F1 2010 was always destined for greatness. You take the biggest motorsport in the world, give it to the racing game experts at Codemasters and gold was to follow. Not even metaphorical gold like that tease Abe Lincoln had, but actual BAFTA gold in the form of that creepy trophy face they hand out every year. But now after one short year, it's back, shocking anyone who knows about sports games with years on the end. Is grabbing this worth it, even if you've had more than one season in 2010? Let's slide right in.
F1 2011 (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, XBox 360) Developer: Codemasters Birmingham Publisher: Codemasters Released: September 23 2011 (Europe) / Out Now (USA) MSRP: £29.99 (PC) / £39.99 (Console)
The biggest thing a yearly F1 game has going for it compared to other annual sports games is the fact that the rules change year on year and going from the 2010 season into the 2011 season was almost a total revolution. To improve overtaking, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) returned and a new Drag Reduction System (DRS) was introduced. KERS works by recharging a battery through braking and then by pressing a button, that energy is released causing a power increase of 80bhp. The regulations allow this to be used for 6.67 seconds per lap essentially making it the real life equivalent of a Mario Kart golden mushroom. You know, without the WAHOO that Toad would yell and make me want to destroy all mankind. The DRS system also improves top speed and acceleration in very specific circumstances at the cost of handling ability and a new tyre compound means that fresh tyres are very grippy, but wear out very quickly making for an interesting pit-stop strategy battle in races.
So what does that mean for the game? As much as you want it to. The KERS and DRS systems are not able to be disabled as such, but on lower skill levels they're not needed to win which is probably for the best. To hit maximum speed on a 360 pad, you'll need to hit Y at the start of the straight to enable the DRS while accelerating with RT and then hold LB for the KERS boost. At the higher end of the simulation and difficulty, this makes it almost impossible to manage all that with a manual gearbox on a joypad and it wasn't until breaking out a wheel with a flappy paddle gear changer and pedals that actually made it even possible to do with two hands, but it's still simpler than a real F1 car, observe the steering wheel:
But all the options are back allowing you to tweak the experience with traction control, ABS, fuel and tyre simulations, penalties and even auto braking assist to help you get up to speed with handling a real F1 car, which Codemasters have taken to the next level with a few additions that were notably absent in 2010. If a big accident happens, the safety car is deployed making all cars bunch together and slows the race down before the track is cleared and racing can begin again and with full penalties on, you can now have penalties that make you drive through the pits rather than the old time penalties which are still given out on reduced penalty mode. All in all, it is a much more accurate simulation of the sport.
But does that make it more fun? After playing a full race, I believe it does. One of the main things that differentiated F1 2010 from other racing games and even the Sony produced F1 games was the fact that these cars are nothing like taking a car out for a spin in Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo. you had to use practice sessions to find your braking spots and that has become even more imperative now. The braking feels very different from the previous edition which is something that real F1 drivers have said now KERS has been brought back since the recovery parts actually make the real axle brake a lot harder than they previously did. Couple all this with random breakdowns when damage is on full simulation and this is the best representation of F1 that has ever been released on a console, even nipping at the heels of the highly revered PC simulation Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix and that really is a testament to how much detail they've gone into here.
There's a few things that I'm not sure if they're design decisions or bugs though. I've had a 20 car pile-up only to watch CPU cars drive through other CPU cars like they weren't on the track and I'm unsure as to whether or not this is a design decision to let traffic through and the race resume, or something that should not be happening. I'm more inclined to say bug at this stage because I've seen it on corners too with no pile-up occurring. Also, with all simulation options on, sometimes the game will turn my car into a ghost car to stop a nasty crash because I'm reversing and this should be something I can turn off. Why would I pick a full simulation if I didn't want to be disqualified for being an unsafe driver?
As for the bells and whistles, they've evolved, just not as much as the race engine. Career mode does feel more immersive simply by adding emails to receive and by making your motorhome match the colours of your team and other than adding a co-operative career mode where you both take race seats on the same team, allowing you to have an inter-team battle while racking up points for the constructors title, very little else feels new. Multiplayer has been bumped up from 12 players to 16 and now supports AI drivers to round it up to the full 24 car grid if you so choose, which is nice, but not the mind blowing increase to 24 human players would be. Graphics are still gorgeous and have had a slight bump on the PC from the last version, especially in terms of how reflective the cars are and how much detail is in those reflections.
This does such a fine job of being a brilliant representation of the sport on track that I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone with even a slight interest in in Formula 1 or even racing simulations in general. Once you get the feel of the cars down to an art, there is just no better feeling than nailing the apex of a fast corner and it is worth spending the money to upgrade from 2010. There is just this feeling that they could have done more and while I appreciate the fact the actual racing is the main focus, 24 player races and a more robust career mode really would have made this the perfect game. The 2012 season promises to have a stable ruleset, so with that set in stone, 2012 might bring the improvements those areas need, but it's not something I would wait for. Even if this game only has a lifespan of 12 months, it's going to be a very fun 12 months.
Final Verdict: 8/10 Great: 8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but worth your time and cash.