Having spent two weeks playing TOCA 2, I simply cannot decide whether I love it for what it is, or hate it for what it is not.
On the plus side, TOCA 2 is practically an interactive encyclopedia of racing series. Included in the title are such diverse types of racing as street cars, stock cars, rally cars, open-wheel cars, and everything in between, up to and including multi-ton tractor trucks (thankfully sans trailers). Each of the different types handles differently and requires a bit of practice to master. Enormous attention to detail from the graphics team is evident in the realistic renderings of each model within a type.
The excellent graphics, attention to detail, and encyclopedic variety are also apparent in the fifty different race tracks. World famous tracks like Laguna Seca, Brands Hatch, Silverstone, and Hockenheim are all included.
All of this is, of course, the eye candy expected in a modern racing sim. As is always the case, however, the real fun comes from the racing itself. I usually shy away from console racing titles since they typically cannot provide the highly realistic driving and physics models I prefer. This limitation mostly comes down to controllers – high degrees of driving realism require highly accurate force feedback steering wheels to provide adequate feedback and control. The vast majority of consoles are equipped with the controllers that came with them, and these are just not well equipped for providing the control required for precise driving.
There are times, though, when I just want to turn on the box and race without having to worry about graphics settings, wheel calibrations, and all of the other complexities that come with a PC-based sim. For times like this, TOCA 2 delivers pretty well. The cars are not only easily controllable, but just touchy enough to require at least some level of driving skill. The AI drivers are tenacious in pursuit, aggressive in passing, and don’t commit the cardinal sin of slowing down to wait for you once they manage to get past you.
The career mode provides an entertaining introduction to all of the disparate racing types available. The story is typical to these types of games: you start with nothing but desire and talent. Throughout your career you are rewarded for achieving goals by being given chances to race in stronger and tougher series. After each successful completion there is an animated cut scene involving your team manager, your agent, and other hangers-on. These scenes are entertaining, particularly those involving your Scottish team manager who sounds eerily similar to Shrek. The career mode moves pretty quickly since most of the races are only a few laps long. As you successfully complete each series, the cars and tracks involved are unlocked in free race mode. Once unlocked, free race lets you configure for more advanced races including more laps, car setups, and qualifying rounds.
This brings us to what I hate about TOCA 2
. When I buy an encyclopedia, I don’t want to have to read it all the way through before I can look up specific topics. Codemasters had an opportunity with TOCA 2
to satisfy two major constituencies: casual gamers and dedicated console racers. Unfortunately, they chose to cater only to the casual gamer. As mentioned before, you have to satisfy a progression goal in a career race to unlock the cars and tracks you want for free race mode. The career races are short, often only two or three laps. You invariably start pretty far back in the pack, and you progression goal is to finish at least second or third. This forces you to bully your way through the field knocking opponents out of your way rather than trying to finesse a pass. This type of Robby Gordon racing is not the style of racing I enjoy.
Being more interested in longer, more challenging races, I had hoped to be able to set up for any race I wanted. For example, I had hoped that I would be able to choose the type of car to race and the track(s) to race on. When I looked at the cars and tracks included in TOCA 2
, I thought I would be able to race Formula Fords at Elkhart Lake or Laguna Seca. Such is not the case. Even after progressing through the career mode far enough to unlock the Formula Fords, I found that they could only be raced at four selected tracks, none of which were tracks I knew or cared about.
That limitation was frustrating, but not nearly as much as what I found next. I decided to try to use cheat codes that would unlock all of the cars and tracks to see if it would then allow the combinations I wanted. I’m not a big fan of cheat codes – frankly, I despise them. I think that once I buy a game, I should have free rein to configure and play it any way I want without having to resort to an internet search for the codes required to give me that freedom. You can probably guess, then, how annoyed I am with Codemasters for having developed a cheat code system that requires me to phone them, at the rate of $1.99 per minute, to ask for the codes! This I refuse to do, and I will quite honestly state that it is because of this ridiculous policy that TOCA 2
will receive a full point lower score than I would normally have given it.
Ultimately, I found TOCA 2
to quite a bit of fun in some aspects, but in other ways to be an unfulfilled promise. The potential for a flexible, user-configurable collection of interesting and fun racing series remains hidden beneath an impenetrable barrier of superfluous constraints. I would have been far happier with this game had Codemasters made the decision to allow me, the customer, decide what is fun and what is not, rather than forcing me into their view of what people want to be able to do with their games. But in those times when my desires mesh with their imposed limitations, TOCA 2 i
s very, very good. But in the much more common case when I want to do things my way, not so much.
TOCA Race Driver 2 from Codemasters is described as the â€œUltimate Racing Simulator.â€ Does it live up to this claim? Unfortunately, not quite.