Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

F1 2011 in depth // A detailed look at the new Codemasters game

Published by RCC

Codemasters are back with their latest installment of Formula One. Here are my thoughts on this year’s game after playing with it for a few days. First up it's worth noting that this is an improvement on last year’s game. I suppose the key question is if it's improved enough to warrant taking another £40 from you. That's a tough one to answer. I think if you don't own any of the previous F1 games then this is worth starting with, more seasoned players may feel slightly short changed. After all there's only so much that can be done to upgrade from one season to the next, you're essentially buying the same game albeit with a few new tweaks. So let’s start with the Achilles heel of last year’s game... the handling.

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Handling

No doubt codemasters (CM) have tackled what was the ultimate failure of F1 2010, no more does the car randomly spin out or have braking distances akin to emergency stopping distance of an aircraft carrier. This year see's the inclusion of suspension, which means that when a sharp corner is taken the car now leans into the turn and actually turns where you want it. As the weight is transferred through the car there is a noticeable change of grip as you flick the car left and right. Players can finally starting attacking those no go zones from F1 2010 (Catalunya - final sector, Monaco - Portier, all of Singapore etc) with some confidence. The car is much less likely to wash out mid corner or spin unpredictably under braking. There's more satisfaction from actually driving.

It's now also much easier to spin the car out if you accelerate too early out of a corner, this is a good thing, it rewards skillful driving better. In F1 2010 there were a few corners you could run flat out without fail (i.e last sector in Valencia), this time that's not so easy. Players have to now finesse the throttle and be much more controlled, there's no more holding the accelerator and burying the throttle. This game will bite you back.

The steering is much more precise and quicker, there's no lag and the car turns exactly when you want it to.

The steering is much more precise and quicker, there's no lag and the car turns exactly when you want it to. Complimenting a better steering is much better braking. Stopping distances have virtually halved. I've lost count how many times I've hit my old braking points only to stop dead 50m from the turning point. On a side note to that, the 'dynamic racing line' is terrible this year, its colors are much more intrusive and to be frank... it's wrong. Too often, it will indicate not to brake until it's far too late. I wanted to use it to begin with until I got used to the new braking distances. I gave up after 2 races as I couldn't stand it being wrong and it's far too bright and cartoony. I haven't bothered with it since and I'm much happier racing without a guide line anyway. I suspect those that used to race with a line will no longer want to use it in F1: 2011.

Don't get me wrong, the handling has vastly improved (F1 2010 was dire) but this is NOT a simulation game. Games such as iRacing, Forza, GT 5 are much better games for car handling. Don't even fool yourself into thinking this game is realistic in that sense. I think of it more giving an idea of what it's like as opposed to an accurate rendition.

Graphics

I'm not sure what's happened here (although I have a theory). To be blunt... they're worse at best. It's very hard for game companies to convince us that a new product is different and worth buying. F1 must be a hard sell one year to another, the only thing that really changes is a few rule tweaks, driver changes, and the odd new track. There's no mystery buying an F1 game, you know you're going to race on specific tracks etc and endlessly repeat until bored. To make this year’s game look new and standout CM have massively ramped up the colors. To be technical there's so much more saturation in the off track detail. Grass is shaded in nuclear contaminated green and there's so much Pirelli/DHL yellow I've started to be offended by the site of bananas.... I now despise yellow, thanks CM.

Off track I've noticed a slight reduction in the quality of the textures and shading

The frame rate is better (less jerky screen action) but that is to be expected considering the game runs at a modest 30 fps. Off track I've noticed a slight reduction in the quality of the textures and shading (what's happened in Valencia's final sector?); maybe this had to be reduced to include the improved car handling physics, who knows. Regardless though I'm disappointed by the graphics, I know CM have to show some change but it feels like they've taken an excellent base from last year and overly changed it to its detriment. Maybe they were worried some players would be too unintelligent to notice they were playing on F1 2011. All it needed, I felt, were a few tweaks, not the overtly vibrant colors we now have. On the plus side wheel lock ups are easier to spot and that seems to have been addressed, car steering wheels are much better replicated. Other noticeable changes are the inclusion of waved blue/yellow flags; they're quite cool and add to the experience.

Gameplay

The big thing mentioned on the CM forums was the inclusion of the safety car, well this year it's included! (With the option to turn it off). The SC is only available for races 20% distance and above. It's pretty much as you expect it to be, it comes out and you follow it around weaving to keep your tyre temps up. There is an automatic brake that kicks in and stops you driving too fast behind it. I childishly tried with no success to ram the safety car and the auto brake did a good job of keeping me away from it.

With the inclusion of DRS and KERS (more in a sec on them) players have lost the manual pit control button (too many buttons now needed and that was the only feasible one to remove). This makes pit stops a slightly more detached experience, you drive into the pitlane and the computer automatically takes over until exit, that's it.

KERS and DRS

An interesting addition to the game, personally I'm enjoying using DRS but not that fussed on KERS. DRS is fun to use when pushing the car on the limit, there's a fine line between deploying it too early and pitching the car round into the barriers. It's fun to use whilst chasing an opponent down or lapping. I did very quickly get used to using it to the maximum in qualifying and started to appreciate more the differences it causes to gearbox ratios. It gives you a dilemma, do you set the 7th gear to max out under DRS or without it? There's a noticeable difference between qualifying and racing.

KERS I'm still a little undecided about. When you activate it there's a large increase in engine volume (to blatantly point out you're using it). I think it's slightly overkill and makes it feel even more gimmicky. Driving-wise it's fun and it quickly becomes apparent KERS is an acceleration aid and DRS is a top speed aid. That said, though, I very quickly tired of using it as I preferred to concentrate on driving as opposed to be constantly thinking about deploying it. Wheel users like myself might struggle as there's now quite a few buttons to press whilst racing, that's okay on a static joypad, gets a bit interesting (i.e annoying) though whilst you're rotating a steering wheel from left to right.

On a few occasions I've hit rear view mirror instead of KERS, or made a meal of deploying KERS and DRS at the same time. Okay so they do it real life, but they can place the buttons in an optimal place, we're kinda stuck with whatever our steering wheel layout is. We can reassign buttons but not physically move them.

Computer AI

They've improved, they're still woefully easy to beat but this time they fight back better. They don't drive into you anymore (á la F1 2010) as they take into account if you're using the racing line and adjust their line accordingly. They're much more aggressive when chasing you and it's quite exciting knowing they've just deployed the DRS and are rapidly cruising up behind. That said don't expect much of a challenge, once you're past it's unlikely they'll stay with you for long. This is where racing online really counts as it's proper competition; winning against the AI is a little unrewarding as the result is never in doubt.

Sounds

Different but would I say better? Probably not, no loss but no real improvement. The engines are still extra squealy and I doubt that'll ever change. I've run the game through a 5.1 surround and it does sound slightly deeper and better this time around. The race engineer has changed from a faux Rob Smedley into a nondescript person. Gone is the north eastern accent and it's now replaced with the generic race engineer Bucks/Oxfordshire accent. Holly Samos is replaced by David Croft as the main question interviewer. Aside from that I can't think of any other sounds worth mentioning.

Experience

The career mode has been cut down to a maximum 5 years, career races can now be 1 lap, 3 laps, 20%, 50% or 100% distances. It's exactly as it was last year, you try and beat the objectives set by the team, thrash your team mate, and become WDC. This time sees that all included as well as the addition of a co-operative championship. You will need a reliable friend to be your team mate; aim is to win the WCC between you and for one of you to pick up the WDC. Lone wolf gamers like myself might struggle with this one, none of my friends are into F1 enough to buy the game, and I don't know anybody online that would stick around for a 19 race tournament over a few months. A great idea but time will tell how used it is. It is slightly galling that a few of the XP achievements can only be achieved via the co-operative championship, some of us may not get chance to achieve them.

You get mails from the team regarding objectives, weather reports, contract offers, press clippings etc.

There are a few tweaks to the layout of your motor home. The zombie agent lady is gone and has been replaced with a laptop. You get mails from the team regarding objectives, weather reports, contract offers, press clippings etc. All very nice if you like that sort of thing and want to 'live the dream' as such. The interview questions are pretty much identical and follow the same format (if you win - "was the car setup good"? etc). Online modes are very much similar, there's still the inevitability of a crash fest into the first corner, I doubt that'll ever be addressed. I think maybe there's a little less respect between the online gamers of F1 then other racing games. Replay's are identical to last year, albeit less prone to freezing. The option to save them is still unavailable as is the option to take photographs. Leaderboards, time attacks, etc. are pretty much the same.

Overall

A tough one to call, it's without doubt an improvement on last year’s game but graphics issues aside, is it worth purchasing depends on a few factors? If you don't own any other racing games then you'd be very impressed with it. If you own last year’s version then I think you'll definitely enjoy the improved handling and other tweaks etc... but... and a big BUT here... £40 is a bit galling for something you already have.

The changes made, for me, don't justify the price. Yes, you have KERS, DRS, and the safety car but at the detriment of other aspects. I think seasoned players will enjoy the improved handling but very quickly I think they'll normalize to that and wonder what else is so new and great... i.e where's the £40?

Recommendations

For a self- labeled driving simulation (Ant Davidson lies) - it's decidedly un-sim like. I know this isn't iRacing, GT 5, Forza etc but if they can build all that into a game plus much better physics, replays, telemetry, overall experience, community immersion then CM should also be able to. Maybe instead of launching a new issue every year they should spend two years between games and build the game up more. This, though, would impact on profits. The time is to decide for CM do they want quantity or quality.

Notes - Author reviewed on Xbox 360 using an MS Wheel, MCR 2 wheel, and joypad, all equipment run through a large plasma HD tv and audio via surround sound. No assists used, computer AI - legendary, all rules, simulations turned on. Cockpit and Tv view used. The opinions expressed are the author's and they don't expect others to agree.

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