I’ve been watching F1 for as long as I can remember, cheering on every Scottish driver there was (not that many) and cheering any British driver whenever there wasn’t a Scot in the race. You could ask me what it is I love about the sport and I wouldn’t be able to tell you; is it the speed? the skill of the drivers? the technology race involved in the creation of these beautiful beasts? No, it’s a combination of all of that and more.
You can imagine then, that last years F1 2010 by Codemasters had me pretty damn excited. Not only did it promise thrilling on-track racing, but the experience of being a F1 driver outside of the cockpit as well. Sadly, F1 2010 didn’t quite manage to deliver on everything it promised; the off-track press interviews were a bit shallow and there were numerous little glitches and problems with the game, but now it’s a year later and Codemasters haven’t been sitting on their Racing Throne getting ready to chuck out a carbon copy of F1 201o onto the market.
As you may expect, F1 2011 isn’t going to be an entirely new game, but Codemasters have been busy examining everything the fans complained about and everything they loved, tweaking what needed to be tweaked, changing what needed to be changed and adding in plenty of new features to keep us all happy and quietly drooling in anticipation of ramming Vettel off the track at the first corner.
The handling, which was already very good, hasn’t been left to stagnate as a revamped model is being promised. Tweaks to suspension and aerodynamics systems along with other general adjustments will result in a handling model that provides much more feedback to the player and more responsiveness, meaning those little slides that spelt doom in F1 2010 can now be saved if you’re quick enough. The increased feedback should also neatly counter one of the bigger flaws in F1 2010; it was hard to feel when your car was in the edge of its capabilities and keep it there. As it stands my biggest concern with the new handling is that the increased responsiveness may make the cars a little to easy to drive, but this shouldn’t be too much of a problem as the improved feedback should encourage players to attack those curbs and race on the limit.
The latest F1 season has also seen a bit of a kick up the backside thanks to the inclusion of the new Pirelli tyres. These lovely rubber boots have been carefully designed to offer the best racing possible, with soft tires giving massive grip advantages, but also having the deadly “cliff” where the tires simply die and performance drops like a stone. In-game and on-track this should equate to much more thought having to be put into what tyres to use and when, especially when going for that all important grid slot in qualifying. Codemasters are also promising that tyres will also feel vastly different and that degradation will be much more noticeable, as last time around telling what sort of state your tyres were in was a bit hit and miss.
Codemasters are also promising far more car differention as many gamers found it far too easy to pilot a Lotus or HRT to Pole Position and the the race in the last game, a feat which those cars simply aren’t capable of. This made your rookie season in F1 2010 rather unrealistic as you successfully won the first race, and the next, and the next. This should mean that in this years F1 2011, when you’re given realistic goals on finishing in 18th in your first season, actually placing within the top ten will be a major victory. It also means that aside from raw speed, the lower-down cars will also be harder to handle, requiring you to really attack those corners while hoping that the car doesn’t just slide into the wall. On the plus side, and assuming the game is capable of it, this means that the lower-powered cars will be a tad easier to control in the wet. It will also make jumping into a McLaren feel utterly glorious.
Next up is the KERS and DRS systems which have wormed their way into this years F1 season. In case this means absolutely nothing to you, KERS acts like a boost button which recharges using energy created under braking. All you really need to know, though, is that in a race it adds a nice power boost to your car that’s best used when coming off a corner onto a long straight. The DRS system, which has caused quite a stir amongst F1 fans, can be activated at set points around the track and only when within a second of another car. It opens up a slot on the rear wing which reduces drag thereby making you go quicker. Again, for those that can’t be bothered with techno babble, it’s a button that makes you go faster. Many F1 fans have raised the point that DRS makes overtaking far too easy in F1, so whether this will be the case in the game is yet to be seen, but here’s hoping it just sets you up nicely for an epic battle around the next corner.
Tweaks are also being made to the weather system which, while already quite impressive, often allowed players to drive flat-out in the rain using dry tires. The remodeled weather system should put a stop to this, and promises to ensure that wet races are scarier than being stuck in a room with a really scary thing. Which is scary. Hopefully this also means that the varying degrees water on the track will have much more defined effects on the handling.
The voices of the fans have also been take aboard and the result is that the Safety Car and mechanical failures are now in so you can have an even more realistic experience, or just throw your controller through the window because your ten-second lead just go nullified by some idiot crashing and causing a safety car. To keep things feeling both fair and fun, the safety car won’t ever be out for more than just a few laps ensuring that we don’t have to spend twenty laps going round and round why they clear up what’s left of Hamilton after another death-defying move up the inside. Or outside. Or over. Or under. The mechanical failures are also going to be carefully restricted, and can even be turned off, to ensure that they’re not completely random. All failures will be as a direct result of driver error, such as pushing the engine far too much or hitting one too many curbs in the never-ending pursuit of a faster lap time.
Another major change will come in the form up updated driver AI who will now be much more reactive to your on-track presence, so you shouldn’t have to worry about them turning into a corner that’s actually the side of your car. The new AI will now react to other teams strategies and will be far more formidable at overtaking and defending their position. What this ultimately means for us is a more immersive experience and some far more entertaining battles.
If you fancy playing F1 with a friend, you’re in luck as Codemasters are adding a brand new online co-op mode to the game which will allow you and a mate to join a team and participate in a whole season together. This is perhaps the most interesting of the new elements in F1 2011, as having an AI team-mate never captured that competitive spirit. Will you and your team-mate behave to try to win the Constructors Championship, will your friend let you by on track if you’re quicker and are in the running for the championship? And will post-race fighting be allowed in interviews? We don’t know, but the concept of playing an entire season with a friend is one that has me hugely excited.
Off-track things are also getting tweaked, changed and generally played around with. The press conferences and interviews from the last game will be returning, but while they felt rather pointless last time around they should now feel a little a more important aspect of the game as qoutes from your interviews will now appear in newspapers and other media, giving you a fair indication of how you’re viewed on the racing circuit. The press will also be far more dynamic this time around, offering a wider variety of question and hopefully reacting to what takes place on track, rather than asking if you had a good race after you just got a DNF. Sadly, the option to punch the press hasn’t been confirmed. Disappointing stuff.
Your garage is also the focus of some lovely home improvement with more detail and depth being added to it, that way you’ve got something nice to be staring at as you anxiously wait to see if your top time gets toppled in qualifying. This wish to make everything feel a little more realistic will also be extending to pre-race build-up and post-race events, with new animations for Parc Ferme and much more.
Those lads and ladies inside the garage itself are also going to be taking a more active role in proceedings. Your engineer, who’s in constant radio contact mid-race, will now provide more helpful information about the surrounding cars and will even provide tips to try to help your performance. Likewise he’ll offer setup advice when you’re in the pits.
Even the graphics aren’t escaping the fidgeting fingers of Codemasters. The EGO engines famous “bloom” effect has been chucked in favour of a clean, crisp style that looks utterly beautiful. The reflections on cars are stunning, and trackside detail has seen a major overhaul making the whole circuit feel much more realistic and true to the sport.
That’s quite a laundry list of tweaks, features and updates for F1 2011, and I haven’t even mentioned the other little things like having adjustable brake balance mid-race.
I can honestly say that I’ve never been quite this excited for a racing game before. My love of F1 and the knowledge of Codemasters are combining into one hell of a package. If you love the sport, or just love racing games, you really need to pick up F1 2011 when it releases later this month.