TOCA 2: Touring Cars is one of those rare occurrences of the right game at the right time. Released at the tail end of 1998, it fully took advantage of the racing game frenzy that had been set off by Gran Turismo the year prior. But TOCA 2 was not a Gran Turismo copycat – far from it.
As a sequel to the original TOCA, the game was centered around the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC); specifically, the 1998 season. A storied racing series steeped in decades of history, BTCC was in one of its golden eras in the late 1990s, thanks to fierce competition between several manufacturer backed teams and a roster of legendary drivers.
With everything already going for it, Codemasters could have just mailed in the effort behind TOCA 2 and probably still had a sales success. But instead, the company crafted one of the greatest racing games of its time.
Released for the original PlayStation and PC, the game included all the real cars, drivers, and tracks from the 1998 season (minus of course some privateer teams). Icons of the sport were in-game like Alain Menu, Jason Plato, and Rickard Rydell.
Each driver was assigned to their proper team and car. Those who grew up watching BTCC in the ‘90s will remember many of the cars fondly. Included was the Audi A4 with its classic grey paint job and giant angled red rings down the side. The Renault Laguna, winner of the 1997 championship, and Volvo S40, winner of the 1998 championship were also there. The manufacturer’s championship winning Nissan Primera as well as the Vauxhall Vectra, Ford Mondeo, Honda Accord, and Peugeot 406 rounded out the group.
The Main Championship mode took place on real life circuits like Silverstone, Thruxton, Oultan Park and Brands Hatch. It even followed the actual 1998 BTTC schedule as far as I can remember. This meant two races per weekend event and a one-lap qualifying shootout. Throughout the season points were collected for both the driver’s championship as well as the manufacturer’s championship.
More Than Just BTCC
But TOCA 2 was expanded to include other cars outside of the main BTCC entries. There were support series cars such as the Ford Fiesta and Formula Ford. They could each be raced through their own Support Car Championships. The Fiesta races were a great way to get familiar with the game’s dynamics in slower, more controllable cars while the Formula Fords required more precision to drive.
It was also possible to do challenges on various fantasy tracks piloting high-performance machinery like the AC Superblower, Jaguar XJ220, Lister Storm, and TVR Speed 12. It was a bit random to include these cars compared to the core purpose of this game, but maybe it was a way to broaden the overall appeal and add a little variety.
As mentioned, the actual racing action of TOCA 2 was fantastic for its era. The car reacted properly to a player’s inputs and driving the proper racing line around the track was necessary to achieve the greatest amount of success. It was still possible to overcook a corner and slide through it unscathed, but that usually slowed down overall progress. Weather conditions, such as fog and rain, existed and not only looked realistic but also affected vehicle performance.
And while on the topic of realism, the in-car view was quite detailed with a working steering wheel, side and rear-view mirrors, sponsor decals and a gauge cluster displaying speed, rpm, and the current gear. The damage modelling was equally advanced for its time. Whichever part of a car crashed was damaged, disfigured and/or fell off the car completely depending on the level of the impact. Not many games had a proper damaging model at this time, so it was a huge bonus for TOCA 2.
It was also just another part of the overall immersion that made this game such a hit. It really felt like I was behind the wheel of my Audi Sport UK A4, battling door hand to door handle with David Leslie, Tim Harvey and Derek Warwick. Trying hard to score maximum points without making costly mistakes. Each round I would eagerly check the championship standings to see how my team was doing; more interested in the manufacturer’s standings then my own individual standings. Although many games have since come along dedicated to a single racing series, few have captured the same magic that TOCA 2 created.