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TOCA Race Driver 3

Nestled in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside lies an office of people whose heads are so crammed with car information that the grass outside should have withered a long time ago in sympathy. The office belongs to Codemasters, who brought us the superb TOCA series, beginning in 1997 and culminating with the superb TOCA Race Driver 2 last year.

Its petrol-sniffing mix of different motorsports, accessible handling and a huge variety of cars to play with made TOCA our favourite driving game of 2004. But the car-addicted team hasn't been resting on its podium - rather, it's been hard at work on the sequel since a few months after the last release, and our recent visit to the company's idyllic headquarters allowed us to get a first look at what's in store for the next in the series.

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NEW TO YOU
The first noticeable difference can be found in the game modes. World Tour mode is similar to the previous Career mode, featuring an interactive storyline and the re-appearance of the highly-strung Scottish advisor Scotty. As head of studio Gavin Raeburn tells us: "Nearly every aspect of the game is being either revisited or rewritten to improve TOCA Race Driver 3."

To keep the game as enjoyable as possible, the sometimes-limited choice of races has been expanded too. This means that if you're not so keen on making like a Texan redneck and taking the trucks out for a spin, there should be plenty of viable alternatives to keep you happy. Also new to this version is the Pro Career mode that offers the chance to specialise in one of seven paths of driving, from rallying to GT. For example, should you choose to take an open wheel path, you'll start off in novice go-kart races, progressing through mildly-tuned Formula 100 and Formula 3 to eventually make your way up to join the full-blown BMW Williams Formula 1 team.

The sheer amount of motorsports on offer in TRD3 makes us feel like a kid in a pick'n'mix shop - this year's version has more than doubled the variety, featuring a staggering 35 different varieties. New events up for grabs include Formula 1, the British GT championship and Honda lawnmower racing. No, really.

What's more, there are over 45 tracks available to dump rubber on, each with their own variations providing in excess of 100 circuits. In addition, 80 cars will be ready to test-drive, all based on the real-life racing equivalents, thus providing a garage of vehicles that would make any Premiership football club car park blush.

REALITY CHECK
So what else is changing? Well, Codemasters is keen to stress the emphasis on realism this time around, so if that's your cup of tea you'll be able to turn on warm-up laps, practice sessions and flags. The updated driving model will simulate tyre wear and temperature, engine temperature, down force, fuel consumption and plenty of other baffling statistics. Another new feature is the ability to upgrade parts in certain championships, and these will be based on real-world racing parts (instead of what your average Max Power reader has bought from Halfords).

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Online play is also promised to be tweaked to keep it as competitive as possible, so as well as the standard overall rating, you'll also be rewarded with a rating for each championship and discipline - no longer will you have to be the jack-of-all-trades to get your name in lights. The highest ranked cars' laps will be available for download too, enabling you to race against them as ghost cars. Plus, in an effort to avoid playing against any inevitable cheats, detailed host information will be on offer before you enter a race. In addition, a new spectator mode also offers you the chance to sit in on other people's races, or just watch the race progress if you happen to destroy your wheels in a 150mph smash.

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