Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Formula 1 2009 (Wii) review // An in depth look at the new Codemasters racing game

Published by Lukeh

After many years of waiting, Formula 1 finally saw a release of a new official video game – Formula 1 2009. The game has been released on the Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation portable handheld, with this review studying the Wii release that I have already put many hours into. So, was it worth the wait? Have Codemasters and Sumo Digital done enough to make it a formidable addition to the long running series of F1 games over the years? Thankfully, to me at least, the Wii version of Formula 1 2009 is an absolute joy to behold and get involved with.

From my own honest point of view, despite my excitement I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – the Wii is very much a casual console for a massive audience ranging from young to old, with most Wii racers being very arcade-y and intended for quick use. Sumo Digital, the developers behind the Wii installment of F1 2009, decided that whilst the audience was there for the more casual user, the hardcore Formula 1 fan such as me who wants a proper simulation experience should be accommodated for. They definitely succeeded.

First of all, what’s important is that a game must be fun. Sure, it can look wonderful and pretty, and promise this and do that but if it isn’t fun, what’s the point in carrying on? I found myself picking up Formula 1 2009 (with the F1 style Wheel Wii that can come with the game) and soon getting really into the moment. It’s fun and exhilarating; switching the camera into the onboard view or the helmet view was definitely not a let-down as a massive sense of speed can be felt through the game, and the way the handling is set up makes it feel a pleasure to race with.

It’s fair to say that I’m not a massive fan of using motion controllers for my racing, I’ve very much been brought up playing racing games with analog sticks, but after a few practice sessions and races, I soon found my stride. The best way to describe the handling of the cars with the wheel would be to say it’s a mix of arcade and simulation racing – whilst the cars do feel slidy at times, it’s all about picking your line and getting through a corner in the same way a real Formula 1 driver would.

The only complaint I have concerning the motion controller is that, after a certain degree of turning, it feels as if it stops recognising the turn anymore. It very rarely comes up, only when you go to do a full lock if you’re going into the gravel trap, but when it happens and you find yourself not turning then it may give you a bit of grief. I’ve had a few really funny but completely random moments with the AI as well – Nelson Piquet has twice smashed me out of a race for no apparent reason (!) and there have been moments where I’ve been on a straight and a car ahead just seems to slow down completely.

There’s been a fair amount of criticism from reviews across the gaming world about the graphics. The Wii itself is certainly not the most powerful console out at the moment in terms of it's presentation - it’s rivals are leagues ahead - but what matters for F1 2009 is that the presentation works fine. The graphics aren’t actually anything to complain about in my opinion, whilst some of the car liveries do look bland at times the actual race environments and how the game looks in motion with 19 other cars around you does a fine job for the Wii. Each location on the Formula 1 calendar is very recognisable and true to their real life form, and every car has the livery as you’d expect.

The downside is that, at times, the frame rate does tend to drop (to be less technical, you may notice a few skips in animation sometimes) but this seems to be at certain corners on certain tracks rather than too much going on at one time on the screen. Much like my previous complaint though, it is honestly unnoticeable for 99% of the time and I’ve just picked up on it a few times. It doesn’t even affect the game, as previously stated, when in motion it runs so smoothly.

In terms of modes and lifespan, we’ve been absolutely treated by the guys behind the game. You have your typical World Championship mode, where you can pick a car and go through the entire championship (all sessions included for race weekends), a single race weekend with all sessions to have a go at, a quick race where you jump straight into the race, split screen multiplayer with another friend (who you can actually go through a championship with!), Challenge mode where there are a vast amount of challenges from the simple (like get into Q3) to the impossible (overtake loads of people in the wet on slicks...!), which are great fun, and finally Career mode. Now, I ended with Career mode here because this is what I’ve really found myself getting into so far with the game and it’s such a great addition to the modes in the game.

You start as a nobody, someone who’s getting emails from lower level teams willing to give you a test and perhaps give you a drive. Eventually, within a 3 year span in the career, it’s your goal to get wherever you can in the world of Formula 1 and succeed from goal to goal. It felt really good just watching the cars go out in practice sessions and putting in new times, or keeping an eye on my Qualifying times then going out to beat others, it’s just something that I could keep playing without getting bored for a silly amount of time. Sure, it doesn’t invent anything new and in all fairness it’s been done before, but I’m really enjoying the sense of reward and success you get from doing well in your own career as an F1 driver. Furthermore, it really gave me a chuckle when at the start of the season I had an email concerning an arrogant press release from Ferrari regarding the season ahead. Little touches like that always impress me.

Sadly, there is no online multiplayer, I’m afraid. Mario Kart Wii has had such a successful lifespan with the online aspect to the game but it’s probably the biggest disappointment of the game that Codemasters and Sumo Digital didn’t go for it here; a missed opportunity without a doubt. Nevertheless, there is absolutely plenty to keep you amused and happy!

So, let’s assess this from two different viewpoints – what does Formula 1 2009 do for the casual gamer who just wants to pick up and play, and what does it do for the more hardcore fan looking for a F1 sim? The casual audience will be happy to know that, if you just want a short race that lasts a few laps and you’re having trouble controlling your car and braking, the assists and help are there for you and are very helpful in letting you jump into the game and just have fun your way. On the other hand, if you love tweaking your setups, sorting out your fuel strategy going into Q3 and messing about with ratios whilst having full damage (the damage collision is quite poor, though) with all the flags and rules on, perhaps having it at 25/50% or even full race distance, then they are all there for you too! The game basically opens itself up to how you want to race, and how you want to play. Luckily, it really, really works too.

Pros:

  • Very fun to play, especially qualifying and Challenge mode, and very addictive once you get into it
  • All the tracks modelled realistically and all the cars are there from 2009
  • Plenty to keep you amused and busy!
  • Gives both new players and experienced racers a proper chance
  • Arguably one of the best racing games on the Wii
  • No politics to ruin the racing!!!

Cons:

  • No online multiplayer!
  • Poor damage model and collision detection
  • AI (computer controlled cars) have the odd moment here and there
  • No Badoer/Grosjean/Alguersauri/etc

In summary, F1 2009 is a must buy for any formula 1 fan who owns a Wii. Sure, it’s not the detailed super simulation games on the PC like rFactor but the fact is it’s a fantastic game and very impressive, so much more impressive than I was expecting. Even with its flaws it’s still one of the better Wii games to satisfy your racing needs and I’d heartedly recommend it to anyone! Christmas is soon approaching, people...