|Driving games for the PSX are probably, by this point in the
systems lifespan, considerably less than a dime a dozen. Fans of the genre have been
assaulted lately by a barrage of games from the inoffensively mediocre (Test Drive 6, for
instance) to the egregiously terrible (TNN Harcore Heat, anyone?). Even games that
dont seriously offend the senses are more often than not just tired renovations of
tired franchises with little to offer a genre that is so conducive to repetition.
TOCA 2, however, is a refreshing addition to the simulator-style niche dominated (justifiably) by Gran Turismo. Although it cannot be said to stand a chance of dethroning the aforementioned giant, it does round out the experience in a way that should satisfy any serious driving fan who has been longing for a busier, larger scale approach to competition.
TOCA, as almost no one in this country knows, is the British equivalent of NASCAR. Consequently, the tracks are extremely well rendered versions of actual British tracks, none of which you will probably recognize unless you are a fanatic, but all of which convey a solidly real-world verisimilitude missing from most racing simulators out there. As in most games of this type, new tracks and difficulty modes are opened for excellent performance on the initial fewgood performance eventually allows you to unlock hidden games cheats and modes. Apart from the track design, the actual graphical presentation is as solid as anything found in GT2, and better in some respects. The level of detail in the environment and the vehicles is advanced enough that you can see drivers inside their rollcages, personalized decals on the rear window, and leaves (rather than pixilated color blocks) on the trees. The game allows you to change the track conditions from perfectly clear to a moderate rainstorm, and unlike many games, the conditions dramatically and realistically affect the driving physics.
Which brings me to the next pointthis game will take a while to get used to. If you find the Corvette line (or any other FF) car from GT2 a bit sensitive and/or irritating, get ready to start abusing your controller. Sensitive is a radical understatement. We are assured by the games packaging that the driving physics are accurately modeled, but all this means is that unless you happen to be a professional British Touring driver, its going to take a bit of work to get the hang of it. You will definitely spend your first race on a wet track just trying to stay on it. Dont give up though; the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as that of TOCA 1, and eventually it will become somewhat intuitive.
The games British pedigree is not really reflected in the licensed cars. Although Britain is represented, the major licenses are fairly international: Audi, Vauxhall, Ford, Volvo, Renault, Peugot, Honda, and Nissan for starters, as well as unlockable specials like the JaguarXJ220 and Lister Storm. Although the cars are not customizable to the extent that they are in GT2, they can be modified enough to make the feature worthwhile and interesting. Pit stops and in game modification are major factors in every race, and the Support system must be figured out in order to really get very far. In fact, the entire game is much deeper than it appears on the surface.
The major mode, of course, is the Championship mode, which takes your driver through the 1998 TOCA season, and gives you the opportunity to unlock the games various features. The game also includes a very well-done Test Track, that will prepare you for most of the cornering you will need to know; a Feature Race mode; a Support Car Challenge (in which you race the Jaguar, a Ford Fiesta, and other non-touring cars); a Challenge Mode (which plays like Pole Position); and a head-to-head and cooperative 2-player Mode. The co-op Two player mode is a nice addition to the game, but it (like the head-to-head mode) suffers from a degree of slowdown and pop-in that doesnt necessarily ruin the experience, but does make it feel a bit rushed.
The game typically (in one-player mode) runs in a smooth 30 fps, but it feels a lot faster in your super-sensitive car. And although there are a total of 16 competitive cars in every championship race, the framerate never bogs down, even when all of them are on the screen at once. In fact, the number of cars adds a great deal of fun to the racing experience, and also helps you stay on the track (howeveryou will be penalized for "dangerous driving").
If you are a racing enthusiast, you will not be disappointed in this game. If you have no real love of the genre, pick up RR4. Whatever the case though, this is a solidly designed and put together simulator, with a lot to offer the casual racer and the fanatic.