Release Date: October 2004
Sony’s Playstation 2 is noted by the public at large for its diverse library. The platform covers most of the developed genres adequately – although not always with great aptitude – making it an easy choice for newer gamers who have not yet developed the more defined tastes displayed by grizzled gaming veterans. The Playstation’s competitors, however, cater to more defined crowds. Nintendo’s Gamecube is notorious for having a library focused on, well, Nintendo games, leaving many gamers outside of Japan cold because of the overabundance of quirky Nihonjin innovation that simply does not sit well with the majority of the 18-34 crowd that is now the leading gaming demographic. (to note: I am not trying to attack Nintendo or their Gamecube. In face, the Gamecube is my preferred platform.)
The Xbox is often written off by the uninformed as a “first-person shooter console” because of the ubiquitous nature of the Halo games, along with a complete lack of certain genres, namely Japanese-style RPGs (no, Sudeki doesn’t count) and “weird games” like Namco’s incredible Katamari Damacy. Of course, the more gaming news savvy types know that the Gamecube and Xbox may not have as many games as the Playstation 2, but those platforms serve their audiences extremely well. Case in point: Racing games. The Xbox is clearly the platform of choice for racing fans of all types. Fans of racers with money-management and car upgrades have the Project Gotham games, along with two Sega GT titles. Rally fans get the excellent Colin McRae series. Televised racing buffs have Electronic Arts’ Nascar and F1 Racer games. Ham-fisted speed freaks have Burnout 3 and Outrun 2, two games that present fast arcade action in two very different ways. And the most specialized of all racing fans, the purveyors of simulation racers, have Codemaster’s fantastic Pro Race Driver. Rarely does as console have as many bases covered within a single genre as strongly as the Xbox does with racing. And now, the elusive high-speed simulation genre has a second entry on the platform: ToCA Race Driver 2, the oddly titled sequel to Pro Race Driver. The original game was a fantastic first effort, and ToCA manages to improve on every aspect of it. While the simulation genre will never be adequately portrayed on a console (outside of psychotic releases like Steel Battalion), ToCA Race Driver 2 is one of the best of its kind to grace any platform outside of the PC realm in years.
The first impression ToCA gives off for fans of the previous outing is that of a more streamlined effort. Not only are there additions, but – this is something every developer with a sequel in progress should emulate – there are omissions, too. The most bold of these is the near-complete removal of the awkward role-playing features of the first game. This time, a simple career mode has been added, which puts more of a focus on what made Pro Race Driver so great: The driving!
If there is one thing Xbox racers lack, it is truly realistic physics. The physics model in ToCA is what will immediately separate the fans from the foes within a few minutes of play. That’s how touch to stomach this game can be for some players. These cars are almost as hard to handle as their real-life counterparts; or, to put it in layman’s terms, Burnout types need not apply. Every car reacts here just as they should, so a lot of mistakes can be made. While many racing games have players simply learning the basics of vehicle handling and then learning the tracks as the focus of the game, ToCA has the added layer of learning the nuances of every single one of the game’s 35 cars on top of mastering a grand total of 48 tracks. Racing fans used to the smooth control of Daytona and Project Gotham might even write off ToCA as a broken game because of the unforgiving nature of its handling – that’s a testament to just how different the Race Driver series plays in comparison to just about everything else out there!
The level of realism extends beyond even that of vehicular handling, of course. Unlike many of those supposed driving simulators (Gran Turismo 1-3), ToCA braings more reality to the realism with true-to-life crash damage. We aren’t just talking about a simple San Francisco Rush-esque damage system, where a certain amount of crashing knocks you out of the race for a few seconds. ToCA is about truly devastating damage, the kind that makes your engine sputter for a moment and die out, or misalign your steering. No longer will competitive races be filled with the thoughtless ramming and bumping found in other games. ToCA forces players to think out every move, because unlike many racing games, each second of gameplay could easily be the last.
ToCA’s graphics engine is its weakest feature. Muddy, ugly textures are plastered onto poorly modeled objects throughout the game. While this is only fully noticeable when being very close to one of the offending areas at a slower speed, even from a distance it is clear that ToCA is not a very pretty game. Two-dimensional trees that belong on the PSOne are all over the place, further adding to the ugliness of the game. It’s an improvement over the original Pro Race Driver, but it is still not at the preferred level of quality. Thankfully, no graphical issues hinder the gameplay directly. The new engine is fully capable of running at 60 frames per second. Since high, smooth framerates are a must for good racing gameplay, I am extremely happy that the developer focused on this aspect.
ToCA makes up for its graphical misgivings by presenting a game filled with awesome sound. Every noise is spot on, from the violent hum of a flagging engine to the dissatisfying crunch of a head-on collision. Codemasters put a great effort towards realism with this release, and the sound is a major feature of that effort. Next time, let’s see if they can’t come up with graphics to impress, too!
ToCA Race Driver 2 is the simulation racer to get. The original game was a great release to its credit, but ToCA is better in every way. The awkward role-playing has been removed, and better graphics, more cars and tracks, better sound, and 12 player online races through Xbox Live have been added. 35 cars might not sound like a lot to Gran Turisimo fans, but with the extreme attention to realism giving to each car, it takes a long time to master the intricacies of every vehicle, so don’t sit with the simple number of cars; ToCA is a different kind of racer. And if you’re unsure about whether or not to pick this game up, keep in mind that the new copies of the game are packaged with a free full version of Colin McRae 04, so even if ToCA isn’t for you, you still get two games out of the deal. Since this package is priced at near-budget levels, you can’t go wrong. This is the best simulation racer on any console out there.
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