My impromptu and frankly shockingly produced episode of Bald Plays featuring Overboard! has set me off on a bit of a PS1 nostalgia trip. So, as a nostalgia junkie, it’s time once again to rev up the engine, oil up the pistons, and get fired up for bad introductions to rubbish articles, it’s time for the Retro Review!
Yes, there is a reason I started using bad car analogies there, as today we’re looking at TOCA Touring Car Championship for the Playstation 1 (PSX).
First, a little background. Back in the mid-1990’s, Touring Cars, a form of motorsport involving modified saloon cars, was becoming big in the United Kingdom. F1 was starting to become a little stale, and the British Touring Car Championship was the hot new thing. On the back of this success, a video game tie-in was inevitable.
There was also hunger for a decent racing game for the PlayStation. Gran Turismo was in the works but still a spec on the horizon. We needed a stop-gap, a decent racing game to really show off what the PSX was capable off.
Enter Codemasters. TOCA Touring Car Championship used officially licensed cars and tracks from the 1997 British Touring Car season. Voice over was provided by racing legend and Top Gear presenter Tiff Needell. It looked and sounded spectacular (for the time, of course) – and it included many innovative new features for the racing genre.
The gameplay was split across four main modes, Single Race, where you choose a track and race as many laps as you specify, the main Championship Mode, a Time Trial mode complete with ghost car feature if I recall, and, for the special amongst us who had two PS1’s and a datalink cable, you could even play a multiplayer link-up game! Sadly there was no split-screen multiplayer in this and, of course, online play wasn’t really a thing at the time unless you had a PC or a Sega Mega Modem….. for some reason….
The main bread and butter of this of course is the Championship Mode. As you race a full season of Touring Cars, which takes place in the United Kingdom, there isn’t a great deal of variation in the setting. Although the tracks themselves are wildly different, some are full of curves, some are bumpy and hilly, and so on; visually, you’re in the middle of a field in Yorkshire pretty much every time. This is compounded somewhat by the fact that you may end up racing the same track multiple times in a typical Touring Car season. There is a wide verity of weather modes, however, which allow you to mix things up a bit, and the rain and thunderstorm effects are particularly impressive.
The physics and handling in this game are great, though. Each car has it’s own handling style based on the real cars themselves. There’s no tweaking of things like tires or suspension, but personally, I never bother with those things anyway. There’s also a very realistic and somewhat awesome damage system, allowing you to crumple and damage every body panel and window, although unfortunately the damage is purely cosmetic and does not hinder the handling of the car in any way.
Gran Turismo took it’s rightful spot as the number one racing game when it came out a few months later, and this game never really took off in other markets due to it’s very British nature. But in the United Kingdom, for a period of time, this was the best selling racing game of all time, and still held it’s own against Gran Turismo. It also spawned not just a great sequel, but an entire franchise which is still going on today under the Race Driver GRID branding.
All in all this is a fantastic racing game for the PSX and the source of many happy childhood memories.
Danny’s Retro Rating: