Review: F1 2011
October 11, 2011, Author: James Joell-Ireland
It is the start of another F1 season, another year of excessive luxury at Monaco and the acrid smell of burning rubber. Countries from around the world cheer on their home-bred driver and favourite car manufacturer, whilst in the UK we sit and watch Lewis Hamilton star in another Santander commercial.
Formula One is a motorsport that’s like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. For such a high-profile class of racing, it is somewhat mystifying that the license was left wandering around unclaimed since Electronic Arts gave up with it last generation. If anyone was to pick it up and do justice, it would be Grid & DiRT 3 developer, Codemasters.
F1 2010 brought back respect to F1’s gaming reputation after a rather shoddy PS3 exclusive effort by an interim license holder SCE Liverpool, and while it gained many plaudits, fans knew it was far from perfect, especially when it came to the online experience. So what have Codemasters Birmingham done in the last year to bring this game to pole position?
Setting a record lap…
Other than the usual, the expected roster update, F1 2011 has some noticeable improvements. Firstly, we have the graphics, improved upon last year in areas such as weather effects, tyre wear and more added detail within the track courses. However the biggest improvement really affects the online arena. This year a co-op career mode has been introduced and the multiplayer actually works well, resolving the lag and frame-rate issues from last year’s game that hampered, in particular, the PS3 version. The other improvements are to the driving physics themselves.
Codemasters have gone out of their way this year to create the most authentic representation of F1 there is. It goes without saying that they have certainly gone a far way of achieving that, at least with the driving experience itself. Also this year, the introduction of the safety car has been added, a feature that has been heavily requested by fans since the last iteration.
A butt clenching experience
Codemasters have managed to create an experience like no other racer out there. An experience that will have you on the edge of your seat. They’ve done this is by making us truly appreciate the handling of a car that produces insane amounts of torque and is as light as a feather. Driving a Formula One car is a totally new discipline to what you are used to. The sheer braking power will mean wheel lock when turning, so adjusting to turning through the corners with literally no braking at all will be the biggest challenge of all for newcomers.
F1 2011 forces you to realign your lateral thinking with normal racing games, and as every sharp turn appears ahead, you’ll cross your fingers and kiss your arse goodbye. The line between achieving a top six finish and lingering down the back of the grid at the end of a race is a very fine.
In Career Mode, your job is to race as a rookie for a choice of constructors and work your way up the ranks to becoming F1 Champion. Your first season will be to finish races better than last place and the general expectation levels are low. That all changes as you progress later, when you’ll be expected to start picking up points and eventually win the championship itself. In the career mode, every second counts and the game really encourages you to use the practice days to get a feel for the track prior to qualifying. Whilst you can skip straight to the race, the likelihood of a grid finish is very unlikely; unless of course you play the game on easy difficulty, which is rather pointless.
Qualifying is what really draws you into the game. You’ll become somewhat addicted to shaving off the seconds, and you’ll be studying where you went wrong on the previous lap. You even have an element of strategy at play, as your engineers advise against going out on the track at certain periods if it is too heavy with other drivers to slow you down. The twenty-minute qualifying segment is frenetic and it’s this area that makes all the difference in being successful in the career mode itself.
It’s not just all about driving though, you’ll also get asked questions in interviews by David Croft whom, despite it being your first season, will ask you if your aspirations are to win the championship. Needless to say the interview system should either be scrapped or redone as it added absolutely nothing to the experience. Another facet of the career mode (which is basically the whole premise of the co-op career mode) is the rivalry between yourself and your driving partner.
You’ll be asked to compete against one another and once decided, then be asked to either become the number one or number two driver. The added incentive to being the number one driver is that you will get all of the research & development perks added first.
F1 2011 allows you to finely tweak your car balance, from suspension to wing angles, tyre types and front and back differential. DRS and KERS are introduced this season too, bringing an added layer of authenticity to the game. DRS can give you less drag on straights but using it around the corners can kick the car at the back and send you in a spin. KERS is very much like your usual boost that you’ll find in any other car game. These features are not something you can use, rather that you must use! That’s if you ever want to make enough impact on the grid itself.
Whilst the career mode is good, for a newcomer to the series the overall difficulty just doesn’t sit right. Easy difficulty is totally pointless, the braking assist will make the game so easy that you might as well put it on auto-pilot. Medium will challenge most but throw in the discipline of the racing rules and you’ll be tearing your hair out at times. Sometimes you’ll get penalties when you least expect it and the allure of spinning a rival car out is so tempting! Perhaps the biggest annoyance of the rule set is cutting the track, sometimes in qualifying you’ll cut the track by centimeters and your lap time will become invalidated.
The assisted racing line also isn’t as easy to read as Forza and can sometimes be a sketchy guideline as to when to brake your car too. Fortunately the flashback mode featured in GRID will give you some hope, allowing you to rewind in your replay area and start from a comfortable position. Don’t rely too heavily on this though as they are limited to a number of uses.
You are not just restricted to Career Mode. Grand Prix is a great little feature that enables you to set up a custom play list of different circuits and tracks. You can start the season off with a Monaco in heavy rain and then enjoy the night lit sky’s of Shanghai immediately afterwards, the choice is yours. This is perhaps the best way to learn the courses rather than going straight into career mode itself.
You can play a race over three laps, thirteen or even use 50% or 100% of the life lap count. 20% really is required to take advantage of experiencing the game to it’s fullest. At the very least, thirteen laps will enable you to use the pit lanes and change set-ups. The game also provides two further difficulty settings both on Hard and Expert, with each removing more assists and then finally reducing you down to having to use manual gears. F1 2011 also feels fantastic on a steering wheel with great support for many wheels and force feedback systems.
To throw more bang for your buck into the mix, you will also get Time Attack, Time Trials, online leaderboards and of course full multiplayer added to the list of features, making it a complete package.
I do have a gripe, though. Did I mention that the loading times in career mode downright suck? They do! Progressing from one Grand Prix to another involves way too many loading screens, so grab those digestive biscuits and your best brew because there will plenty of time to do some biscuit dunking in between races!
I get tunnel vision
You can make a driving experience as visceral as you like with advanced braking systems, traction control, Dolby audio and realistic weather effects. Even adding in a massive compatibility for steering wheels, but if the camera system feels detached from the action then it will never quite get there. F1 2011 does an impressive job of doing most of what I listed above but for bringing you the experience from the drivers eyes, it just does not cut the mustard.
If we looked at the camera and how it has developed in EA’s Shift series, then what you can expect to see in F1 is somewhat archaic. Helmet cam would have been the perfect accompaniment to this game, feeling the turns and the neck ripping g-forces would have brought you so much closer to the action. This wasn’t to be; an improvement then for next year’s game perhaps. What it does lack in the camera department, it certainly has not fallen short when it comes to weather effects. Rain drops covers the screen in bad weather, whilst spray is kicked up on you when drafting against another race car. The visual experience in bad weather situations is remarkable, though some of the reflections could use some improvement.
Car renders are fantastic, with all the visual flair of the appropriate liveries intact too. This year you can even see tyre wear as you progress through the race. Whilst the graphics are generally of good standard, do not expect it to be hitting the standard of Gran Turismo 5, because it simply doesn’t. Those with a trained eye will know that visually this game isn’t pushing the boundaries of the Xbox 360 chip set. David Croft is eating his microphone for a reason, and that’s because the facial animations of the crew, press and other staff are, quite frankly, rubbish!
The view from the pit area in career mode is a prime example of some of the graphical laziness where the developers could not be bothered to use high-resolution images of the team sponsors or even the manufacturers logo. Plus, no matter what happens, your car looks as though it’s been molested by a buffer and some turtle wax. It’s not until you start using the higher difficulty levels that you start seeing the damage work at play and even when you get a car-totalling crash, you’re left with no time to revel in the carnage as the screen goes blood-red and your tragic demise is rewinded.
Whilst F1 does not boast the looks of Cameron Diaz, it has improved from last year in the subtle areas of tyre wear, crowds and especially the weather, but this far in the console cycle, you’d expect better.
A bizarre choice in the audio department
Given this game has been developed and published by Codemasters, a company, that for many years have delivered so highly on game soundtracks, F1 2011 will leave you somewhat mystified on what the hell happened. DiRT 3 had some of the best audio to be heard in a driving game before, so it couldn’t possibly end up in the swanny?
Wrong. F1’s soundtrack is some of the most bizarre audio I have heard in a game before. Not because it’s particularly bad, but because it feels extremely out-of-place. The audio can only be described as a love child between Vanessa May and Jamiroquai. The clinical ambiance does not add anything to the grandeur and excitement of F1. Don’t expect a play list of signed artists here, something I wouldn’t usually complain about in favour of original composition, but frankly, what’s here doesn’t really fit.
What really matters are the sound effects. Gear shifting, engine noise and overtakes all feel particularly satisfying. The sound of the engineers coming through your driver’s ear piece also helps bring the authenticity . It does a great job with its surround sound audio to recreate the experience via the sheer noise of it all. I think there is work to be done, though. Certain token audibles appear to be missing from the game, and most of these absences come from the pit lane or in the replay sections.
There is no commentator on the game either, which I can understand the absence of in order to make you feel as though you truly are the driver, but having official commentators or even the legendary Murray Walker as an optional overlay would have been great. Murray Walker in Psygnosis’s Formula 1 ‘98 was one of the main proponents for making that PS1 game an instant classic. Hopefully another optional extra for the next iteration of the series.
More racers, less lag!
Split-screen multiplayer? Check. Online multiplayer that works without lag issues? Check. How about a whole new co-op career mode? Yes please! F1 2011 has a vastly improved online mode.
Last year’s game was riddled with bugs and the experience at times was completely shocking. At least for the version I played, which was on the PS3 last year. The 360 version I’ve tested this year has worked seamlessly online and the thrill of the opening straight to a race has not been this intense since Codemaster’s GRID.
Don’t expect to enjoy the online if you haven’t got good grasp of the tracks, though, as already, fans of last year’s game will make you look very silly out on track. This year sixteen human players can get involved, with eight A.I. players added into the fold to create the whole 24 grid set-up. It works well and overtaking your opponents from across the globe is truly satisfying.
It’s the co-op season mode that will get most people interested. The ability to play through Monaco, Spa and Silverstone, knowing that yourself and your team-mate will not only have to compete against each other for number one driver, but also make a viable challenge for the constructor’s championship is an interesting experience. Not enough emphasis has been placed upon the rivalry though, and that doesn’t bode too well considering the amount of time invested to complete a season itself.
Nevertheless, it’s an addition which will no doubt become a staple in the series and if you were to throw in some tactics to stop other constructors from winning races, co-op season mode could become something truly special. If that isn’t enough, time attack and time trial modes are available too! A satisfying area for those truly addicted to setting the leaderboards alight.
It’s progress I guess…
If you are a fan of F1, then the attention to detail and improvements from last year’s game are satisfying enough reasons to pick this game up. If you are indifferent about Formula One racing, then this game really doesn’t offer enough to entice you to pick it up. The biggest draw for newcomers will be the whole new approach to racing it provides, but its gap between difficulty settings may throw a few people off the track.
Codemasters still have room for improvement for further iterations and one of the biggest areas it does have to improve on are the graphics. Compare the visuals for this game against Forza 4 and this game looks like dog shit. The series could also offer a temptation for those phased by F1’s change over the years by offering a scenario mode, which to bring back classic races from yesteryear. If I had the chance to race as Damon Hill, Ayrton Senna or Jacques Villeneuve, then I would jump at the chance and I know you would too.
If the simple question was whether this game is worth the near £40.00 asking price, then I would literally say that it’s only for the hardcore fans. The improvements made over last year are in areas only appreciated by F1 followers or those that are prepared to invest plenty of time to make it worth the money.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 | Tagged Codemasters, crashes, driver dies in formula one race, drs, f1 2011, graphics, lewis hamilton, monaco, review, safety car, Shanghai, spa, top 10 f1 crashes, video game, weather effects, wheel lock