Written by: Rik

Date posted: February 11, 2007

Extras:

The in-car view has improved immesaurably since the first game. You even get a rear-view mirror.

First up, an apology: this review is long overdue. Over the years here at FFG we’ve become quite aware of the amount of content we can come up with and when – which is to say that, despite our best efforts, we’re aware that this isn’t really the most frequently updated site in the world. With this in mind, it generally pays to not talk too much about new content, updates or features until they’re close to completion – otherwise we’d look pretty silly if they didn’t materialise.

Sometimes, however, the common sense behind this policy gets lost in a hazy moment of optimism and we commit something to the web that really should have stayed in our heads until we’d given it a bit more thought. During the review of the original TOCA, I recklessly mentioned my eBay purchase of this game and alluded to a forthcoming review, which, frankly, has been less than, er, forthcoming. While I very much doubt that anyone out there in internet-land has been waiting breathlessly for this review’s arrival, if there was, they’d have been poised on the edge of their seats for over two years – which is quite a long time, even by our standards.

Still, better late than never, and without wanting to make excuses, there is a reason for the delay: I found this game extremely difficult to get into. Initial attempts to successfully navigate a race swiftly made a mockery of my assumption that the many hours I spent with its extremely user-unfriendly predecessor would stand me in good stead as I repeatedly skidded off the track and into the sand. Several hours later, the TOCA 2 CD was placed atop the pile marked ‘games to try again at some unspecified point in the future’, from which it was intermittently retrieved during subsequent weeks and months with largely similar results.

The replay option allows you to relive moments of glory.

Having finally managed to spend a decent amount of time with the game, it seems that I had somehow convinced myself that TOCA 2 was going to be a lot better than it actually is. The original, while fun, had a number of fairly serious shortcomings, and I had more or less assumed that they would have been addressed in the sequel. I don’t know why – I think I must have read an extremely overenthusiastic review or something, but it was, nevertheless, a mistake. TOCA 2 is a better game than its predecessor, but some familiar irritations remain.

Of course, the fundamentals are largely unchanged from the previous version. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the British Touring Car Championship, it’s one of the also-rans of the motor-sport world, watched only by a handful of shivering spectators and a television audience consisting mainly of hungover slobs who can’t be bothered to change the channel. The game offers you the chance to take part in the championship itself, as well as the usual practice and single race options. The real-life sport underwent a couple of rule changes in-between games and these are reflected here. Races at each venue now consist of one short ‘sprint’ race and one full-length race – and during the latter, all drivers must enter the pits at least once. Otherwise, updated teams and drivers aside, everything is pretty much as it was.

As we’ve already mentioned, though, this also extends to some of the gameplay features. While the driving model remains solid, the twitchy handling is still present, with your car mysteriously lurching off the track without giving you any clue as to what you’ve done wrong. Where the previous game occasionally required some heavy thumb-treatment to get around some corners, navigating curves this time around is generally a more nervy procedure. If you’re using the external view (which is logical enough, seeing as it was the most usable one in the original) you may find yourself unable to navigate a lap without sliding off the track and wanting to hurl your monitor out of the window (see above). Switch to in-car and things definitely improve, without the problem disappearing completely.

Want to know what your opponents look like in real life? Well, now you can.

TOCA 2 also shares its predecessor’s arcade/simulation identity crisis. Sadly, the championship mode still forces you to achieve certain positions before you can progress to the next race, and though you have to put in a slightly less gruelling session between save game points than last time around (owing to the new combination of ‘sprint’ and full-length race), the whole concept is straight out of a slapdash arcade racer, and has no place in a game like this. Frankly, you should be allowed to be as rubbish as you like and save after every race. After all, the Touring Car Championship is a form of sport: if a football game employed a similarly inflexible system during its league/season option, it would (quite rightly) be monumentally unsuccessful.

It’s not all bad news, though. The graphics are a distinct improvement over the original’s furry, low-res efforts, with car graphics particularly impressive. There are some nice touches when you switch to the in-car view: for example, should you be passed by an opponent or go spinning off the track, one of your driver’s hands may come off the wheel momentarily to shake an angry fist at the injustice of it all. It’s only a little thing, but it’s nice to know he feels your pain. Otherwise, some of the background detail is a little bit ragged, with pop-up occasionally evident, but overall it’s not looking too bad for quite an old game. The AI of the computer drivers was also a concern last time around, and this has now been improved. Although your opponents still don’t seem particularly concerned with your presence on the track, they now pass back markers more easily and generally drive more proficiently during races. Which is clearly a good thing.

Not good.

Overall, TOCA 2 is some way off being a great all-round package. At times, you do wonder what kind of game Codemasters were trying to make, though it seems likely that they were shackled by the constraints of the BTCC license. In recent years, the series has taken a different direction, and the TOCA Race Driver games’ assortment of short races and challenges have proved a more successful fusion of arcade and sim than showcased here. It’s difficult, too, to recommend this to hardcore racing buffs, who can have more realistic and comprehensive track-based fun with the likes of GTR and RACE (provided they’ve got the hardware, of course). That said, TOCA 2 still has plenty to offer the casual racing fan. Races can be thrilling, tense affairs, and there are moments of genuine excitement to be had. Personally, I was a little disappointed with it, and when you factor in a few nostalgic memories of playing the original, I was tempted to say that there isn’t much to choose between them. Objectively, though, this is clearly the better title, so if you’re going to play one of Codemasters’ Touring Car games, it should be the, er, most recent one. Now that’s the kind of groundbreaking insight that’s worth waiting for.