TOCA Race Driver 2: The Ultimate Racing Simulator review
3D gaming on the handhelds has led to an important development; proper racing games on the move.
Sony launched the machine with WipEout Pure, while Codemasters have brought us a conversion of the excellent console and PC racer TOCA Racer Driver 2.
But is the conversion good enough and should we expect something different for the new machine?
As on the consoles, Race Driver 2 retains the story mode of the original Race Driver, but instead of keeping Ryan McKane in a story that didn't engage the player, the game now involves you.
With the story acting as more a guide, the main emphasis has now been placed 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.
The PSP's pseudo-analogue stick may be the biggest control issue for some gamers.
While personally I have adjusted to the small nub through long sessions of WipEout Pure, I have found others less familiar with PSP racing games to struggle to adjust to the sliding motion of the stick, and its somewhat awkward positioning on the machine.
However, these are mostly issues with the console rather than the game, and indeed the game does respond well to movement, taking in full analogue capabilities.
Damage also plays an important part; wrecking your vehicle as you play has 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.
Even on the PSP there are up to 21 other racers on track, so you really will feel like you're stuck in the middle of a real race, facing true competition.
Another strong area in the game is the graphics. The PSP visuals most strongly match those of the PS2 version, bring a similar level of detail to the machine.
While some things have been somewhat toned down, Codemasters have done an impressive job for a first-generation title, where they still have little experience of the machine.
Car models still look great and the damage modelling remains fully intact with a noticeable effect on the look of your cars.
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.
However, one of the advantages of the PSP version is the ability to add your own soundtrack, just like on the Xbox.
This is the first handheld game to support custom soundtracks, and is achieved by converting and copying tracks to the machine with Exact Audio Copy, available from Codemasters' website.
The system works well, but unfortunately you have to use this software as the game does support your MP3 or AAC files you already use, and converted files cannot be played back on the PSP's own music player.
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.
Like many launch titles, Race Driver 2 supports ad-hoc multiplayer games over WiFi.
Unlike all launch titles, Race Driver 2 supports up to 12 players over wireless, instead of the usual 2-8.
Of course, you'll have to find 11 other people locally that own the game, which seems to be harder than matching up with people with GTA: Liberty City Stories.
Online multiplayer would, of course, have been a nice inclusion - particularly when it features on all the other formats - but very few PSP games have gone done this route yet, so it's understandable.
The only question that really remains is whether it was right to port it to the PSP.
Should we not be looking for new experiences on a handheld instead of ports of existing console titles?
While this argument could easily be made, you have to keep in mind that it's still a very enjoyable racing game, with a lot of depth, and as the game tells you how long race series should roughly last, it works great to fill in small gaps of time on a bus or train journey.
So, although we would like to see original PSP games, there are many titles - such as this - which I wouldn't turn down to taking on my next cross country train ride.