Review: F1 2011
I’m not a massive Formula 1 fan. I appreciate it and I do watch it from time to time but I can’t pretend to know all the ‘in’s and out’s’ of the terrifyingly fast sport. I suppose you could call me a casual fan, I know all the drivers and I know the basic rules but there are a lot of things that go way over my head. So, given this revelation would I know enough to appreciate a game that involves all the complications and rules of the real sport? It turns out you can, but it takes a lot of hard work and – at the end of the day – you’re still going to have to delve a bit deeper into the Formula 1 world.
Even if you’re F1 knowledge is better than Bernie Ecclestone you’re probably going to need to have some driving assists enabled if this is your first go at a F1 game. You may have played a great deal of racing games, but obviously F1 cars handle a great deal differently to your common supercar in a game like Forza 4. The racing line is the most useful assist, showing you the correct line to take through each corner if you’re going to have any chance of competing and also avoiding the crash barriers. The colour of the line changes from green to yellow to signify that you should start braking, and eventually to red to signify a hard turn that you’re going to want to slow down a lot for. You can either get the game to brake for you by turning brake assist on, but it’s important not to rely on this and I usually found it easier to turn braking assist off and just keep the racing line on. However, if you stick rigidly to both or one of the assists you’re not going to be hitting 1st place anytime soon, as – like the sport – the game is all about learning how to tackle each track by learning both how to tackle each corner and how to control your car in the correct way.
After jumping into career mode (there’s Grand Prix, Proving Grounds and Multiplayer as well but I’ll get on to those in a moment) you pick a team – there are only a few available from the start, you’ll have to work your way up to the top teams – and go through a quick interview that sets up your name and difficulty level. You’ll do these interviews after key races too, with what you say influencing how you and your team are represented in the press. After this you proceed to your team’s motorhome HQ; where you can check your email (you’ll get sent weather reports, press clippings, new contract offers and other relevant information), change your helmet and check the race calendar. Going through the race calendar lets you start your first race, taking place in Melbourne Australia. It’s up to you if you want the long-race weekend of two practice sessions, three qualifying sessions and the eventual race. You can also set if you want to do the full race (it’s 58 laps on this course, but it varies from course to course) or a percentage of it. You’re not really getting the full F1 experience if you only set, say, 3 laps as it will take a lot longer than that to climb up the field if you fall behind – this isn’t an arcade racer!
Handling is realistically delightful, the cars having a weightier feel and giving you a sense of the power you have at your fingertips. Taking the perfect corner requires real precision and concentration, but when you do inevitably spin out it’s a lot easier to recover than it was in the past – but it can still happen quite a bit! It’s a model that lends itself more to a steering wheel than a controller, but Codemasters have made sure that those who can’t afford expensive wheel controllers can still manage to carry out precise moves with a twitch of the thumbsticks. DRS (Drag Reduction System) and KERS (Kinetic Energy Reduction System) are also available for drivers to employ, just like in the current F1 season. It’s a joy to figure out a strategy on each track as to when is best to employ them, and having them complement each other at the right time can get you the overtake that you need. Finally try not to cut corners, as you’ll end up getting warned and then getting a penalty slapped on you. There are some harsh penalties dished out in the F1 world, which may be frustrating to a newcomer.
Tyres are now much more of a key ingredient than they were before, with the emphasis on maintaining an optimal temperature. Make sure you have the right tyres for the job though, as having the wrong ones fitted will make for a frustrating experience. You can choose between pre-sets of wet, adaptable and dry but those wanting a bit more control can configure their tyres manually. In fact pretty much everything on the car can be manually configured, from the aerodynamics and angle of the front and rear wings to the balance of the brakes – but be warned that this area isn’t something those with little F1 knowledge will want to tackle and Codemasters have put absolutely no helpful hints in the game for those who don’t have a clue. The lack of help options in the game bolsters the idea that Codemasters is intentionally aiming this one at the hardcore F1 fan.
Graphically F1 2011 looks just as stunning as its last outing, with attention to detail poured in at every level from stewards waving flags to the beautiful re-creations of the worlds most famous racing tracks. The rain effects give you an idea of just how much a game changer the weather is in F1, with the amount of water spray being kicked up by the cars in front of you effectively blinding you. The cars look as sleek and shiny as their real-life counterparts, with the sun reflecting off a Red Bull RB7 – a real joy to the eye. The physics on the cars also work realistically, the front wing bouncing and flexing as you race over slight bumps in the track. You can also visually see the tyre wear, so you can get some idea of how they’re fairing without having to check the car info. The only thing I found poor on the cars were the rear-view mirrors, which are effectively useless. Thankfully you can push the right stick inwards to get a quick look behind. However, the graphical fidelity does sometimes cause framerate issues with the occasional freeze whilst racing around. This is annoying when you’re about to take a corner and the game freezes for a couple of seconds, as it can throw you off-balance and make you spin out.
While the cars look amazing the damage that can be inflicted on them isn’t exactly spectacular. F1 cars are fragile beasts, but you get no indication of this when you accidentally ram someone in front of you. Throughout my entire career I was rammed and shunted by various AI cars with little or no damage apparent. Even plowing straight into a wall would often only result in my car losing it’s front wing, something that can easily be replaced in the pit (I also managed to glitch through a car instead of bumping into it, which may have moved me up a place but was very clearly a bug). This also resulted in the AI cars having almost zero crashes themselves, other than ones caused by me. It makes little sense to put a safety car in the game when you’re hardly going to get to see it, with the AI rigidly sticking to the racing line and making zero mistakes. The AI is great at taking corners and battling with you, leading to a more intense experience, but if Codemasters wanted to meet the true realism target then they would have had the AI more susceptible to make mistakes like real drivers make.
One thing I love about F1 is the sound of cars, from the roar of the engine to the dip of a gear change. Codemasters have absolutely nailed this one, and you can get a real sense of how a car is handling a situation by just listening to its engine. The team radio is delightfully realistic too, with tips about the state of your car and the status of the ongoing race helping you stretch towards pole position. However, some of the terminology the team radio employs can be a bit confusing for non-F1 fans.
When you want a break from career mode there’s always the multiplayer. There’s a very welcome split-screen local multiplayer mode, which is something rarely seen in today’s online focused racing games. When you take it online you can battle it out with up to 15 other players, with the rest of the grid being filled with AI cars. While it’s odd that you can’t have 24 players in one race in reality it’s rare you’ll ever get even 17 other players together in one race, so the option to add AI cars to fill those slots is a nice touch. Just like in career mode you can choose the length of each race, and it’s here where you’ll discover just who is really a hardcore F1 fan and is willing to stick it out for a full race lasting over an hour. It’s incredibly fun when you do get people willing to do this, with the human element making for a much more captivating race than the largely dull AI opponents make.
If you don’t want a full career you could always try out the Grand Prix mode, which allows you to immediately pick the top teams and real-life drivers. If you’re up for a real challenge though then the Proving Grounds may be more to your taste. Here you’re given pre-set cars and weather conditions with the aim of setting the fastest lap time possible without being able to modify any part of your car.
Given that I didn’t play F1 2010 it’s hard to personally say whether or not this edition is an improvement over the last. However, having read that the last game had a lot of problems with it due to glitches and bugs – plus the handling being a bit overly-harsh and the AI not being up to scratch – and having not encountered the majority of these problems in this game I can only conclude the Codemasters sorted them out and put out an improved edition. Some might argue if that warrants a whole new game in itself if the only improvements are to make the game more stable while adding a few extra bits, but I would argue that they’re wrong. F1 2011 feels like the complete package as far as authenticity to the real sport goes and I think it’s a package that hardcore fans of the sport will really appreciate. However, this is always going to be a genre where newcomers and casual fans might have a hard time fitting in, as the realism and steep learning curve required can serve to turn a lot of people off.
While the hardcore F1 will be estactic at the prospect of driving 60 laps around Silverstone with full realistic rules the casual fan may not dedicate the time to it when there are other racing games available that may be more ‘fun’ for them. Stick with it and it’s ultimately a very rewarding experience, but much like the sport it requires a lot of time that most people just won’t put into it. That doesn’t stop it from being a great game, but at the end of the day it’s the hardcore fans who will get real value for money here.
Review: F1 2011 Results
What we liked:
Hardcore F1 fans will be overjoyed with the realism and attention to detail.
Intense and thrilling handling leads to an exhilarating experience.
Looks gorgeous, and the rain on the Melbourne track was genuinely terrifying.
What we disliked:
Steep learning curve means that casual fans may be quickly turned off. Little in the way of help with Codemasters clearly assuming you have a decent F1 Knowledge
While the AI driving has improved they never really act like real drivers and are far too predictable.
Plays a lot better with a steering wheel than your standard controller