The ToCA series from Codemasters has always stood out as having something special about it, but with a crowded genre full of racers flooding the market during recent years, can yet another ToCA Race Driver really compete for pole position?
As with the previous Race Driver title, there's a strong story-based theme to the career mode which evolves as you progress through each of the stages and championships - the more races you win, the more other people want to be part of your fame, and of course take some of your fortunes for the pleasure of "helping you out" - all of which is shown in full motion video and acted scenes with a range of varied and colourful characters.
To get you off to a good start there's a one lap introduction to racing, which gives you a brief overview of the controls and handling of a car, whilst also hearing the voice of your team manager over the radio chipping in with sometimes helpful comments about how you are driving - or if you really mess up, he'll not be scared of letting you know that he's not best pleased.
Online play via Xbox Live allows for up to 12 players to go head-to-head in races online, which is currently the most in any Xbox Live racing title, although soon to be outdone by Microsoft's upcoming RalliSport Challenge II which claims to offer 16 players online at once - if you can find anyone with a good enough connection to host them of course. Generally online play with Race Driver 2 seems lag-free, although as with any online title it depends greatly on the location of both the host and other players - pick a game full of Australians on the other side of the world and you are bound to experience lag at some point.
Ideally you'll need to have completed a good chunk (if not all) of the single player Championship mode to get the full benefit from the Xbox Live play, as you are limited to hosting just a couple of tracks from the first three championships at first, and unlock more as you progress. You can however take part in races with any vehicle on any circuit if you join a game on Xbox Live where the host has already unlocked the extra tracks or cars, and aren't stuck with having to use a ghostcar as you would be in Project Gotham Racing 2. The host also has a good amount of control over the race on offer, and can vary the amount of laps from just a couple for a quick race around the streets of Surfers Paradise, right up to more enduring 50 lap Stockcar races around the Pikes Peak oval.
Visually ToCA Race Driver 2 impresses, and there's a good amount of detail in the wide selection of cars and circuits, with everything appearing to be accurately modelled on the real-life counterparts - which of course also includes the vehicle damage, including crazed windows and pieces of bodywork which hang off precariously. The inclusion of Pit Stops means it's often a case of having to weigh up the benefits of entering the pitlane and losing a few places, or trying to carry on with a battered car which is rapidly losing control and not going half as fast as the rest of the field.
Everything about the game feels right, from the handling of the cars which all behave slightly differently, to the acceleration and braking which is much more realistic than some other races which previously felt pretty good themselves. It really does feel as though Codemasters have taken the best games from every aspect of the racing genre, and somehow crammed them all in to one bumper package - it's like having the best bits from games such as IndyCar Series, Sega GT, Super Trucks, and RalliSport Challenge all fused together to make a dream game.
When Codemasters said that ToCA Race Driver 2 was to be "the ultimate racing simulator" they really weren’t wrong - it's quite possibly the best racing game we've ever played, and surely sends a warning signal to other publishers whose games are based on just a single aspect of motorsport.
However we can't help but feel there's one huge omission from Race Driver 2, in the form of UK touring cars - the very aspect on which Codemasters' ToCA series was originally based. If the hugely popular UK ToCA races were to have to been included in Race Driver 2, we'd have had no hesitation to give it the full marks which it clearly deserves.Overall score: 9 out of 10
Recommended Price: £39.99
Available: April 23rd 2004Buy ToCA Race Driver 2 for the Xbox from Amazon