marino's TOCA Race Driver 2: Ultimate Racing Simulator (Xbox) review

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You Don't Need Hundreds of Cars for a Good Driving Sim

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Remember Pro Race Driver from last year?  Neither does anyone else.  But check some sites and you'll see it got some fairly decent reviews.  Now Codemasters has released the followup to Pro Race Driver with ToCA Race Driver 2.  The ULTIMATE racing simulator?  Well, no...but ToCA Race Driver 2 is a great racing title and when you factor in that it supports Xbox Live and retails for only $30 it's definitely worth the money.  ToCA may not feature several hundred cars like we will experience with Gran Turismo 4, but the cars that ToCA does have are from a wide range of types.  When they say "Ultimate" racing sim, what they're referring to is how the game caters to any type of automobile racing fan including Formula 1, Super Trucks, stock cars, dirt track rally cross, and a dozen others.  Another cool thing about ToCA is that it features around 50 real-world race tracks from all over the globe.  If you consider yourself a racing game fan, do yourself a favor and give ToCA Race Driver 2 a try.     
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Okay, so it's not Gran Turismo 4 quality graphics, but what racing game is?  ToCA's cars look very good and unlike many racing games, they show real-time damage.  Although it's not perfect, it's nice to see a car get banged up instead of wrecklessly grinding against a concrete wall with no penalty.  The tracks themselves are well done from a recreation-of-real-world standpoint, but the rest of the environment (i.e. fans, landscape, etc) are low detail and generally unimpressive.  But the tracks and cars are what really matters.  The career mode features some cutscenes and while the CG characters aren't exactly Square-quality, they get the job done.     
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ToCA Race Driver 2 is an easy game to jump into and play.  While every vehicle tends to have its own feel, the learning curve on this game is very low.  It's certainly not arcade style racing, but it's not as intensely sim as Gran Turismo. 
Codemasters took a page from Polyphony Digital and took every car on the roster out for sound recordings to get that authentic sound.  Outside of the actual racing, the music/sound is quite lacking, but luckily Codemasters included the available usage of Custom Soundtracks.  So load up your HDD with your favorite songs and all will be well with the world.     
Replay Value 
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ToCA offers a decent Career Mode, which is alot better than the one in Pro Race Driver.  You are dropped into a rookie driver's life literally mid-race as your pit crew is giving you instructions which double as a training session.  The storyline itself is presented in various cutscenes that can get sort of cheesy, but not overly terrible.  The story takes a few twists and turns as you go along, providing at least some entertainment to mix up the experience of the game rather than just constantly driving.  It is said the Career Mode will take around 8 hours your first time through.  ToCA also features Xbox Live support, so even after playing the Career Mode, the 12-player support offers a unique style of scoring for a racing game that is quite fun.  You start a race with a set number of points that increase or decrease based on your peformance on the track.  The running total is used to place everyone on the scoreboard.  It sounds strange, but it's fun.     
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For a game that has gotten virtually no marketing support, ToCA is a hell of a lot of fun.  Good graphics, easy controls, decent career mode, Xbox Live, Custom Soundtracks, 48 tracks, 35 cars, and with many different types of races, for $30 ToCA is a great buy.  It's not an epic monstrosity that everyone is fiending for (i.e. GT4), but it will defintely keep any racing fan busy for a while.  So to any Xbox Live user who likes racing games, next time you're in your local game store, look for ToCA Race Driver 2.     
*** This review was written for shortly after the release of the game. ***

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