Formula for Success
Formula One drivers are a special breed. As a result of rigorous training, they’re able to withstand forces of up to three and a half times Earth’s gravitational pull and have been known to drop up to 6.5 lbs. per race. These facts underscore an important point: Formula One drivers aren’t just drivers. They’re athletes. And after flailing uncontrollably around the F1 course in Melbourne for a few hours, I came to a realization: F1 2011 is not a racing game. It’s a sports game.
When I say it’s not a racing game, I mean that in the sense that Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport are racing games. Those games are centered on the car as an object, offering hundreds of them to admire, decorate, photograph, and, if you care to, drive. In contrast, F1 2011 has a total of 12 vehicles and the focus, at least in career mode, is on honing your skills on the track so as to be able to compete with the world’s top drivers.
This is accomplished by treating each race as an event. Before each race players will take part in an hour-long practice session. That’s right. An entire hour. Of course, there’s an option to speed up time if you feel you’ve had enough. Once you’re done with the practice session you’ll move on to qualification. Your fastest lap time here will determine your place on the starting grid of the actual race, which can be as long as 58 laps should you choose to stick it out for the entirety of the race.
It’s worth mentioning that these are the options for a short race weekend. If you’re planning to finish the career mode in F1 2011, you’ll have to repeat this process on all 19 tracks for 5 seasons. Though races can be as short as 3 laps, there’s no option to skip practice or qualifying outright. Be advised that there’s absolutely no way to play through the career mode in casual 5-minute bursts. The way it’s presented speaks to the fact that Codemasters intends to present Formula One in the way that EA presents Madden NFL Football, or that 2K presents NBA Basketball: not as pretty cars driven around pretty courses but as a motorsport . And I love it. I just wish I didn’t have to disown my wife and child to enjoy it fully.
The practice sessions will give newcomers a chance to get familiar with both the car and the track, and also allows players familiar with last year’s effort to get used to some of the gameplay additions. One major change from F1 2010 is that the handling model has been revised and updated based on feedback from actual F1 test drivers as well as from the community.
Pirelli has also provided test data on all of the different tire compounds and how they perform. The result of these adjustments is that the F1 cars in the game handle just like their real-world counterparts. In addition, players will be able to use a Drag Reduction System (DRS) to adjust the rear wing under certain circumstances, allowing for higher speeds to be achieved. This year cars are also fitted with a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) which converts the kinetic energy from braking into power that can be used to temporarily boost acceleration.
Those who played through 2010’s F1 game will remember that if you so much as looked at the throttle the wrong way on exiting a corner you’d end up careening nose first into a barrier from wild oversteer. Even with traction control turned off, that kind of incident is much easier to catch and correct with the changes to the handling model this year. All around, the cars themselves feel much livelier; they certainly communicate with the driver a bit better. You can “feel” the torque of the massive engines twisting the frame under hard driving conditions, and all this lends to a much better on-track experience.
Dynamic weather conditions add a layer of strategy to the gameplay, forcing players to decide whether or not to pit, what sort of tires to use, and so on. Formula One enthusiasts will appreciate that Codemasters has also added a safety car, deployed when weather conditions are too dangerous or under other dangerous circumstances. It’s something that a casual fan might miss, but it’s certainly a welcome sight for hardcore fans of the genre.
If all of the trappings of the career mode sound too ceremonial, there are quite a few things to keep the more casual player busy. There’s Grand Prix mode, which acts as a sort of “quick race” mode, though theoretically you could play through every track in the game in one sitting. Grand Prix mode allows players to set up from as little to one race to as many as 20 from the starting menu. Here players are allowed to choose the tracks and track conditions they’d like to experience.
Multiplayer options are also varied. This year’s edition allows for a full grid in online races—16 live players and 8 A.I. racers. The Custom Grand Prix mode that’s available offline is also available in online multiplayer, and players can even go through the entire career with a friend in the Co-op Championship mode. Even local split-screen and LAN multiplayer options are supported, with a wide variety of options for both.
Visually, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. It never actually looks bad; it even occasionally reaches that hyper-realistic level we’ve come to expect from Codemasters’ games. (See the DiRT series for proof.) It only really looks fantastic during replays, though. Other than that minor complaint, the sense of speed is almost palpable, and the way weight transfer and level of grip are communicated to the player is excellent. This is especially noticeable in the cockpit view.
The audio—from the paddock to the garage to the track—is also good. Tires screech and squeal, and engines whine in up to 7.1 surround sound if your setup supports it. The music isn’t bad by any means, and generally only plays during replays and in menus. Controls are tight and fully customizable, though a good wheel setup would probably be the best way to go if you’re going to play seriously.
Other than the fact that there’s already a software update available, the only real problem I have with the game is that it’s very serious, and that’s actually more of a compliment than anything else. It stands in direct contrast with DiRT (the “party” part of Codemasters’ racing mullet) but it’s easily just as good. Fans of Formula One can finally rejoice that their favorite sport is being faithfully represented in the video game realm, and fans of racing games get another great series from a great developer. It’s a perfect 1-2 finish.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Good but not great overall. Rain looks stunning, and the sense of speed is excellent. 5.0 Control
Extremely good and fully customizable. A good wheel setup is recommended. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
F1 cars are brought to life. The soundtrack isn’t terrible. 4.5 Play Value
Playing through the career with moderate settings will take the average player a good chunk of time to complete. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|