I will admit that I have had very little experience with Codemasters’ racing titles. Most of the racing that I have done on consoles has either been through Gran Turismo on the PS1 and 2 as well as EA’s excellent NASCAR Thunder series. I know Codemasters has a strong track record with both their Colin McRae Rally and TOCA Championship series, but this is the first title I have been able to try out.
Pro Race Driver is actually the latest in the TOCA series (in fact it is called TOCA Race Driver in Europe, but for this version, a background story is applied.
The main character is a green racer named Ryan McKane, a youngster who witnessed the death of his father after a dreadful car crash near the end of the race (similar to Dale Earnhardt). Trying to also get out of the shadow of his brother, a racing champion himself, Ryan starts his own racing career under the tutelage of his crew chief, Bobby Scott. As his career progresses, he will receive invites for several competitions that will take place over 38 courses driven by all racing types, such as F1, IRL, and even NASCAR.
TOCA’s racing engine is very solid. It feels of sim quality with a little touch of arcade sliding mixed in. Races take place against 7 other cars, which is a slight improvement over GT3, but still a far cry from the full 43-card grid of NASCAR Thunder. Car damage is also spectacularly recreated, and whereas most games treat damage as only cosmetic, TOCA will make you pay for damage to your car with poorer handling and acceleration.
For GT buffs, the number of cars might be a bit on the light side (there are only 42 licensed cars available), but the variety is impressive, ranging from the Nissan Skyline all the way up to the Dodge Viper GTS-R. As mentioned earlier, it is good to see that these cars can be damaged as well.
I know how Ferrari didn’t like seeing car damage in Need for Speed, and that to me was a turnoff. I’m glad to see that is not the case here.
TOCA runs blazingly fast, even on the lower-powered PS2 console. I did not notice any sign of slowdown present at all. The only catch is that on the tested version (PS2) there was a lot of jagginess in the graphics. Hopefully this is only a PS2 matter, and not present on the other systems, as the rest of the game is impressive.
Sound on the other hand is somewhat average. The voice acting seems to lack any real power to it, but any soundtrack featuring Lynyrd Skynard adds a bit (after all, Sweet Home Alabama was in NASCAR Thunder 2002 as well).
Fans of Codemasters’ racing series should feel right at home with Pro Race (TOCA) Driver. As a newbie I have got to say that I am hooked and am looking forward to seeing how Colin McRae 3 will be. Despite blocky graphics (on PS2) and average sound, the game is still worthy of 4 Gems for being a solid racer adding a unique story mode to the mix.