Tuesday, January 24, 2012

F1 2011 Review*

*Originally posted on 7bitarcade.com

Last year, racing developer legends Codemasters, treated us to the first ‘proper’ F1 game for a long time. Interest, which had once dwindled, was gaining within the masses, so much so that copies were sold out across the board. The success of the title meant a yearly update was to be inevitable. And here we are one year later with F1 2011 in our yellow and black 7Bit hands.

The first real question anyone will ask you about a direct sequel to any yearly update game is inevitably “will it be significantly better than last years iteration that I forked out nigh on 40 notes for?” The good news for these folks is that F1 2011 surpasses its predecessor in almost every conceivable way.

Graphically, 2011 has been given a noticeable overhaul. Every car has now been refined to the smallest details so you can actually see the suspension and front wing flexing should you care to pause and watch a slow-mo replay of your last chicane. Eagle eyed enthusiasts will also notice different levels of wear on tyres depending on your driving. Last year suffered badly from first corner mayhem frame rate issues, this time around all these problems are corrected making the whole experience a much smoother one. In addition to this, each team now gets a custom steering wheel and unique animations to cope with the different button locations.

In terms of gameplay, several new features have been added. To keep up with the rule changes this year, we now have to cope with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recover System) and DRS (Drag Reduction System) buttons. Luckily, these set to L1/Triangle and LB/Y for the different systems mean they are logically in the button map for a boost button anyway. There is also the addition of a safety car to control the race pace should a major incident occur on track. This is a great addition but does take some control away from the player allowing them to only swerve from side to side to heat the tyres a la real life. Handling has been significantly tweeked making it somewhat easier to keep the car on the track, although you can change a few setting to make it harder again if you are so inclined. The AI has also been updated to allow them to utilise advanced defensive techniques

The career mode is largely unchanged, your first career is still in the eyes of a rookie driver for a lower team. However this year you will have Force India and Williams to play about with as well as HRT, Virgin and Lotus. You can still change each weekend’s settings to suit your available time for play and all the strategy elements have remained in place. Before each session you receive emails regarding the weather of the upcoming weekend, but this information is easily obtainable through your race monitor anyway.

Multiplayer has been dramatically altered to include up to 16 human cars with an additional 8 AI cars in the usual game modes and host options. Typically, these races are a mixed bag depending on the other players ability to not crash. The major addition is a coop career in which you and a buddy race a full season under the same team. This mode is great as you must work together to obtain the Construction Championship but you must also strive to out pace, out qualify and out race your team mate at every opportunity. The person who performs better will be the number one driver and, therefore, get all the upgrades first.

By now, any non-F1 fans will probably be wondering what I’ve been guffing on about. The truth is this is still the major flaw in the franchise. Normal racing game fans will be able to somewhat guide their car through a career, but you do need quite a substantial knowledge of Formula 1 to be able to get anywhere in the higher difficulties. Functions like the afore mentioned KERS and DRS are just race changing devices that used improperly they can actually impede your chances of success. For such an in depth sport there really should be a few tutorials to explain such advance mechanics as the extremely late breaking zones, making effect use of KERS and DRS and managing your fuel and tyres.

The only other issue I have with the game is it can be impossibly long. Of course you can reduce your time investment at every opportunity by skipping sessions and shortening race length but, as a true F1 fan, I want the full experience. This can mean up to 8 hours of gameplay for a single race weekend, which equates to a gargantuan 150 hours across a full season. Unfortunately, this leads to becoming uninterested in the vast season ahead of you and, after one race, most will only play a short race weekend.

Overall, F1 2011 is everything F1 2010 should and could have been. Looking back on both games, it’s clear the extra year of development was much needed. There just simply wasn’t anything to compare last years game to and now 2010 seems remarkably unfinished in comparison. I’m mildly disappointed that I didn’t have this game last year as it is truly fantastic and the most complete F1 interactive experience to date. Let’s hope next year will include some minor tutorials in the guise of pre-season testing.

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