This isn't right. Driving games aren't meant to be this much fun. We're playing TOCA 3, a driving game, and we're laughing and having a really great time. What the hell's gone wrong here? Driving games are supposed to be about slow, tortuous learning curves, topped off with a tedious and drawn-out car-collection idea. They're always dull, and you're certainly never supposed to start laughing while playing one. This is just not on. Because for some weird reason, TOCA Race Driver 3 is a laugh. It's really, really good fun to play. There's no training to go through - you just get chucked into a race car and shouted at by a mad Scotsman who assumes you already know how to accelerate, brake and turn. Then you race spunky little Renault Clios or crazy miniature race cars, before moving on to Mitsubishi Evos, monster trucks and slippery open-wheeled 'proper' racing cars.
There's no logic to it whatsoever; it's just a loosely tied-together series of madcap races, charting your progress through the ranks. Happily, this doesn't mean you start out racing milk floats at age 12 and work up from there - there's instant enjoyment here, thanks to TOCA 3 using simple leagues and championships to let you drive the good shit around the hot tracks straight away.
The game's main World Tour mode doesn't give you any time to get bored. The whole 'plot' thing from TOCA 2 has been ditched in favour of the odd wisecrack from Rick, your Scottish mentor. "Well done on winning that race," he might say, and that's all the story you get as you swerve between monster truck events in bumpy indoor arenas and 1930s race series, progressing towards driving for the Williams F1 team. All that's missing is... well, nothing! Honestly, if it's got wheels, you can race it in TOCA 3.
SMALL PORTIONS, MANY COURSES
It eases you in gently, too. Your first races are around Brands Hatch and Silverstone, familiar to most race gamers and made up of fairly easy, gently curved corners with reassuringly wide run-off areas. Then it's on to rally courses, famous tracks such as the Nürburgring, Hockenheim, Donington (for all you bike fans) and the Indianapolis oval, and many more circuits besides. About 75 more, in fact. It's a packed game.
If you do want to spend time learning all the various cars and tracks and get a little more practice in, there's the completely separate - and equally huge - Pro Career section to try. This is harder, concentrates on individual car-class championships and is more of a long-term challenge. Here you might enter a gigantic rally championship or a longer league, racing with tougher rules and under harder conditions.
The really surprising thing about TOCA 3's wide variety of race types is that they're all very different, yet they all feel great. When you move from the opening series' Renault Clios to race two's GT Lights, you can feel the change. Suddenly your bouncy little Clio is replaced by something that spins around at least twice if you even touch the grass, instantly changing the game from smash-'em-up into precision racer.
The World Tour offers you easier, arcadelike racing and is therefore quite fun and accessible on its default settings, but you can toughen things up if you want to. You decide whether you want to qualify for each race, or just be dumped in the middle of the pack and get straight into it. All the tuning stuff is discreetly hidden away, so there's no need to bother if you're not that way inclined, but should you so wish, your car's suspension, steering, valves and all of that business can be tweaked before each race. It's not essential, though, and we managed to win all of our races with default cars.