Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining. That might be because every cloud is frighteningly full of aeroplanes and 'they' are actually pilots screaming their last words in poetic surprise. "Aargh, every cloud has a silver lining!" Crackle crackle. And they're never heard from again. Anyway, the point: Formula One (bear with us) is in such a pathetic state they're altering the tracks for the cars, even though the tracks were there first, and they're travelling to rubbish circuits just because they've got great hospitality suites. F1 also guards its property extremely jealously, so anything resembling their 'show' is in trouble. This means other games - TOCA Race Driver 2 included - must look to less famous circuits. Every cloud...
TRD2 has an almost embarrassing number of great tracks, and throws you straight onto them. Laguna Seca: a crazed rollercoaster with a famous chicane on the side of a cliff. Kyalami: with super-fast, blind corner complexes. Surfer's Paradise: with its concrete walls and slippery, sandy roads. You get 52 circuits in total, all very different, all fantastic, all within 20 minutes of hitting your PS2's power button. Of course, you do have a few F1 venues to 'look forward to', including the A1-Ring (abandoned this year due, presumably, to it not being flat and dull enough, despite it being built specifically to be flat and dull in comparison to the old Osterreichring it destroyed, which wasn't flat or dull at all) and the PS2-exclusive Catalunya circuit. Catalunya's not a bad layout, and any addition is welcome, but when you've got the likes of Bathurst - which is faster and has a truly mental mountain section - it feels a little lame.
Of course, the ultimate aim in TRD2 is to reach the Masters Grand Prix series, which is F1 in all but name. And while it's undoubtedly excellent - the cars are incredibly fast - getting there is as much fun as being there. With the truly strange exception of the WRC-style rally cars, everything is a snarling joy to drive. There's no first-hour blues stuck in wheezing, insipid boxes. It's straight into top-class machinery such as Aston Martins and race-prepared Nissan Skylines. Wild slides are easy since everything's either rear or four-wheel drive, and powerful. The front wheel drives - including, ironically, the TOCA-controlled British Touring Cars from which the game derives its name - have been dumped as too dull. Applause here, please, as they're right. Even relatively gutless, 300bhp front-drivers just tend to understeer (plough straight on) under power, which is far less amusing than going sideways. The only slight fly in the ointment is that, after a period in the doldrums, the BTCC's profile is rising again so anyone buying this for Matt Neal and Yvan Muller will be disappointed.
Many other countries have more citizens to pay for all the 4.2 litre Jaguars their fat MPs want, so petrol taxes don't need to be as high - and their road car series tend to have bigger engines as a result. Outrageous power and styling also secure Germany's 450bhp touring cars (DTM) as a highlight, while Australia's V8s are beautifully powerful and benefit from superior tracks. Sadly you can't just drive any car on any course because of licensing issues, but there are 99 more combinations available on PS2 than any other previous version of the game. Choice. We love it. And variety. In between regular races are 'funky' events - challenges including truck racing, ice racing, 1950s hotrods, rallying and rallycross. How do the last two differ? Rallycross involves packs of cars on looped circuits, while rally is point-to-point, alone against the clock. And the rallycross is superb, while the rallying should be tortured and killed in a snowy wood somewhere. The only other blemish - and it plays an equally small part - is the way your engine stalls if you brake in the air. We're only talking centimetres up, here, so the first thing you know is the car's dead and it's hardly slowing. This can cause massive shunts, and heavy damage ends your race on the spot. Qualifying and car set-up have been banished to simulation mode, so what is this sim-ish element doing here? With no real braking feedback, it's just a random annoyance. It happens rarely, but it shouldn't happen at all.
Nevertheless, Race Driver 2 is better than the first game in every way. The handling, the visuals, the AI, the storyline, the voice acting: it's all a massive step on. This game, along with Burnout 3 and Gran Turismo 4, is one corner of a triangle every driving fan should disappear into. Burnout 3 does crashes, GT4 does reality porn and TRD2 does the rest of car racing. Door-bashing, bumper-smashing, tail-sliding racing. It's glorious. What more could anyone possibly want?