TOCA Touring Car Championship
If you long for the gameplay and realism of Formula 1 ’97 but want to drive “real” cars, lay down this magazine right now, find a credit card and then a phone. You may now pre-order your copy of Touring Car Championship immediately, knowing that you could not possibly be disappointed. In fact, this officially licenced motor thriller actually has more in the way of realistic features than Psygnosis’ brilliant effort.
Every single detail of this year’s RAC/Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship has been squeezed into a game so unfeasibly comprehensive that Murray Walker no doubt refers to his copy when he gets confused in the commentary box. Which is often.
You only have to look at it. Every car on the track was constructed using laser scans of the real thing, so the models are extremely accurate. They look incredible as they scream around the bends of the great British raceways, sporting all the right curves and contours. Such unmatched detail means that all eight teams are distinctive and recognisable during the chaos of a race, and fans of the most action-packed motorsport on TV will be ecstatic in the presence of such faithful reproduction. More importantly, it makes smashing the cars to bits one of the most satisfying experiences of our time!
Everything breaks on these things, right down to the tiniest component. You can easily lose a wing mirror in a tussle with the guy in the Nissan who objects to being used as a moving guard rail on the corner for example. Each of the fully operational head- and tail-lights can be smashed individually. Every window is capable of breaking too, beginning by just cracking up and ending with a huge gaping hole.
A substantial smack to the front of the vehicle will often cause the whole bonnet to ping twenty feet into the air before it comes to rest on the tarmac, leaving the ugly grey engine exposed on your ailing saloon car.
Still more mistreatment gets rid of the front wings and eventually bursts, bends and rips off the front and rear plastic skirtings. Everything that doesn’t physically come off, including the doors and roof, takes impressive real time damage the whole way through the race.
With those perfect car models, suspension that reacts accurately to all bumps and rumble strips, and limitless crashes as you can see from the screenshots, Touring Car Championship is the most realistic-looking racing game ever to be made for the PlayStation? Racing in the rain with TCC is almost disturbing it seems so real, with a fine spray behind each speeding tyre and live reflections in the water from every tail light. Use the internal “Headcam” view and you’ll see the windscreen wipers going too.
Unfortunately, the only missing element of realism is weather that changes during a race, but they’ve made up for that with the variation in weather you can change yourself. Pick beaming sunshine, a more British cloudy day, a heavily overcast sky with miserable rain, thick fog, snow or a marvellously real thunder storm complete with sheet lightning. Alternatively you can leave this option set to Default, where each course uses pre-set conditions.
CAR WARS 3
Especially with some form of analogue device, the handling of the cars is absolutely beautiful. It’s not just a case of holding the throttle on full tilt while pressing left and right either – every nuance of your control has an effect similar to the real thing. The intricate system does have the side effect of spinning the car more than you’d like for the first couple of hours, but after you have tamed it you won’t look back. Graduated accelerating, braking and steering are hugely important for getting the most out of the game, and essential to compete against the other drivers.
The artificial intelligence driving each of those opponents is also strangely authentic. They have so many human qualities that you feel as though you really are up against conscious people instead of lines of computer code. Parameters for aggression, proficiency and overtaking ability exist for each man, so you certainly don’t have a row of idiots stuck like trams to the racing line.
An aggressive guy might slowly sandwich you into the wall if he’s doing well and you try to pass him, and they all seem aware of your position so they don’t hit you accidentally on the bends. The best way to demonstrate this profound AI is to turn around and head directly into the oncoming traffic. The frightened drivers will bundle hastily onto the grass to pass safely, swerve out of control from fear or cause a separate accident. Incredible.
WORLD’S WORST CHASES
If the depth of the realism sounds too involved, don’t let it put you off.
Touring Car Championship is packed with plenty of the smash ’em and crash ’em gameplay you would expect from a console game, and it has the frame rate to match. A one-on-one split screen game gives you the chance to really fly off the handle and whiz around any track with a friend, leaving broken signs, car parts and traffic cones strewn in your wake. Switch the catch-up on or off and just drive like an idiot for three laps. It’s very healthy.
There is no separate “arcade” mode, but the standard three levels of difficulty let you be competitive from an early point in your virtual racing career on Easy – and demand professional driving on Hard. Automatic gears and a distant third-personperspective should help you get a grip on the game too, until you’re ready for the full cockpit view, steering wheel attachment and sequential gears experience!
And while you are free to drive into the pit lane, Codemasters made the decision that pitting plays such a small part in the sport that it has no effect in the game. No damage mending, no refuelling, just fun.
Even more advanced than Formula 1 ’97 and every bit as playable, Touring Car Championship deserves to sell by the truckload.