Toca Race Driver 2: The Ultimate Racing Simulator
I'd call TOCA a 30-car pileup if cars were racing genres and massive accidents got me really hot. It's a smooth, sexy sampler of every driving type and terrain imaginable--from open-wheel racing to rally to big rigs in Africa (no foolin'). Online or offline, it's much more diverse and organic than the sterile Gotham or redundant RalliSport, though not as deep as either. Details like the turbos whining as they spooled volumes of boost through my Skyline's engine until I let up to a satisfying chuff from the blow-off valve, as well as keen physics--exaggerated just a touch to make the skids, flips, and spectacular piece-by-piece damage more dynamic--sucked me right in. It's a great title for beginners and seasoned vets looking for a not-too-serious commitment. I found the linear progression pretty limiting--I couldn't stray much from the beaten path--but nothing else really turned up to crash my TOCA party. Sorry, folks, but here's yet another Xbox racer you may have to buy this year.
TOCA delivers the ultimate in hardcore gearhead bragging rights: a clutch button. You don't have to use it, but it's there. This is Codemasters' Gran Turismo, with less tinkering, garage puttering, and a little less polish, but far more diverse race classes (from Formula Ford to...semitrucks?) and a career mode that, while silly at times, actually tells a story. It's tough but rewarding if you have the skill and patience. TOCA also offers 12-player online racing (with optional CPU cars to round out the field), though it lacks the extra Live features that made Project Gotham Racing 2 so great.
TOCA differentiates itself from a crowded genre by covering, quite literally, the gamut of motorsport competitions. For a jack-of-all-trades-style racer, TOCA plays surprisingly well in all categories, mostly due to the game's brutal, yet addictively realistic physics and collision system. Whether you're driving a Subaru WRX on ice in a rallycross face-off or doing laps in a NASCAR-like oval, TOCA feels, on a gameplay level, fundamentally consistent within its own automotive reality--on and off Xbox Live.