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Simon Bull, editor
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Formula 1 had previously been badly represented in video games. Nobody had ever done a really good job of capturing the intensity, speed and drama of this most spectacular and glamorous of sports.
Then F1 2010 from Codemasters came along and changed everything. Suddenly, here was an accomplished, exhilarating and on the whole accurate game based on motorsports premier competition.
It had some faults but it was deep, demanding, difficult - just about everything any F1 fan or fan of serious driving games would want.
While Sebastian Vettel has been leaving everyone else in his slipstream again this year, Codemasters' team has been hard at work creating an updated F1 experience for gamers.
The 2011 edition is more of the same but slightly better.
After last year's release delivered so convincingly, this is much less of a surprise package but that doesn't mean it's any less impressive as a follow-up.
Developers have picked up from where they left off last year and added extra quality to the game.
The area where I've noticed the least change is in the appearance of the game.
I've looked and looked again. Ive revisited F1 2010 and gone back to F1 2011. Eventually I've come to the conclusion the new game does look a little better. There are small and subtle changes around the tracks being more detailed and cars being more realistic. Perhaps the most noticeable change in the visuals is the reduction in Codemasters' 'bloom' effect, with colours and lighting being toned down a touch.
It may seem like a criticism to say the game's graphics haven't improved much, but it isn't. The game looked superb last year and still does this year. It's one of the finest looking racing games there is.
The main improvement in the game is the handling.
The cars have more weight to them this time and are less twitchy, but just as much skill is required to get them around the circuits, with cornering in particular taking real effort.
From the squeal of the engine at top speed to the screech of the brakes when stopping sharply, the cars feel more responsive and vocal than before. The same goes for vibrations - there are times when the controller has felt practically alive in my hand, a sensation I didnt experience in 2010.
Going off the racing line seems to provide a bumpier ride than before, driving in wet weather is more challenging than before and there are bigger differences between the various car set-ups.
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (PS3 reviewed)
Verdict: 9 out of 10 – Whereas last year’s game was a magnificent debut which was a huge surprise, this is an accomplished follow-up which takes the series forward. The signs are good for F1 to finally have a long-term future in gaming.
Being the official F1 game, the 2011 version of course features all of this seasons tracks, teams, cars and liveries.
The rule changes from the sport are all well implemented.
However, its here where the game changes from being a tough driving game that's still open to all into much more of a hardcore simulation that only diehard F1 fans are going to fully appreciate.
F1 has been a massively technical sport for many years now, but the 2010 game did a good job of masking this and staying accessible to all. It was plenty deep enough for purists but entry-level racers were able to get to grips with it.
This year the sport has moved on, with the KERS power boost, the DRS aerodynamic advantage and tyre strategies getting ever more complex. The game struggles to put these new things in and stay simple to play. The increased use of jargon doesn't help, nor does the lack of information or tutorials on how everything works.
Mind you, I expect the developers always intended and wanted to create a serious, accurate F1 game so perhaps they shouldn't be expected to pander to the more casual market.
There are various driving aids which can be switched on to make staying on the track and driving fast easier, so rookies can still get behind the wheel and compete. However, switch any of these off and the game becomes even more punishing than before.
Like the sport it's based on, being successful in F1 2011 takes immense concentration and commitment.
You really need to get to know your car, get to know how the various set-ups affect your performance and get to know the tracks inside-out. In many ways you actually have to become a driver, giving it time, dedication and effort. You won't get the most out of the game by just doing a few laps here and there.
Playing the game in my living room with distraction around me, I struggle to stay focused for more than a few laps before spinning, going too wide or going into the back of someone. Doing a 10 per cent grand prix is hugely demanding, never mind the full-length races.
This game really makes me appreciate how talented the real drivers are and how F1 is not just about the cars and the technology.
The AI is challenging and competitive. Computer opponents are nobody's fools and will keep you honest throughout. They will exploit any flaws in your driving and make you work hard to get past them. They have a fierce mix of aggression and intelligence, although they are prone to the odd moment of stupidity especially on the tighter circuits..
Quality AI leads to the racing being very intense and most importantly authentic, although it is a little disconcerting how the cars come into contact with each other more than in the real sport.
It's disappointing that with the extra rough-n-tumble in the game, the car damage modelling is poorly done and very restricted, in sharp contrast to other Codemasters racing games. Front-wing damage is about as visually severe as it gets.
I've read this is down to some sort of licensing issue, where F1 bosses or teams apparently didnt want to see their multi-million-pound machines getting bashed up. If this is true then it's stupid. Wayne Rooney gets injured in Fifa, while Tiger Woods plays bad shots in the golf game which bears his name, so why can't F1 cars display proper damage? Nobody really wants to see cars come to harm but if it's in the sport it should be in the game.
A couple of improvements which have been made this year are the introduction of the safety car and mechanical failure of cars, but the latter is only in very limited form - abuse your car and you'll have problems, but there are no random incidents.
For the modes of play this year, there is greater emphasis on multiplayer.
There is a nice two-player split-screen mode, plus an interesting co-op two-player career mode in which both of you can race for the same time taking on the roles of Hamilton and Button, Vettel and Webber or Alonso and Massa. Youre racing for your team but also competing to be the number one driver within it and the top driver overall in the championship. If youve got a mate whos equally as dedicated to the game as you are this mode provides a great new dynamic for 2011.
Arguably even more impressive is the new 24-car multiplayer racing where up to 16 human players can compete, with eight AI racers completing the full grid of 24.
The multi-season single-player career remains in the game and is largely unchanged from last year. Its immersive and absorbing on the track but still doesnt do a great job of conveying the excitement of grand prix weekends, with the circuits having little in the way of life or buzz about them. Real F1 is a circus, with much drama and showbiz going on away from the racing, but the game doesn't show this - the career is a bit bland to be honest. The game overall is missing some of the charm and personality of its racing contemporaries.
Overall, F1 2011 is definitely a step forward from last year's version.
The 2010 game was a huge surprise. Like a rookie driver taking a Lotus from the back of the grid to the podium, nobody expected it to be as good as it was.
This year's game is much less of a shock because its impressive credentials are now established. Like the champion Vettel, you expect it to be great.
But - F1 2011 is still a very impressive second outing. The developers love of F1 shines through in the racing and the result is another very serious but satisfying experience.