TOCA Race Driver 2: Ultimate Racing Simulator review
The racing genre is getting full.
Over the last few years - particularly in the age of 3D gaming - everyone has been having a shot at producing a racing title.
Some were alright, most were bad, but there have also been some of the greatest games produced; Sony and Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo series and Microsoft and Bizarre Creation's Project Gotham Racing series come to mind in the latter category - with Microsoft's new Forza likely to join them.
There has also been one other series in the 'realism' section of the genre which has been popular; Codemaster's TOCA series.
Although the series started out as simply a game licensed on the British motorsport, by the end of its run on the original PlayStation it encompassed touring car licences from across the world.
This continued to expand when the series jumped generation with TOCA Race Driver, but this time things changed; Codemasters introduced a story mode to the game, which although wasn't bad, it didn't engage the player enough, and took the game too much away from the core driving element.
Although the basis of a story mode has been retained in the sequel, things have changed.
Gone is zero-to-hero driver Ryan McKane, and instead the game involves you, the player.
Although a story still features - which you are actually more in control of this time around - the main emphasis on the game is on the extremely diverse and comprehensive list of racing types.
Subtitled "The Ultimate Racing Simulator", the Codies have gone all-out to fulfil this, including touring car championships from across the world (including, of course, TOCA), as well Rally Cross, Formula Ford, Ice Racing, and even Super Truck.
Because of the inclusion of 15 game types, and more than 50 tracks, there is likely to be something for any fan of four-wheel racing.
It may have the racing types, but in order to truly deserve the title "the Ultimate Racing Simulator", it needs to play well too.
Thankfully, the handling has improved from the original, delivering the level of quality we have come to expect from the Codemasters team.
As you can probably guess from the subtitle, the handling is based on the simulation side, rather than arcade, and thus there are immediate comparisons to the racing simulation giant, Gran Turismo.
While the game does not fully meet up with the recently raised standards set by Gran Turismo 4, it must be praised for delivering such a high quality over the entire range of race types.
Each type feels as it should - with Grand Prix cars notably frisky, and Super Trucks bulky and cumbersome.
This combined impact could therefore be judged to exceed expectations, and possibly even impress the GT-faithful - or at least give them something to do before GT5.
Damage also plays an important part; wrecking your vehicle as you play as a serious, but realistic, impact on play, and damage modelling is handled extremely well, with the car reacting correctly to a crunch from the front, or a batter from the side.
Its great implementation is something the GT series should really finally take notice of.
A.I. also plays a crucial role in the gameplay, and is again a part of the game which outshines its main rival.
The computer-controlled cars don't follow a straight line, but react like humans, taking risks, making mistakes, and being daring.
If you shunt them, they'll remember you, and won't be afraid to do the same to you at the right moment.
The unpredictable and courageous nature of the A.I. makes for a very enjoyable racing experience, to the point that Codemasters claim you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between human and computer controlled players in a match.
Well, I'd guess that isn't true - computer-controlled drivers wouldn't drive the wrong way around the track deliberately.
With up to 21 other racers on track, you will really feel like you're stuck in the middle of a real race, facing true competition.
Another strong area in the game is the graphics.
While not meeting the near-photo-realism of Gran Turismo 4, the game does look suitably impressive - although toned down from the earlier Xbox and PC interations.
Car models look great - with significant improvements over the original TOCA Race Driver - and the excellent damage modelling, mentioned above, has an equally good impact on the look of your cars, as well as the handling.
The tracks themselves are good representations of real-life courses, but although the surroundings look quite good while driving, they are not as pleasing on the eye up close; noticeable when you crash into a wall.
One of the interesting decisions taken by the Codemasters team was not to include in-game music.
While this is not much of an issue (you don't listen to music while racing in real life, after all), it is strange considering other titles have made so much of their soundtracks.
The voices of the characters in the story are delivered well by their actors, and the in-game engine noises are excellent; the sampling used makes you feel every clash of metal and glass.
Lastly, one last important point to bring up about the game is the multiplayer.
Although, of course, it doesn't feature the great friends list and cross-game integration of Xbox Live (instead using the GameSpy account to power the friends system) and only 8 players can take part - down 4 from the Xbox and PC editions - it does support voice communications.
Also making the translation to the PS2 is the game-specific ranking system, which sees you start with 1500 points, and then moving up and down depending on race events (such as wins, loses, and mid-race disconnects).
Lag seemed rather minimal in-game - especially on a broadband connection - and when it does occur it only affects how you see your opponents, and not your car on the course, so its effect is not too significant.
The biggest issue is that it won't let you use an existing GameSpy account if it's not saved to memory card (as part of a TOCA RD2 save).
This meant that I had to create new GameSpy ID accounts to play - despite using one on many other PS2 Online titles (GameSpy is the currently the most popular online system on the PS2); it's all because they wanted to make it easy to get into, but experienced online gamers will be annoyed.
There's also LAN play for up to 8 players, while 2 players can take part in offline split-screen racing; still the most popular way to play with others.
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