Over the last few years, Formula 1 has increasingly taken over our Sunday afternoons. For a start, British drivers actually started winning, and then the FIA added new rules to accommodate technology such as KERs and DRS that made races more than a two hour procession. In short, the sport has gone from minor weekend distraction to compelling viewing, despite the (hopefully short-lived) domination of a certain infuriatingly talented German.
F1’s resurgence and record TV audience suits developers Codemasters just fine though, with its licensed Formula 1 game now becoming an annual event. Having only shipped to consoles in 2009, and 2010’s multi-format release being dogged by bugs though, there’s plenty of work still to be done to make this year’s iteration, F1 2011, worthy of the podium.
Click to enlarge - the car and track modelling is spot on
Initial signs are very positive, as the developers have absolutely nailed the handling and feel of driving a Formula 1 car. The feeling of grip (or lack of it) is more palpable than any other racer we’ve played, and making changes to the car really do have an impact on how you drive; switch to the option tyres and you really feel the extra grip they provide, crank up the downforce and you’ll notice how the car’s grip improves in high speed corners, at the cost of top speed. Even tyre degradation is modelled, with grip dropping off the cliff if you leave too long between pit stops. It’s impressively immersive, and the realistic modelling only adds to the triumphant feeling when you lay down a perfect hot lap. This is all heightened by the game’s enforcement of F1 rules; there’s no cutting corners or smacking opponents off the track here unless you want a time, grid or drive-through penalty. Dirt 3 this is not.
Similarly, the tracks, cars and weather effects of F1 2011 all look fantastic, and have been modelled incredibly accurately. When you first take a car around the streets of Monaco, you notice bumps and dips that you just don’t see on TV, as well as the insane difficultly of driving cleanly on the track for ten laps, let alone 50. Running on the same EGO 2.0 engine as Dirt 3, the PC version looks fantastic, and the weather effects add, as you’d hope, a huge amount to the game. Weather is changeable too, so while qualifying or a race might start in wet conditions, it can dry out, forcing a pit-stop onto slicks, or worsen, requiring a switch onto full wets.
Click to enlarge - weather effects look great, and dramatically change grip levels
So, the core racing at the heart of F1 2011 is superb, but there’s more to the game than blasting around Silverstone for ten minutes. The F1 2010’s Career mode returns, enabling you to drive with a low ranked team and work your way through the F1 ranks as you build your reputation from finishing races and out-performing your team mate. Perform well and you’ll be offered contracts with more prestigious teams, with the goal of dethroning that annoying German as World Champion.
Sadly, however, none of F1’s rivalry and side stories are represented, and the whole Career progression is handled via stunted TV interviews, emails and race objectives such as finishing in a certain position or above. There’s little feeling of accomplishment either, as the Career mode lacks a driver creator; instead you’re a pair of generic Caucasian eyes inside a helmet. You don’t even get to stand on the podium and spray dignitaries with champagne when you win; instead, you just get a quick well done from your engineer and then move onto the next race. We’re not asking for a full-blown F1 RPG, but a little more involvement would really help, especially as F1 is a sport where inter-personal relationships and rivalries are so prevalent.