As realism becomes more of a requirement in games (rather than just a feature), we’ve seen a transformation of sorts within the automotive genre. While there has always been a place for simulation games in the past, it seemed that the automotive game world was typically dominated by games that had a speed-intensive arcade format. But this generation, everything changed. Franchises like Forza and Gran Turismo became the standard for realistic games, and arcade-centric franchises like Need for Speed have radically changed their formula to catch up.
However, even though this automotive renaissance has been going on, the Wii console has been strangely absent from the party. Though kart-style racers abound on the system, there has never really been a serious effort made to create a simulation-style racer on the Wii, until now. F1 2009 has all the groundwork laid for an excellent sim-style racer. However, the execution just isn’t there, and, unfortunately, the game quickly falls flat as a result.
The core mechanics in F1 2009 are fairly solid. Each Formula 1 racer has its own specs in terms of acceleration, braking, and top speed, and you can customize different aspects of the car including transmission speed, acceleration, and tire behavior. Some of the customization modes are quite deep, and if you are into tweaking your car, you’ll find plenty to love about this game.
The game has three different difficulty settings: Beginner, Advanced, and Expert. While the Beginner mode basically boils down to a no-frills exercise in precise steering, the Advanced and Expert difficulty settings really ramp up the game’s challenge. In addition to contending with the advanced steering, players will have to deal with punishing AI and stringent track penalties.
If we take the game on its simulation chops alone, F1 2009 is a great game. However, there are several other elements that bog down what would otherwise be an enjoyable game. One of the earliest offenders is the control. The game offers three different control options: Wii-mote alone, Wii-mote and Nunchuk, and Classic Controller. The Wii-mote alone has to be tilted left and right (like a wheel), and the Wii-Mote and Nunchuk use the thumbstick for steering and the Wii-Mote for acceleration. Both of these control styles are incredibly imprecise, and staying on the track, even with the Beginner setting enabled, is near impossible.
The only control setting that works satisfactorily is the classic controller. Even this setting becomes a little too imprecise if you try the advanced or expert difficulty levels. I really wish the control was better, because the simulation and customization elements really give this game great potential. However, the imprecise control makes this an exercise in frustration more than anything else.
Yet another facet of the game that is disappointing is the visuals. While no one expects Gran Turismo-level graphics from the Wii, the visuals in this game aren’t on par with other automotive games from this generation, and they look ripped directly from an N64. There are massive technical issues with the framerate, and there is constant flickering both on and off the track. While the cars do sport a fair amount of detail, the environment and animation just look so bad that the good elements are quickly overshadowed.
Unfortunately, the sound in the game is also of poor quality. The menu music is grating on the ears and, sadly, that is the only music in the game. When you are in a race, there is no background music, which means all you hear is the roar of the engine. That wouldn’t be so bad if the engine sounds weren’t squeaky and repetitive. The sound scheme in F1 2009 can best be described as minimal, which doesn’t work at all in this case.
Still, if you can manage the control and don’t mind the poor graphics and sound, then there is actually quite a lot to do in F1 2009. The main career mode is very deep, allowing you to participate in different races, fine tune your car with speed runs, and attract sponsors by performing in exhibition modes. The game manages your career through an e-mail message system, and you’ll be able to respond to sponsors and accept challenges through this interface. Once you attract sponsors and get a handle on your car, you’ll be able to participate in races that feature personalities from the world of F1 Racing, including Lewis Hamilton, the current Formula 1 champion.
If you don’t want to wait for the career mode to pick up and just want to jump into a race, you can try a mini-competition known as grand prix weekend. This mini-tournament mode allows you to experience the thrill of racing in an F1 tournament, but without all the micro-management that the career mode entails. In addition to the grand prix weekend, there are also challenge modes that you can participate in. These challenge modes include checkpoint, burning lap, elimination, and time trial challenges. These modes give the game plenty of variation, and in between frustrating moments with the controller, there was plenty of fun to be had with all of these different challenges. F1 2009 is definitely the most feature-packed racer I have seen on the Wii.
It really is a shame that F1 2009 did not have the technical specs to back up its ambitious premise. The deep career mode, car customization, and play modes all could have been great, but the poor control and visuals prevent this title from realizing its potential. Perhaps, if there is an F1 2010, they will fix these few issues and give the Wii the proper simulation title that it deserves.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 1.3 Graphics
The game looks horrible. Framerate inconsistencies, flickering, and bland tracks make this one title you’ll hate looking at. 2.7 Control
There are plenty of different control schemes, but none really work all that well. Classic Controller is the best on the Beginner difficulty setting, but beyond that the game’s control doesn’t offer the precision it needs. 1.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Menu music is annoying, car sound effects are repetitive, and there is no music during races. 3.2
There are plenty of modes, and the career mode certainly provides plenty of flexibility, but this title just can’t match the experience offered by other racing simulators.
2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.