Touring Car Challenge doesn’t lose horsepower in translation

Touring Car Challenge
Reviewed On
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When I was first given Touring Car Challenge, one of the first products released in the United States from European-based Codemasters, I figured it had a few strikes against it right off the cricket bat. For one, the product was a simulation of British racing. And like Dr. Who and boiled beef, its not often that British games take off in the fickle U.S. market.

But forget all that. Touring Car Challenge is more like The Beatles than Dr. Who. It’s an amazingly beautiful and highly detailed game that has the potential to climb the ranks of racing simulations and take the checkered flag at the other end. And it looks spectacular whether you are running the PlayStation version or roaring around the tracks on the PC.

If I could sum up this game in only one word, the world I would chose would be realistic.

Lets start with the cars themselves. You can race using a variety of real vehicles including cars from Audi, Vauxhall, Volvo, Renault, Peugeot, Honda, Nissan and even Ford. Of course the cars look better in the PC version, but even on the PlayStation you really feel like you can walk around the vehicle and see an accurate rendition of each contoured line.

And beauty in this game is not skin-deep. There is an amazingly realistic physics engine driving the entire simulation. When you are racing, forget about the image of the polite British noble moving aside so you can pass. More often than not, you are going to get bumped around as these drivers race for the finish line. And each time your car gets hit, real damage appears on the vehicle. There are particle explosions, smashing glass and crash damage that will have you biting your nails and hoping to survive.

Sound ties into the game to add to the realism. You can actually hear what each wheel is doing when racing around curves, which is especially helpful when going into a hard skid on a country road. With practice, you can hear which one of your tires are biting into the terrain and which ones are slipping.

My racing game experience is mostly with games like Gran Turismo and the Need for Speed Series. This one beats both of them hands down. If you like your simulations nice and pristine, with everyone obeying the rules, then steer clear of Touring Car Challenge. If you like a down and dirty street fight, this is your game. To win, you have to maneuver past weaker cars that might not want to give you enough road. The alternative is to muscle them aside. So your car better have both speed and power to survive these races. Getting the glass knocked out of your passenger side window in return for pushing past someone is an acceptable trade. And be wary, because the computerized opponents will do the same to you if you cant keep your distance from them.

Did I mention the weather? In addition to realistic cars and crashes, you are also at the mercy of the elements. You can be in the middle of a long race along country roads and all of a sudden that distant thunder you heard will turn into a downpour. Suddenly the road begins to get slick, meaning your power slides around obstacles may send you into muddy field, and visibility also decreases. You better know the track you are on like the back of your hand, or you may end up pouring on the speed thinking you are hitting a straightaway when in fact you are approaching a hairpin turn. At least you will get to see the realistic crash engine closeup.

On a PlayStation, the game uses a 512 x 240 resolution game engine that looks very nice. It’s terrible looking compared to the PC version, but one of the highest resolution simulations you will find on the PlayStation platform. And, you can play in split screen mode against another person on the PlayStation, which is a ton of fun.

On the PC, there is multiplayer support for up to eight people over a LAN. The game is really too detailed for the lower bandwidth found over the Internet though.

As a final boost for this title, there is a very detailed difficulty setting console. You can play in arcade mode or simulation mode – there is actually seven different play modes – and each one can be configured for either novice or expert players. Had Codemasters left this feature out, the game would really only be good for expert drivers, with novices getting quickly frustrated at being forced into trees by aggressive computer drivers. But with configuring difficulty, almost everyone can enjoy this game.

Touring Car Challenge was the number one selling game in Europe for a reason. It’s a wonderful-looking game with a realistic physics engine running below the surface. So if you want to see how rough and tumble racing is done across the pond, make sure this title gets put on your wish list.

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