F1 2011 – Review

Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer:  Yes
Split-Screen: Yes
Co-op: Yes
PEGI: 3+

I’m hurtling down a straight at insane speeds in my Lotus; the tight hairpin is approaching fast, but Sebestian Vettel’s rocket powered Red Bull hasn’t taken massive chunks out of my lead on that single straight and I need to leave my braking for this corner as late as possible to try to claw back a little bit of time and hold the lead for the final lap. I tense up, trying to judge how late I can brake and…..there, right there! I hit the brakes and realise too late that it just isn’t going to happen. I sail past the corner and end up in the gravel as Vettel glides past. Bastard. With my hopes of victory crushed I limp back to the track and cross the line. It’s still a points finish, and despite my mistake I’m still grinning like an idiot. It has been year since Codemasters gave us the brilliant but flawed F1 2010, and they’ve used that time to refine the game and present us with yet another stunning, exhilarating racer.

Somewhere along the line Codemasters found time to upgrade the graphics. They’ve ditched the infamous bloom effect for which the Ego engine, which also powers DiRT 3, is so well-known and gone in favour of a more realistic look. The results are brilliant; track detail is improved and sharper, and the cars look far more realistic. Special mention should also go out to the light and reflection work on the cars; drive a lovely silver McLaren in the Singapore race, which takes place at night using massive amounts of track-side racing, and you’re in for a treat. Despite this the crowds in the stands look like they belong on the original Xbox, and some of the environmental effects outside of the track look a little flat. And finally the damage model hasn’t really seen much of an improvement, either. Make no mistake, though; this is a damn fine-looking game.

On the track is where the important changes have taken place, both thanks to the new rules in the real life sport and also thanks to plenty of tweaks to the handling model to make this a more enjoyable racer. Last years F1 2010 had a satisfying handling model, but it did have major flaw in the form of cars that didn’t offer much feedback to the player, meaning it was hard to judge how close to the edge of the cars abilities you were, usually resulting in an embarrassed trip into the nearest wall and one hell of a repair bill. But now the handling offers far more feedback than before, allowing you to push the car to its limits consistently, which also means that spinning out feels like your own fault instead of the game’s fault for simply not giving you enough information about what the car was doing. It also means that small errors can now be saved, so getting on the power a touch too early doesn’t always have to result in spinning around in circles and cursing loudly.

The introduction of the Pirelli tyres into F1 has had a massive impact on the sport, opening up  more strategic options for the team and creating some pretty fun racing, and that’s translated wonderfully into the virtual world of terrifying speed and Germans who seem to win everything. It’s not just the actual tyres themselves, though, it’s also the fact that Codemasters have taken a long hard look at last years tyres and gone back to the drawing board. The difference between different tyre compounds is now far more distinguished making for a far more interesting driving experience. Tyre degradation is now more noticeable as well; do too many laps and you’ll find it a struggle and a half to get the damn thing around the corners, so smooth driving and careful care of your tyres make a big difference in your races.

The suspension system for the cars has also been given an overhaul, because last year hitting kerbs was like committing suicide by pissed off mechanical bull. Simply tap one and you’d find yourself spinning madly out of control, desperately trying to pretend that you meant to do that, you cheeky bastard, you. But the new system works great, allowing you to viciously attack the kerbs to try to get those precious few tenths of a second shaved off your lap. Of course hitting them too hard is still a bad idea, but the improved feedback gives you a fighting chance of making it.

The result of these tweaks and upgrades is simple; F1 2011’s handling model is absolutely brilliant, allowing for on-the-limit racing and plenty of fun.

There’s now more differentiation between the various cars as well, putting an end to the days of a Lotus or HRT being able to catch and pass a Red Bull on the straights with ease. Jump from a low running car into something like a Mclaren and there is a huge difference in handling and car performance. Despite this it’s still surprisingly easy to plonk your HRT on pole and go on to win the race in all but the hardest of difficulties.

KERS and DRS have also made the leap between the real and virtual realms and fit into the gaming world perfectly since they essentially act like boost buttons. The KERS system, or Kinetic Energy Recovery System, essentially harvests energy produced from braking to give you a Horsepower boost at the touch of the button, albeit a for a limited amount of usage per lap. KERS gives racing a little bit of extra strategy as knowing when to use and how to use it can really make a difference. The DRS system, which stands for Drag Reduction System, opens a small slot in the rear wing of your car allowing air to pass more freely, thereby giving you a speed boost also makes the leap into gaming and fits in nicely.. In the real life sports it has caused a bit of controversey, with some fans loving it and others hating it for the fact it can often make passing other drivers far too easy. Thankfully the system seems to be better balanced in the game than it is in the real sport, meaning it usually results in some pretty fun overtaking maneuvers, though it does still lead to some embarrassingly easy passes.

Should you wish it fuel management has also become a crucial factor. A handy display on the right hand side of your screen informs you of whether you’ve got enough fuel to last until the end of the race, with the D-pad providing access to different fuel mixtures for you to play with throughout the race. Slap on the rich fuel mixture and run with it for too long and you’ll find your car stuttering towards the end of the race, barely able to accelerate out of the corners.

Those on-track bastards, sometimes referred to as rival drivers, have also seen a small AI improvement to make them a little more challenging when it comes to the epic mid-corner fights. They now defend their line more convincingly and will even make some pretty brave moves up the inside in attempt to gain that extra position. Sadly they’re still prone to braking far too early in corners, leading to you smashing into the back of them and then getting a bloody penalty for it. Of course it’s always possible that the AI is so good that they does this on purpose, like Schumacher.

The safety car and mechanical failures have also made it into the game via fan demand. For those who don’t really follow F1 and aren’t too fussed about realism it may seem odd to actually want car failures and safety cars in a game, but it’s amazing how far sim lovers will go to get that authentic experience. But mechanical failures aren’t random, instead your car breaking down will be entirely down to your inability to drive a highly advanced racing car at over 200MPH. Pushing your engine too hard will result in it overheating, while thrashing your tyres into oblivion will result in a puncture and a brief trip into the nearest wall. The safety car can make dull races into much more exciting sprints for the finish line. Should a major accident occur, presumably because you tried to launch a suicidal move up the inside of a rival and put him into a wall, will now see the safety car deployed onto the track, bunching up the drivers until the debris and car is cleared away. Your car control behind this slow-moving vehicle isn’t complete, but that’s to combat the various rules governing the safety car.

All of these tweaks to the gameplay and mechanics have resulted in a much more intense and tight racing experience.

Of course the adjustable difficulty and assists make a welcome return, allowing players of almost any level to jump into F1 2011 without too much of a problem. Anti-lock braking assists, help with the throttle, racing lines and more are all available and can be turned on and off at will, allowing you to choose just how hard and realistic you want the game to be. The AI difficulty can also be switched around, though there’s a hell of a leap in difficulty between the final two levels. And should that not be enough the rewind feature is also still present, allowing you to rewind time at the touch of a button should you plot it into a wall and incur the wrath of your team’s mechanics.

The dynamic weather system that we saw in the series previous iteration also makes its triumphant return, but gone are the days when you could happily drive flat-out using dry tyres in a wet race. Instead wet races are now something to be feared; cars slip and slide like mad, making careful use of the throttle absolutely vital to winning any race, and when it rains on F1 2011 it really rains, with visibility becoming a complete myth.

The career mode still makes up the bulk of the singleplayer package, though you can still hop into a time trial or quick race in just a few minutes. Little in this area has changed; your new career as a panicking person in a very fast car will be composed of five seasons, with 19 races per season, in which you’ll start with the lowest of the low teams with suitably low expectations and move your way up through the ranks in an attempt to win the drivers championship and oodles of pride. Should you perform well during a season by completing your teams objectives, you’ll receive contract offers from various teams. Other than that you still take part in the dreaded press interviews, which again remain mostly the same. There’s now more of them, but the questions still sound familiar and answering their questions still has absolutely zero impact on the game, but you will be sent snippets from articles and interviews, which is a nice touch. Because it remains practically the same as F1 2010’s career mode, that means it also comes with the same flaw; completing all five seasons can be a tedious affair. By nature racing games are a repetitive creature, but since this isn’t Forza there’s no unlocks or anything else to give you incentive to keep racing. To a die-hard F1 fan like myself this isn’t much a problem as the racing is more than enough to reason to keep playing, but to other racing game fans doing more than a few seasons might start to drag.

Inside the garage where you spend plenty of your time when not out on track the changes are even less noticeable. Everything looks and feels almost exactly the same, with the ability to change your cars setup still intact and in-place, as well as teammate information, quick setup options and session information. But strangely the option to skip sessions has mysteriously disappeared. It’s a small complaint, but one that deserves mentioning.

Perhaps the most interesting change comes from the brand new two-player co-op mode that has been introduced into this years iteration. Now you and a mate can both join a team and compete to win the constructor’s championship. It’s a hell of a difference to have a real person in the garage with you instead of an AI – even the practice sessions can turn into a race between you and your teammate. Will you choose to work together, sharing setup information? perhaps you’ll even let your teammate through on-track if he’s faster and has a chance of some points. Or perhaps you’ll both fight tooth and nail over every point and try to outperform each other at every corner. Just be careful that it doesn’t ruin your friendship, boys and girls. It’s hard to define just how much fun running through a season with a real second person is, especially if they happen to be just as quick as you. And as an added bonus you can do the whole thing in split-screen.

If you’ve got that competitive urge, and what gamer doesn’t, then you’ll be happy to know that the online side of things has also seen a bit of a tweaking. Races now support 16-player, with the remaining grid being filled out by AI cars. This makes every race a far more frantic affair and nailing that beautiful overtake around the outside is just so much more satisfying when it’s a real person that’s swearing loudly at you in another country. Of course the usual idiots who prefer to ram people off the track are still lurking in the virtual world, ready to spoil your dream of a 70-lap race, but for the most part it’s a damn fun experience.

One complaint that I will level at the game is its assumption that everyone is a Formula 1 fanatic and actually knows how DRS works, or when it can be used. Granted, the absolute majority of people who pick up F1 2011 will be fans of the real sport looking for some simulated racing, and therefore will have at least a basic understanding of how everything works, but to the uninitiated few there’s zero explanation about practically everything. The DRS and KERS systems never get explained and the player is never informed on how they actually work on track, nor is any of the lingo that your race engineer spouts out mid-race. It’s a relatively small complaint, though.

So Codemasters haven’t spent the last year resting on their laurels, greedily slurping champagne from a mug with the words, ” Masters of Racing Games,” emblazoned along the side. Instead they’ve delivered a refined and polished version of last years game, along with the brilliant new co-op mode. Sure, it’s not a revolution, but that’s hardly surprising. But what it is, is the best F1 game out there.

The Good:
+ Handling offers more feedback.
+ Co-op championship equals win.|
+ Accepting a contract in career mode for one of the highest placed teams.

The Bad:
– AI are still prone to stupidity.
– Career mode hasn’t really changed and can become tedious.
– Pit request button and skip session option have both disappeared. The hell is up with that?

The Scores:

Graphics: 9
The Ego engine shows that it’s just as capable of delivering beautiful games without the bloom effect. And damn do those reflections look good!

Sound: 9
The cars now sound much rougher and meaner, giving the whole driving experience a far more visceral feel. The music, when it’s actually used, is great and the voice acting, of which there isn’t that much, is pretty good.

Story: 0

Gameplay: 9
There are still a few flaws to be found, but this is a beautifully crafted racing game, and a beautifully crafted F1 game.

Lifespan: 9
A hard one to judge, but the five season career mode should keep you going for quite a while, as should the multiplayer. Throw in co-op mode and the simple thrills of time trial mode and you’ve got good value for money. Though non-F1 fans may not find it quite as addictive.

Overall: 9
Summary: Codemasters have deliver a refined and polished racing game, once again proving that they’re the kings of racing in every form. It also happens to be the best F1 game we’ve ever seen.

Categories: Reviews

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