Reviewed: June 16, 2004
Released: April 13, 2004
TOCA Race Driver 2: Ultimate Racing Simulator is the retooled sequel to the 2002 release of Pro Race Driver and perhaps the most comprehensive racing title ever created. Designed as the definitive racing experience, the game features online support for up to 12 racers and the same story-driven career mode as Pro Race Driver, only this time the story is not nearly as melodramatic.
Race Driver 2 boasts the most diverse range of insanely fast motor sports ever seen in one game including; 31 championships cover 15 different motor racing styles including GT Sports Car Racing, Street Racing, Rally, 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.
Race Driver 2 features:
For those without a preferred genre, you will find Race Driver 2 a great “sampler platter” of all things racing. The career mode spans multiple racing styles and the free racing mode allows you to pick your type of race, car, and track from a massive list of unlockable content.
Released on both the Xbox and the PC many racers are probably fearing the worst, and while TOCA’s difficulty can be scaled back to near-arcade settings, there is also a surprisingly rich and difficult simulation buried beneath the menus. You can toggle all sorts of pre-race setup features and at the harder skill levels this is mandatory as the default car config isn’t likely to win you any races no matter how skilled a driver you are.
Depending on your style of racing you may want to use a steering wheel setup for this game if you have one. My Mad Catz Universal MC2 Racing Wheel was more than up for the task, but those who wish to use the standard gamepad will find it more than responsive, both in analog steering and some surprisingly good braking and acceleration using the left and right triggers. It’s been a long time since a console racing game offered this much precision and accuracy. Sure, there is some arcade physics and the penalties for reckless driving are slim, but it's a great ride.
You can race from several views including chase, cockpit, hood, and bumper cam. Sim purists will cringe at the lack of a functioning dashboard. Even with the realistic cockpit view you still have your instrument cluster in the corner. I was very pleased with the design of the instrument gauge that not only had an analog tachometer and digital speedometer, but also included a fuel gauge and an arc of indicator lights that change from yellow to orange to red as your car takes damage. These symbols are all easy to understand and cover all of the internal parts of the car like engine, steering, transmission, etc.
In additional to the aforementioned instrument cluster, there is also a rotating map that shows your position on the track as well as any nearby opponents. In lieu of rearview mirrors there is a clever arrow system that warns of approaching cars. A transparent red arrow appears near the bottom of the screen indicating any car that is trying to pass. The more solid the arrow is, the closer the car. If you can keep the arrow in the center of the screen you can effectively block a passing car.
There is also a realistic damage model that will have your glass shattering, doors swinging off their hinges, bumpers dragging behind you, etc. Sometimes the damage seems more cosmetic than anything else. You can throw a tire and your crew will tell you to “keep on racing” but only when you actually lose the wheel will you come to a grinding halt. You can take enough engine damage to lower your top speed and wreck your steering enough so the car pulls to the left or right, but these effects require excessive damage.
This allows for some cheap racing tactics, which I freely admit to taking part in. Often, it seemed I was totally outmatched in many races. I was racing flawless laps and the computer was passing me like I was parked, so I started retaliating by ramming the opposition off the track or cutting inside on turns and using the outer car as a shield.
Race Driver 2 features a lengthy career mode that tells a story much like the first game, but rather than some elaborate drama revolving around your father’s death, this time you play as a simple up and coming racer. You hook up with a mechanic and later on an agent. Working out of your trackside trailer, which also serves as your menu interface, you plan your race schedule, manage your garage, and negotiate for sponsorship. The between-race cutscenes are shown through the eyes of your character creating a unique first-person perspective.
You advance through the career by earning milestone amounts of money or placing in a certain position. These various objectives help break up the monotony of most racing games where your only goal is to come in first and if you don’t you simply restart the race until you do. My only complaint with the career system is that you are often required to race on unfamiliar tracks and there is no practice option prior to a race event. While you are free to restart any race as often as you like without penalty, the only real way to practice is to play outside the career mode until you have experienced all of the possible tracks.
Another oddity is the lack of pre-race qualification. While I seldom take the time to “qualify” in most of my racing games there are those that might be annoyed at the random starting placement feature, or at least they say it’s random. Out of about 50 races I’ve played I’ve never started ahead of 3rd and never further back than 7th. Still, with no hope of ever “winning” the pole position, it takes away slightly from the racing experience.
For those who like to tinker, you will find plenty to experiment with outside of the career mode. Your car setup is fixed for career races but for free racing you can adjust gear ratios, downforce, suspension, ride height, tires and even your brake bias. There is no parts list or upgrades to worry about, which again may turn off the hardcore racers. Personally, I found plenty to keep me busy.
TOCA supports two racers locally using split-screen but serious racers will want to head online where you can have races with up to 12 players. There is a unique point system that is used to grade your performance and maintain scoreboards so you can compare yourself to other racers. The Xbox version, either through optimization of the game code or the power of the Live service managed to offer a much cleaner and smoother online experience. Of course the Xbox was running the game at half the resolution I was playing on my PC.
Race Driver 2 is one of the most beautiful racing games you can play on the Xbox and with the exception of resolution, is almost a perfect match with its PC counterpart. The car models are exquisite, perhaps the best of any racer to date, and they are fleshed out with realistic paint jobs, textures, and decals and they shine and reflect with a just-waxed sheen. Subtle details like real-time reflections of the environments on your hood, or flashing lens flares from the other cars shiny surfaces (chrome, glass, paint) all add ot the realism.
The damage model is accurately depicted with cracked and shattering glass and dented and broken body parts. Tires will fly off the wheel on impact and the metal wheel will grind on the pavement. Your hood can crumple up and actually block your view when playing from the cockpit view and your bumper will invariably drop off the first time you rear-end the car ahead of you.
The various camera views are all quite playable so the one you pick is based solely on your preference. The chase view gives you a standard arcade experience and the bumper cam puts you right down on the realistic textured pavement giving you an enhanced sensation of speed. The various hood cams offer their own advantages and disadvantages. It might give a more realistic look to the game, but the reduced track visibility and the distraction of the reflections or the slowly deformed hood as you take damage can be distracting. The cockpit cam is only noteworthy in that it realistically depicts the side of the car you are driving from and also adds a funky distortion if you shatter your windshield.
Tracks look stunning, especially considering the simple textures and 2D sprites that are used to create them. Architecturally speaking, they are flawless, at least the ones based on real tracks. As a frequent visitor to the Texas Motor Speedway, I can say that TOCA’s version is pixel-perfect. The other tracks are gorgeous whether you are racing on circuits, or through sectioned off parts of a city. If you look closely enough you can see the spectators and trees are 2D cutouts but at 120mph you’ll never know. There is also realistic lighting and shadows to add an extra notch of realism. The bump-mapped track surface literally pops off the screen and realistically reflects light based on the time of day.
Most importantly, the game runs at a flawless 60fps, creating such a smooth racing experience that it was almost unsettling. Even on split-screen and online races the framerate achieved levels I wouldn't have thought possible with this level of car and track detail. The designers have obviously exploited the power of the Xbox for this title.
The movies are slightly compressed but still great quality with excellent character design and a unique first-person view so you see everything from the “eyes” of your character. The movies tie in the various race events and blend the menu interface right into the game for a seamless experience.
The sound package is just as good as the rest of the game. The voice acting is excellent with a fun Scottish accent for our mechanic friend and a sexy confident female voice for our agent. The dialogue is witty and complements the entire experience rather than trying to dominate it.
Music is restricted to the menus and is pretty much forgettable. It’s just some simple techno, jazz, and bass riffs that do nothing more than accompany the clicks as you navigate the menus. It fades away when you hit the track leaving you with nothing but the excellent sound mix. The Xbox version does allow you to insert your own customized soundtracks if you want to energize your racing experience with some metal or techno beats.
There are plenty of great sound effects ranging from unique engine noises for all the vehicles found in this game to fender-crunching wrecks, shattering glass, squealing tires and the occasional radio encouragement or chastising from the pit.
If you have a home theater system you might be startled the first time you hear your exhaust popping while braking and downshifting. The sound comes from your rear speakers, as does the sound of any approaching cars. The 3D Dolby Digital mix allows opponents’ engine noise to subtly wrap around your room so you know which side the car is trying to pass you on.
The career mode should keep you busy for 15-20 hours. If you dive into it without playing any of the non-career races you will end up having to restart and replay many of the races simply to learn the tracks. Outside the career mode there is another 20 hours of free racing events to keep you occupied and the online racing will extend this even more.
Using Xbox Live, it’s pretty easy to find several people playing this game just about any time and on some nights you can actually get a full field of racers going head-to-head with no effort. The added features of Scoreboard, Friends List and voice chatting during the race rounds out one of the best online racing experiences since Project Gotham 2.
TOCA Race Driver 2: Ultimate Racing Simulator is one of the better racing game I have played in the past several years, ranking right up there with PGR2 and RalliSport 2 in its own unique way. It doesn’t require the precision accuracy of PGR2 but it is more serious and more difficult than your typical Xbox racing game. Dust off your racing wheel and turn on the cockpit view for one realistic ride.
The massive scope of the content, both cars and tracks, makes this an awesome opportunity for racers to sample a bit of all racing genres. The story that ties the career together is also a nice touch that helps to immerse you in the gameplay and gives it a more personal touch, allowing you to identify with the lead character and get an insight into the world of racing. This is a great game for racers of all skill levels and fans of any or all styles of racing.