TOCA Race Driver 2
It's fair to say we've seen more than our fair share of driving games here at PC. So much so that at the beginning of each review it is traditional - if not compulsory -to casually bemoan the surfeit of automotive entertainment on the PC. To be honest, we can barely muster a half-hearted shrug of despair as another Off-Road Formula One Street Racing Rally game drops onto the mat with hollow promises of being the greatest thing on four wheels. However, when that game comes from genre specialist Codemasters and claims to feature the most motorsports ever to appear in a single title, we are prepared to listen. Throw in the heritage of the long-running TOCA series and we've already got the kettle on.
Make no mistake: this is the big one, in every sense. No less than 15 different disciplines are melded together via an extensive career path, each brimming with Codemasters' trademark high production values and attention to detail. Do you want to know what they are? Read this: GT Sports Car Racing, Street Racing, DTM, V8 Supercars, Global GT Lights, Rally Cross, Formula Ford, Open Wheel Grand Prix, Classic Car Racing, Super Truck Racing, Stockcar Oval Racing, Ice-Racing, Convertible Racing and Performance Cars.
Essentially a different set of variables plugged into the same game engine, the majority of the vehicles on offer provide a superb drive, although the rally cars do suffer in comparison to Colin McRae, despite the pace notes being read by stalwart Nicky Grist. As for the Super Trucks, we've made our position dear before: if driving a lorry was any fun we'd all be eating Vbrkies and using CB radio.
What's The Story?
A massive project, TOCA Race Driver 2 dwarfs most other driving games, including last year's original story-based affair. Annoying American Ryan McKane has been jettisoned - in Codemasters' own words they "sacked him off" - to be replaced by none other than your good self. With all the story sequences presented from a first-person view, you are the star of the show, although you appear to be playing a mute (unless you're prepared to take interactive entertainment to the extreme and chip in with your own dialogue). The idea of a narrative-based driving game is one that initially had purists reeling in disgust, but we quite like it. If nothing else it offers some incentive to continue, even if the reward is little more than a 20-second clip of people talking in a caravan.
Such footage appears intermittently throughout the core single-player game, which sees you setting out as a raw young buck with plenty of potential but without a pot to piss in, the idea being to move up the ranks and finally compete in the Masters Grand Prix. The concept of a career mode initially had us imagining full race weekends, gruelling qualifying sessions and lengthy races. Admittedly you can set these up off-menu, but the career mode essentially consists of a series of mini-challenges, with races often clocking in at no more than two laps apiece. And as for the idea of being able to choose your career path using all the available vehicle types, this is also bogus. The choice is generally between one or occasionally two types of vehicle, and it's a completely linear route, presumably to accommodate the pre-recorded story footage.
What this approach does do is to force you to master each of the disciplines, as if you don't then your career won't progress any further. Early on it's something of a breeze, and anyone with basic road sense should be able to negotiate the opening stages. Straddling a fine line between arcade and simulation, the handling for each vehicle type has been tweaked extensively and the key to success is learning what you can get away with, be it handbrake turns or sneaking on to the grass for a crucial shortcut.
There's also a sizeable discrepancy in the damage accrued by the different vehicles. For instance, the openwheeled cars will buckle like a belt at the mere hint of contact, whereas the more robust cars can effectively be used as battering rams. Bludgeoning your way through the pack is a tactic that can be liberally employed, partly because you can get away with it, but also largely due to the brevity of the races. Given two or three laps to get to the front, picking off the field one by one isn't really an option and some unscrupulous driving is called for.
This is particularly relevant in the championships that require you to place above or in the vicinity of a specific driver (typically called Stamper, Five-O or even the aptly-named Bastide). If you can nobble your rival it gives you a far greater chance of finishing ahead of him, and the game can descend into glorified dodgems. It's not all one-way traffic though, as your rivals will occasionally have a nibble back at you, and indeed some of the cut-scenes feature pit-lane hissy-fits. In general, the opponent Al is extremely realistic, and you can find yourself gleefully steaming past a four-car pile-up.
You can't simply drive into other cars with complete impunity though, as the much-vaunted Terminal Damage model will eventually take its toll, although again this is more of an issue in longer races, with the car losing straight line speed and the handling deteriorating. It's worth giving your car an occasional thrashing though, if only to see the damage model in action. A pleasing combination of shattered glass and twisted metal, it is to the car manufacturers' credit that they have allowed their creations to be mutilated in this manner. And it's not called Terminal Damage for nothing - one collision too many and it's race over. Not a great problem in the career mode, as you can simply load each race again, something that you may find yourself doing countless times after just getting off to a bad start.
In some ways, you are the villain of the piece, winning races and championships through occasionally unscrupulous means. It all adds to the experience though, which is rarely less then compelling. It may take 20 attempts to get past a certain stage, but you are forced to improve, and thrilling split-second races are commonplace.
With its depth and variety, TOCA Race Driver 2 almost renders other driving games obsolete, and there's enough here to keep you busy for weeks. And that's before you get involved in the online action, something we'll be getting stuck into as soon as possible. Something of a triumph then, and the best driving game for a good while. Not sure what they're going to do for number three, mind.
Toca Or Not Toca? That Is The Question
The name of the game is TOCA Race Driver 2 yet there are no TOCA cars in it. Why? Well, considering that the name of the game was going to be simply Race Driver 2 until a few months before release we can only assume that the licence was re-secured at the last minute, not giving the development team time to knock out an incarnation of a TOCA event. A shame though, as a bit of British Touring Car racing would have provided a welcome change from the largely US-oriented disciplines.
Thrill To The Exciting Plot Of Toca Race Driver 2
A fearless young buck with a taste for tarmac and a penchant for petrol, you are drawn into a complex three-way struggle for your attentions. At the centre is grizzled pit boss Scotty, a largely incomprehensible misogynist who is appalled when a sassy blonde drops by the trailer with an offer of sponsorship cash. Things are complicated further by the appearance of a female documentary-maker who pops up to simper inanely while encouraging you to drive more dangerously for the sake of the film.
Will Scotty drink himself to death? Will he actually say anything useful during a race? Will the mysterious blonde come good with the cash? And just what are the film-maker's real intentions? Find out, only in TOCA Race Driver 2...
Download TOCA Race Driver 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
"We want to do for variety of motorsport what Gran Turismo did for the variety of cars," says Gavin Raeburn, head of Codemasters' racing development studio about Race Driver 2: The Ultimate Racing Simulator. Codemasters' latest game is the sequel to last year's TOCA Race Driver, except the TOCA moniker has now been dropped in favour of a game that encompasses a staggering 15 different types of championship racing.
"We basically saw an opportunity to feature lots of real types of racing games that haven't been covered before, and put them in one game," continues Gavin. "We have Truck Racing, Indy Car, Rally Racing, Classic Cars, Open Wheel Grand Prix, 1934 Hot Rods - a rapid turnover of powerful vehicles with completely unique handling mechanics." Race Driver 2 has 35 of the world's most exotic and aspirational cars to test-drive, including the Jaguar E-Type, the Land Rover Bowler Wildcat and for the first time ever, the V12 Aston Martin DB9 - a wet dream for all sports car fetishists.
One feature the team was adamant would make it into the new game was Terminal Damage - realistic crash damage modelling that can crush the front and back of vehicles, smash glass, send wheels flying off and completely write-off a car during a race. "The Terminal Damage element puts a lot more pressure on you as a racing driver, because you have to drive right," says Gavin. "If you hit a wall at 80mph, it's game over."
Race Driver 2's sophisticated damage modelling means that if you damage the engine and gearbox, for example, the car will start to drop out of gear. Basically, you'll no longer be able to use other cars to slow you down or as crash barriers to help you squeeze around tight corners -you'll have to follow a correct racing line.
"Manufacturers are fine with us crashing their cars, as long as it's realistic," adds Gavin. "We've had Aston Martin in and they were really happy with how their cars looked and handled in the game, and allowed us to virtually smash up their $175,000 pride and joys!"
What's The Story?
TOCA Race Driver had a very mixed response regarding its lead character, the arrogant American Ryan McKane. He's now been unceremoniously dumped from the new game. Race Driver 2 is played in first-person, with specially-created FMV cut-scenes drawing your non-specific character into the action. "The ultimate goal is to become Open Wheel Grand Prix champion," says Gavin. "There's no silly love interest or anything like that, it's just hardcore racing."
For the multiplayer game, the PC's online code has been completely re-written, so that the number of cars and performance has doubled. There'll also be the ability to set up your own server, plus buddy/exclusion lists and instant player rankings.
Most importantly. Race Driver 2 plays like a dream. We thrashed a Ford Mustang and a Land Rover around a couple of beautifully-detailed courses and although both vehicles handled very differently, the game itself had that trademark smooth pick-up-and-play addictive driving quality Codemasters seem to be able to roll off the production line at will. Ryan McKane is dead. Long live Race Driver 2: The Ultimate Racing Simulator.