I reckon this must be about the sixth Toca game in total, and despite some questionable design ideas, each one seems to get a bit bigger, more polished and playable. I wasn’t really expecting TRD3 to be quite so all-encompassing though – unless you’re Jeremy Clarkson this game will supply you with more than enough different vehicles (over 70), types of racing (35) and circuits (80) for the foreseeable future. Vehicles range from lawnmowers (no, really) to monster trucks, from Renault Clios to Williams F1 cars – it’s an incredible lineup.
Nice slick menus greet you and the difficulty of the game, race length etc. are all fully customizable, and handling can toggled between Pro Simulation and normal – this should stop TRD3 from alienating the non sim fans out there, and gives even drivers of limited ability the chance to have plenty of fun. The new body/mechanical damage engine has been much publicized, but the handling and physics seem to have had a good deal of work done too. Normally one for sim modes with the assists turned off, the ‘Normal’ setting feels fine to me; sharp, responsive but still enjoyably slidey and controllable, with plenty of feedback as regards to grip levels via the rumble effects (depending obviously on the vehicle). TRD3’s handling now feels much more sophisticated and closer to Gran Turismo or PGR2, but ‘Pro Simulation’ mode is there if you feel the need to race with brakes that feel like they’re made out of Edam cheese and tyres that are coated with greasy weasels. The story, Ryan McKane and even the back story from TRD2 have all but gone. A familiar looking Scottish guy in overalls introduces you to the career mode, and during races gives you the odd radio message from the pit lane, but that’s all you get now. Championship wins are greeted with no more than a “you’ve unlocked…” screen – and I find myself surprised to say I kind of miss the animated cut scenes…
As I said, the settings are fully customizable, from difficulty to handling, race length to flags/rules and tuning options – no one should find the game too difficult or too easy either. At the easy end many races seem to be winnable, without qualifying, from the back of the pack (in one lap!) – very arcadey. At the other end of the scale, there’s a Nazi who works the flags – you’ll constantly be penalized for “cutting a corner and gaining an advantage” even if you run wide and lose time! These over-fussy rulings seem a bit broken at times (especially when you spin and the yellow flags come out warning you that there’s been an accident “ahead”) and along with the careless driving warnings sometimes seemingly issued just for being on the track, I soon found myself turning these options off for my own sanity and to avoid my bad language offending the neighbours.
What all these rules, options for longer races and the Pro Simulation mode do offer you however, is one of the best and most demanding racing experiences of my life – true racing with up to 19 AI opponents who actually look like they’re trying – despite a fair bit of obvious convoy-esque behaviour. Race game AI still has a long away to go to accurately simulate human error and endeavor, but at least you’ll occasionally see an opponent in TRD3 make a mistake, unlike 99% of the other racing games out there. One thing I would suggest though; If they're gonna give you flag rules as strict as this then they should include a FPS section so that you can hunt the “jobsworth” track official responsible down and shoot the ****er.
Track-wise there a lots of new ones and some old favourites return (and variations of), but the circuits that were in TRD2 have clearly been remodelled, and generally seem a little less contoured than before – this may be because they’re more accurate or may simply be to make them more game-friendly (like PGR2's 'flattened' Nurburgring), but many slopes seem shallower and bends gentler than before. In-game TRD3 plays incredibly smoothly, the standard Codies' 60fps is locked, and a real treat for the eyes after a couple of "jerk-or-blur" racers (and I'm talking about a couple of notable 360 games here). The replays look nice, but not really significantly better than TRD2’s. Some good sunlight and shadows cast realistically across the cars and the track, but “what a waste” I thought, at my first viewing of a replay with a nice smackup in it. The replay cameras are all set so far back that even when there is a good crash you don't get to properly see this "TERMINAL DAMAGE ENGINE" doing its stuff. Tidy (if unremarkable) car modelling and all the new damageable bits are pretty much wasted as nearly all replays seem to be shown from wide angle views that seldom give a good close up of the vehicles. Virtually all of the bits that can potentially fly off your car go unseen and instead the game's weakest points – flattish, uninspiring scenery (Surfer’s Paradise looks unfinished) and hundreds of cardboard cutout spectators – are what you see most of. The replays needed a good mixture of long camera views, close ups and low angles – you do get the odd well-placed camera, and if you’re a TV motorsport fan like me then many of them make the circuits instantly recognizable because they’re placed so similarly to the real TV cameras. When you see the odd low angle shot of a circuit or off road race and really get a sense of speed, you wonder who placed them – they really missed the beat here. The damage really comes into its own when simulating mechanical damage and wear – run over too many curbs and you’ll screw your suspension, slam down through the gearbox without braking first and you lose some cogs.
Compared to the benchmark of PGR2, TRD2 was rather disappointing online with some less than solid net code and lag problems that didn’t allow for any sort of close racing. Sadly nothing much has changed and still far too many of my online races ended with me in the barriers for no apparent reason – the guy who piled into me swearing that he was “way behind me”. After three or four sessions I’d had enough of crashing for no reason and seeing opponent’s cars crab down the straight diagonally - I longed for the solidity and fun of the aging PGR2. It's a shame, because they’ve really made an effort with the options; fully customizable race series, handling model, Practice, Qualifying and Eliminator modes – there’s even a spectator mode – TRD3 online should have been great, but isn’t.
TRD3 is without doubt still a pretty damn good game (especially if you don’t want to play on Xbox Live), but I can’t help being mildly disappointed with its noticeable flaws and weak online play. The game is huge and highly adaptable; but it's almost like they "supersized" it, dumbed it down for a certain market but didn't really have a positive aim (don’t know why the “TOCA” name is still on the UK game to be honest). But although I think there are a few race series included that could have been junked, I’m not going to complain about having too much choice – that would seem daft after so many people criticized the Xbox 360’s PGR3 for not having enough variation. I seemed to have to fiddle a lot to find an enjoyable but challenging difficulty level, races seemed to be too easy much of the time (and I’m a lazy git) – I think that in this day and age the game should either be well enough tested or to be intelligent enough to set a progressive and fair test for me. But heck, this is probably the last really good serious racer on Xbox, and if nothing else you should buy it to remind you just what great circuits Brands Hatch GP and Spa are.