I never really got into Toca 2, sadly I just didn't get around to it until shortly before Forza was out and Forza just did it much better for me; which is really a shame since Toca did have a good deal to offer, obviously the numerous types of racing as well as a lot of cars on track at once which really does change the dynamic of play.
Well I have been eyeing Toca 3 for quite a while as much for graphics ability as for yet more unusual racing options. And Toca 3 definitely delivers in the fun department giving a wide range of racing options with decent depth and a really solid fun factor.
Graphics wise Toca 3 does a good job all around with impressive refelctions that really do reflect everything from the track surroundings to the opponent cars very well and very good detail in the cars and track details.
Toca sticks with it's rather fake looking graphics where trees look like big puffs of hard styrofoam painted green and have a rather unatural glow all around the edges and tires, asphalt grass that all look cookie cutter repetitive. It would have been nice to see detail in the tracks like Forza put out and looking at the grass and the tarmac really reminded me of the soft 2D cheating sort of look from Test Drive V Rally on Dreamcast. It does ge the job done but doesn't go too far towards reality. On the good side it keeps everything clean and once you start concentrating on the racing it doesn't look half bad.
Tracks seem reasonably well approximated, how truly accurate they are can be up to the real gear heads to decide but they all seemed to play well and the real tracks all feel like you think they should when you race them. The rally tracks seemed to feel even more cookie cutter, especially when you hit back to back to back to back 3 turns and they are obviously they exact same turn. Not at all organic which is something I like in a rally track.
Sound wise again Codemasters did a good overall job. The sad fact that the car sounds are not actually sampled audio but rather generated tones becomes obvious fast but they do their job letting you know how high you are revving. Without the real sampled audio though something about the cars never has that meaty personal feeling you like to have especially from the heartier engines.
Tire screeches and collisions are likewise just a tad to fake sounding but the sound seperation is done well allowing them to do their jobs in telling you what's going on around you.
In game the damage engine is decent and I do rather like watching the open wheels get all deformed. Sadly at any difficulty that makes the game a decent challenge, getting any major damage pretty much will result in a restart so you don't really get to ride out the damage too much. And with restarts as easy as they are (you can restart any race even in the middle of a championship without loosing so much as your qualifying time).
The AI is pretty decent, yes it does do weird things sometimes and pushes you into a spin (again resulting in a pretty much mandatory restarut) for no apparenty reason. But it does tend to keep solid racing lines and knows when to go two wide and when to line up.
No matter what though it suffers from the age old problem of racing game AI which is taking the corners WAY to slow. Even on the hardest difficulty you can pretty much depend on underbreaking the AI and cutting in to take a few positions on any sharp turn. It's so bad that passing on the outside is not the gut wrenching risk it should be but rather a pretty common occurance.
Even so when you are in a particularly nasty track in the middle of the pack trying to fight your way up (I prefer to skip qualifying so I can fight my way up through the whole pack as I don't really like racing with no one in front of me) and carefully avoiding cars on all sides while picking openings to dart through in the turns it can be a real sense of satisfaction.
As per usual with racing games too many assists are turned on by default, which can be great for the beginner but after you get a good feel for the driving do yourself a favor and drop the assists and crank up the difficulty a bit, it will make the races tighter and keep you from trying to pull as many cheap passes by pushing opponents off the track or cutting corners (I know you do that sometimes too!).
And on the subject of cutting corners the penalty system of Toca is in full effect giving you flags for careless driving and cutting corners. Sadly the penalties only seem to be righteous in about half the time and half th etime they fail to give you a penalty for a definite illegal move. So many times I have had another driver just plow into me in a turn resulting in me getting a penalty only to be followed up by me ramming another driver off the track with no penalty for that. And nothing gets my goat like taking a turn too fast, going off the outside of the track and getting a penalty for cutting corners... comeon I went off the outside of the track!!!! That's a penalty in itself!
It's certainly not a GT or Forza contender as the "tuning" is kept pretty simple an sweet. Camber, toe and suspension etc can all be tweaked with a bit but overall the cars all drive well the way they are given to you. Occasionally a little adjustment here or there can help out but even on hard I had very little problem getting first on any race with the stock setup, usually on the first try.
Don't think this is a significant step in the sim directly, but as far as some good solid racing fun that features much more pack driving than most other racing games Toca 3 brings it on in droves. It kind of feels like they did for track racing (and a little rally) what rallisport did for rally racing. As wrong as some parts feel, others feel just oh so right, and if not at least oh so fun!
I give Toca 3 a solid 8 out of 10 and would consider it a must rent for any racing fan and probably a buy for most.