Handhelds have traditionally been the home for quick, pick up and play games; the kind of game that you can dip in and out of, playing for five minutes every now and again. With the PSP comes a whole new level of handheld power and new possibilities for handheld games; games that offer depth and realism that hasn't been seen on a handheld before. The first game to tap into this new area of possibility is TOCA Race Driver 2 on the PSP.
Anyone with a keen interest in racing games will know that TOCA Race Driver 2 has already appeared on the Xbox, PC and PlayStation 2, and received pretty glowing reviews across the board. Its combination of real cars, real circuits, various racing styles and sim-based racing made it a real hit amongst racing aficionados. Codemasters and Sumo Digital (who also ported Virtua Tennis to the PSP) have brought the game to the PSP, and in terms of content the game is nigh on identical to its home console brothers. If you haven't played the game before head over to our review of the PlayStation 2 version. Now you're up to speed we're going to focus on the quality of the port.
The most difficult task Sumo Digital probably had was porting the game's visuals to the PSP. Despite comparisons to the PlayStation 2, the PSP is in its infancy and with the clock speed of the processor currently running below specification, porting over a game that was technically difficult to create on the PlayStation 2 can't have been easy. The cutbacks made are obvious, but hardly a disgrace.
'... TOCA Race Driver 2 on the PSP is technically impressive for the handheld.'
On the plus side, car models are good, road surfaces look great, plenty of cars can be displayed on screen, damage modelling is excellent and the tracks draw well into the distance. On the negative side, roadside objects aren't that detailed, car textures are a little rough, the frame rate takes a hit when the screen fills with cars and while plenty of cars can be rendered on the screen, they lose detail as they move out of your near vision. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and TOCA Race Driver 2 on the PSP is technically impressive for the handheld.
The visuals, then, have been ported pretty successfully to the handheld, but how does the game play, particularly with the much criticised analogue stick? The short answer is pretty damn good. The racing seems remarkably close to the home console versions, with the analogue stick providing plenty of control. If the default analogue sensitivity settings aren't quite to your liking there are a number of other pre-sets to choose from, so most people should be able to set the controls up to their liking. It's also worth noting that none of the realism has been sacrificed in order to make this a more casual experience; the driving model is every bit as realistic as it was on the home consoles. Sumo Digital has also included an option to flip your PSP around, moving the analogue stick to the upper-right of the console and the throttle, brake controls to the left. The placement of the analogue stick is more comfortable, but getting used to playing the game with the opposite hands is tricky. Still, the option is there for those that want to use it.
There are two features that Sumo Digital has added to this PSP port: local wireless multiplayer for twelve players and custom soundtracks. Twelve player wireless sounds good and is probably great fun, but the likelihood of finding eleven friends to play with, all owning a copy of the game, may well be verging on lottery winning odds. Online play would have been great, but launch title time restrictions obviously made this impossible to implement. Custom soundtrack support is a more usable addition to the game. To create custom soundtracks you must first download some special software from the game's official website. This allows you to get your tunes onto the PSP and into the game, and seeing that most launch title PSP games don't support it, it's a nice bonus.
There are really only two main problems that might put off a few potential buyers. Load times are pretty lengthy, with loads between races taking upwards of twenty seconds. Races themselves tend to last around five minutes, so the loading isn't as much of an issue as it could have been, but still an annoyance. The other main issue is more of a personal thing. If you already own a previous version of the game, do you really want to spend Â£30 on the same game shrunk to fit on the PSP? If you're new to the series you could pick up the superior Xbox, PC or PlayStation 2 version for a lot less, but then again, they won't keep you occupied during you hour long train journey to and from work.
So, TOCA Race Driver 2 is unlike any other game that has graced a handheld. It makes no sacrifices to its home console heritage, keeping all the content and simulation driving model that PC and console owners have already experienced. Lengthy load times tarnish an otherwise great port, but on the whole this is a game that racing fans on the move shouldn't be without, assuming you can justify buying the game again for the pleasure.