5 reasons why TOCA 2 Touring Cars is the best racing game ever
Amazing cars, realistic handling and close racing - what's not to love?
Everybody loves a sequel. Whether it’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Bourne Supremacy or, to a lesser extent, 2 Fast 2 Furious, the best follow-ups capture what made an original so special and raise the bar a little further.
One of the finest examples from the world of racing games came in the form of TOCA 2 Touring Cars. The original was a highly-rated title on its release, but Codemasters refined the formula for the second iteration into something truly special. Here’s five reasons why it’s the greatest racing game of all time.
The graphics were brilliant
Headlights reflect off the slick tarmac in wet races
Those of you who have grown up with 4K renders and HDR TVs might chuckle at the state of TOCA 2’s graphics, but this was pretty much as good as it got back in 1998. Circuits featured varied surfaces, hills and trackside furniture, making it easy to recognise the wide, smooth Silverstone from the twisty, hilly Oulton Park.
Weather conditions could change from bright and sunny to gloomy, stormy skies all in the course of a race. It all added to the sense of realism that was lacking in so many other titles at the time.
Some of the coolest race cars EVER
Brands Hatch + Peugeot 406 Super Tourer = perfection.
The British Touring Car Championship grid is filled with humble saloon cars, but back in the Nineties they were transformed into some of the most technologically-advanced racers on the planet.
Intricate aerodynamics and detailed telemetry systems meant that the likes of Renault teamed up with Williams - a pairing that at the time was dominating Formula 1 - to run a pair of Lagunas. To this day, the only time when it’s acceptable to say “that Nissan Primera is so awesome,” is when gawping at one of the Super Touring versions.
TOCA 2 lets you race any car on the grid, faithfully recreated with accurate sponsor logos and interior views. And it doesn’t stop there: Ford Fiestas and Formula Fords can be raced in single-make series, as could more powerful stuff like the Lister Storm and the bonkers TVR Speed 12.
It’s no pushover
Fiesta racing: like the BTCC but with more crashing
There are plenty of games now that, without venturing online to find human opposition, rarely challenge. Not so with TOCA 2 - the AI opponents are at times incredibly hard to beat. The AI versions of Jason Plato and Rickard Rydell are not only rapid, but as willing to duck, dive and bang wheels as their real life counterparts.
Yet you’’ll need to master the cars and the circuits before you get that far. The cars respond to every minor set up change, and they feel twitchy and nervous. And watch out for Paddock Hill bend at Brands Hatch, because it's got an evil bump at the bottom which, if you hit at the wrong angle, you WILL crash.
It’s all in the details
Who would've thought an S40, an Accord and a Vectra could be so exciting?
At a time when it was a genuine struggle to fit all the game data onto a single CD, TOCA 2’s attention to detail deserves huge credit. So many little features set it apart from other racers of the day.
Take the cockpit view. If you decide to glance behind to find out which driver is crawling over your rear bumper, the driver’s head looks up to an animated rear view mirror. Sure, its only got about 20 pixels to work with so it’s a bit blocky, but it’s good enough.
It took the Gran Turismo franchise 20 years to nail engine sounds, yet all the cars in TOCA 2 make a fantastic noise. From the howling inline five of the Volvo S40 to the Ford Mondeo’s V6 growl, each model has its own distinct tone.
And the clever quirks don’t stop there. The driver names on the window change according to what you’ve entered in the menu page. If you’re in a race with a mandatory pit stop, the yellow tabs on the side windows are removed once a driver has come in to change tyres - just like in real life. Add the convincing damage model which leaves you with smashed glass and dangling bumpers after a collision, and very few games felt so immersive.
It would start arguments with friends and family
Master the game and you might get to see this
Split screen multiplayer racing meant that you and a friend/relative/rival could each pick up a gamepad and race head-to-head. You could even race against AI opponents at the same time, across the course of a whole championship. If you had another PlayStation, TV and a link cable, you could run a mini-LAN party and race in four-player mode.
Granted, in two-player format, the AI cars picked up a weird ability to take some corners with infinite grip and could smash you out the way like the Hulk swatting a fly, but that just added an extra dimension of difficulty to the game - as if hunting for an apex on half of a 14-inch screen wasn’t tricky enough already. But it was so much fun. In fact, it makes you wonder why it isn’t still a common feature on the latest titles...
In fact, there’s so much right about TOCA 2, that I can’t think of another title which should be remastered to run on modern-day hardware. Can you think of another racing game that got so much right?