F1 2011 Review
Game: F1 2011
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Available on: Xbox 360, PC & PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
If we are all honest with ourselves, no actually wants to play a Formula 1 title. We just want to be Formula 1 drivers. For this reason, there is no harder game to make than an F1 game. You can take your Call of Duty titles, your Street Fighter games and add them all together but even then, they will not meet with such a thorough dissection as Codemasters’ new racing sim, F1 2011.
It is the combination of extreme fan passion, deep knowledge and desire for realism that makes the task of developing and executing the game so exacting, with slight errors held to harsh judgement and every area of the game picked over ruthlessly.
This is the second year that the British developer has taken up the challenge, and all they can do is learn from the mistakes of previous titles, build on the foundations they have laid and make not only the closest facsimile of Formula 1 that they can, but whilst also creating a title that produces wonderful entertainment in its own right.
GRAPHICS: It is difficult to decide whether F1 2011 gets off on the right foot, realism-wise. In the complete opposite of real life, the world of F1 2011 looks much, much better when the weather is horrible and it is pouring with rain. Reflections on the track are astounding, the spray from the car in front utterly terrifying and the patterns of water on camera lens completely convincing. It even improves on the superb rain effects of F1 2010 that were, certainly at the time, best of breed.
The game’s apex, graphically speaking, is the subtlety of the changing conditions. When the rain stops, and the surface water on the track starts to evaporate, the visual evolution is spectacularly measured. Pools of water dissipate and a dry line emerges, whilst the spray from the leading cars gradually shrinks to nothing. Not only a wonderfully delivered visual effect, looking wonderful for wonderful’s sake, this drying line encourages the player to push and push, finding performance and time in every corner whilst punishing overly-exuberant driving with a return to the Teflon-like track extremities. The feeling of recovering grip, and the reassurances granted by seeing corners looking ever more dry, would tempt even non-F1 fans into pushing hard and harder in the search for a lower lap time, and present a wonderful example of graphics truly enhancing gameplay.
The game still looks great in the dry, with the only low points in the otherwise surperb visual packages coming when the circuits, by their nature, provide a dull backdrop to the spectacular action. China is guilty of this, as is Bahrain and South Korea. However, where there is opportunity for wonderful performance F1 2011 provides it in spades, with Monaco and Singapore, as in real life, providing the highlights.
SOUND: Engines screech convincingly enough in F1 2011 and that is vital because, 99% of the time, that is all you hear as you squeeze you right index finger on a trigger or press slippered foot against plastic pedal. Occasionally your engineer will chip in with something valuable, and their interjections offer a valuable change of pace from the “vuvuzela-on-super-speed” engine noises that threaten to shake windows out of frames.
F1 2011 consistently delivers quality audio, with well balanced surround surround and nice audio effects (like doppler engine noises of cars on nearby corners) ensuring an impactful and immersive experience.
GAMEPLAY: The acid test of a driving game (and really, any game) is if you stripped away the paint and textures and licenses, would the core of the gameplay still be fun? Sure, a game can have its bells and whistles, but a core gameplay experience is what really matters to players. Pro Evo’s Playstation 2-era of dominance over FIFA is evidence enough of that.
However, nowhere is this more true than a Formula 1 game. The glamourous sheen of the F1 circus, as well as the blind clamor of avid petrol heads, can hide a multitude of sins. Scrape away the pristine paintwork of Codemasters’ game however, and there is little but perfect aerodynamics and sleek handling underneath. Early forays onto the racetrack are ruthlessly unforgiving, particularly with a joypad rather than a wheel. Switching off ABS and simply moving Traction Control from its ‘full’ to ‘medium’ setting creates a car that viciously punishes mistakes, locking wheels and spinning out with the slightest mismanagement of the stop and go pedals. But with practice the game starts to reveal itself.
The cars of F1 2011 aren’t the Scalextric cars of the previous game, largely bolted to the track with only absolute negligence upsetting a perfect lap. These cars feel like the monsters that they really are. Handling is twitchy, and woe betide those who don’t have their wheels straight before applying the accelerator. It is rare that you will feel that the car is truly under your control, but moments of wonderful control do occur. Record-troubling lap times do occur and when the player is nailing apexes it feels awfully like being in “the zone”, that tipping point of perfect gameplay where the code gets out of the way and the player, as they would when sitting mere inches from a 600 horse power engine, feels potent and in control of their success and failure, even with the imprecise control offered by a joypad.
Just as the real (sob!) driver’s jobs have got trickier in the current era of F1, so does the player’s in F1 2011. KERS (the Kinetic Energy Recovery System that farms brake energy and turns it into power for the driver) and DRS (Drag Reduction System, activated by opening the rear wing to let air through and, ta-daaa, reduce drag) have been implemented by Codemasters. Both are easy to control and have accompanied by some subtle audio effects which highlight their use. DRS is activated by a simply tap of Y (or Triangle) and is available at any time in practice or qualifying or when the player is within one second of the car in front on race day. The whispering whoosh of air over carbon fibre that eminates from the rear speakers when DRS is working is one of the game’s satisfying moments, especially because it is usually accompanied by flying up to the car in front and passing them sweetly on the inside. The in-game implementation of both technologies have a very “Burnout” feel proving that real-life is making an unstoppable journey towards being as cool as videogames, with F1 2011 acting as half-way house.
The speed is all there. Passing cars and weaving through traffic makes you feel like Han Solo piloting in the Falcon in to an asteroid field. The pace is so fast, the obstacles so many and the reactions required so sharp that escape from a pack of back-markers truly feels like a 1 in 3720 success. (It is important to note that, in this example, making a pit stop is like parking in the mouth of the big space worm. Only you get new tyres).
Formula 1 2011 takes the greatest ever F1 gameplay from F1 2010, removes the bugs and issues, updates the technology and fine-tunes the handling, creating the best Formula 1 driving experience ever and a rival to any moment-to-moment driving experience on any console.
MULTIPLAYER:During the BBC’s magnificent F1 coverage you will frequently hear Martin Brundle and David Coulthard talking about how a particular driver has ‘put a lot of trust’ in a rival whilst attempting a risky pass. The trust is given and received because Grand Prix drivers are real people, driving real cars, really putting their lives in danger at 150 mph around corners and between walls.
In F1 2011’s multiplayer mode, you are required to put a similar level of trust in your online compatriots. However, owing to the fact that the online crowd is rarely, if ever, in life-threatening danger and is, more often that not sat on their sofa smelling their own crotch sweat, this trust is hardly warranted. The first corner of any online race invariably descends into a jerky, glitching, laggy destruction derby with missed breaking points and antisocial driving everywhere. Unfortunately, therefore races online are never any better than the company you keep. Considerate and competitive races can be enjoyed, but these races tend to be the product of a like-minded friends list rather than stemming from the game’s nature.
Now, it is always somewhat harsh to criticise a game because of the characteristics of the sport it simulates rather than its design but the sad reality is that, usually due to the number unpleasant folk that ruin online servers, the multiplayer experience of F1 2011 is in general not that much fun. Codemasters have done their level best to keep the idiots out, implementing the F1 flag system to warn and disqualifying those drivers who see the car in front as a braking aid rather than opponent but it isn’t enough to save the game online.
However, the addition of two player championship mode, a semi-competitive/semi-co-op feature is a terrific addition and certainly makes for a great excuse to make some like-minded friends online and tackle something more substantial.
In summary, it is the inherent weaknesses of a largely faceless online community, a tendency for a glitching and laggy opponents on track which, when combined with a sport that demands mutual respect, means that despite Codemasters’ best efforts, F1 2011 multiplayer rarely rewards perseverance and skill in the way the single player modes do.
LONGEVITY: Longevity = six months. Tongue in cheek cynicism aside, the life span of F1 2011 is a pretty simple equation really. Where a FIFA or NBA game could last a couple of years by virtue of a simple trade system and a cast iron set of rules, the sport of Formula 1, with its floating set of technical restrictions and ever changing car designs, will leave F1 2011 redundant to the hardcore fan in six months time.
Which is a shame, because for Grand Prix fans there is so much to do here. The career mode is an almost bottomless time sink, with R&D, promotion through the teams and the option for full race distances still available.
The driving, as discussed, is demanding but rewarding and shaving time off personal bests and mastering new circuits is a challenge all of its own, one that will keep the competitive fan coming back for quite some time. That aside, time trials, specific time challenges, one off Grand Prix and the two player mode championship all add up to create a robust package which, if one can forgive the technical inaccuracies that will appear from the first race weekend of 2012, will happily see F1 fan through until the next instalment, and it is difficult to ask any more than that.
VERDICT: With F1 2010 last year, Codemasters came as close as any videogame developer ever has to releasing a Formula One game that made players feel as if they were right in the car. F1 2011 takes it one step further. With a terrific handling model and far more polished final product, players can practically smell the exhaust fumes, spent rubber and grid girl’s perfume.
A multiplayer component that is too relient on mutual respect and the relative necessity for a wheel if a player wants to switch off all of the driver assists holds the game back from being a flawless recommendation but make no mistake, Codemaster’s have improved on the best F1 game on the market and with F1 2011, have produced one of the best driving games on the market, full stop.