although all cars are from real brands, the cars take visible damage!! With a couple of hard crashes you can really turn your car into a wreck. Break the windows, demolish the bumpers, loose the hood etc. You can only damage the exterior of the car, it doesn’t effect the way a car drives. Car handling is excellent with firm suspension & realistic tire-grip. When you drive on the grass next to the track you will certainly spin (it’s rather easy to make a 360) if you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll need to know how to approach each corner. So there is a bit of a learning curve, but it also feels very rewarding when you have finally mastered the game and have driven a fast lap. The weather conditions (you can choose sunny, rain, clouded, storm or snow) really have an impact on the way your car behaves (driving during heavy rain is even more difficult). You need to stay focused all the time.
One of the best aspects of TOCA is the HeadCam View. This is the first person view, but with a difference. It’s like there’s a small camera on the front of the driver’s helmet which records the action. The trick is that the image produced is not static. When the head of the driver moves your point of view changes, this is incredibly immersive and especially fun when you’re hit from behind or spin-out since the camera shakes violently. You can also see both hands (one of them shifting gears) instead of just the steering wheel & dashboard. Every racing game should have this feature.
I have one major problem with this game, the way the championship mode is implemented. As is common these days you don’t get all the tracks at once (only two are available at the beginning), you have to earn them by progressing in the championship. You progress by scoring 20 points or more per round (=two races). Even when you’ve unlocked all the tracks you still need 20 points per round when you start a new championship. The championship mode in TOCA isn’t that easy and the fact that you’re not allowed to practice on a track until you’ve progressed past it in the championship mode only makes it harder. Also, you can only save your game after two races. This means that if you compete in the full championship you will have to drive up to 50 laps (including qualification), which can take up to an hour, before you can save your game. It is frustrating to restart a race several times because you need a certain amount of points at each race before you can go to the next one. Especially when completing a round takes that long. Competing in the short championship (fewer laps per race) is not an option since the A.I. drivers perform really well during the qualifying sessions and you’ll need a couple of laps to reach the front of the pack. All this basically forces you to select one the faster cars in the championship mode. Why do game developers seem to make the same mistakes over and over again. Codemasters have made a great racing game with real cars, real tracks & realistic handling and then they go and spoil it all by implenting an arcade-like championship mode. Now that’s bad game design. I want to be able to pick the worst car of them all, finish dead last in every race and cheer for the winner!
[The bottom line is TOCA is a] very immersive racing game due to the realistic handling, the HeadCam view and pack-racing. The real joy of TOCA Touring Car Championship lies in the driving itself. Too bad Codemasters almost ruins the mood with an annoying tournament structure.”