Racing is still one of the more exhilarating pleasures that is purely reserved for video games, unless you are Dale Earnhardt Jr. or a professional street racer who belongs in the next Fast and the Furious film. For the rest of us, the wide-eyed bunch of kids who still love playing with Hot Wheels, there are countless of games that put the pedal to the metal on supercharged overdrive. The developers at Codemasters know a thing or two about racing, so much in fact, that they have their stamp labeled on anything with wheels lately.
F1 2010 was released last year in an attempt to establish a connection with the realistic depiction of Formula 1 racing, along with the unwavering speed and careening turns that accompany the sport. In this way it worked, especially as an overall experience, but certain refinements were needed to appeal to the demographic of those who aren’t associated with F1. Well, like all annual titles out there that’s what the next year is required for: improvements.
It’s odd though, if F1 2011 does anything significant, it’s making the sport even more hardcore that’s primarily aimed at longtime fans. You can absolutely jump into this game with no prior knowledge of Formula 1 and just feel the rush to drive very fast cars, but there will be a lot of information and techniques to suck in and get adjusted to. For one, the vehicles themselves feel more like the real deal now. Flying down a straight path at dizzying speed has a tremendous sensation of both panic and exhilaration.
An F1 car is light enough to soar off the track going at such supersonic speeds but the ingenious engineering behind its design keeps it from doing so. The sense of weight and control is more in tune then it was in F1 2010 and this change is especially noticeable when sharp corners are involved. 90 degree turns are not possible here; instead it’s all about slow precise cuts in the corners that can potentially give you the lead in tight matches. The intricacies of the handling are something to get used to but also immediately accessible to master with patience.
The skill required for F1 2011 is without a doubt more disheartening than last year but that’s a well-earned compliment. There is a lot of racing to do in this game and a steep learning curve to adapt to. But once you get into the full swing of things the pay-off is sweet, particularly when compared to most arcade racers out there that don’t have need for methodical thinking or the changing of tactics midway through a track. The driver A.I is another reason why newcomers may throw the game out in frustration. They are unforgiving forces of perfection, to defeat them you must be paying attention to everything happening around your car at all times.
Constantly being on the lookout for a swift opponent trying to sneak by on a hairpin turn is a ploy that’s to be expected. Nothing is given to you in F1 2011, it must be earned. Of course you can dial down the A.I settings (and you will), but after practicing on a lower difficulty for a while, you’ll soon feel reinvigorated to battle the best once again. It’s rewarding to finally beat a race that proved so unfeasible in the past and rocketing by the checkered line in first never fails to inject a moment of well-earned accomplishment.
The key to winning is managing your car for maximum benefit and possibilities. Customization is limited in the customization of your F1 vehicle but the inside of it is a completely different story. Maintaining tyre sets is a very important job, since a blowout can lead to a quick DQ. Practice sessions before races are mandatory for testing out shortcuts and new tricks, but on often occasion you’ll forget about switching wheel fittings during these runs.
Having a great practice is pointless if on race day you have already worn out your best tyre set because you forgot to switch them at training. This, along with the condition of the track and the debris involved with it, are qualities to always remember when driving. It’s a lot to consider when all you want to do is race but F1 is a complicated sport full of ongoing hazards that can continue to trip you up. Keeping your car in tip-top shape is most of the time more crucial to success then actually driving a race.
Additions in F1 2011 aren’t plentiful from a distance but they make the gameplay more cohesive and a deeper experience overall. A safety car is added to races now (you can turn it off at any time) that transitions the race perfectly after a large crash or pile up with the leader and the corresponding racers driving slowly behind waiting for the track to be cleared. You can pit your vehicle or change fuel mix using the safety car as a means to gain an advantage.
This adds even more elements to the already complex fundamentals of F1 2011 but it also makes it act and feel more authentic. The other real game-changer is the inclusion of the KERS and DRS systems. The former is a speed boost that doesn’t work like a shot of nitro but a subtle burst of momentum that can only be used once during a race. DRS adjusts the rear-wing of your F1 automobile, which slows down the pull of the car and adds acceleration to it. Both of these systems don’t alter anything on a surface level but they can shave time on qualifying runs and help considerably when going into heavy turns.
The career mode has a long length but it usually boils down to a repetitious procedure similar to last year’s entry. It’s like a rags to riches story off the track where you begin with a low reputation and minimal car options. Progression is the name of the game here, finishing higher and higher in position during races and eventually competing for the overall prize. In between races there are emails to read and dialogue choices to make that really do nothing for adding excitement into the mix. Sport games now for some reason, include this type of story-driven career mode that’s so tedious and disconnected to the actual gameplay that it seems inane as a concept. Future iterations of the F1 series should have a more involving career that has consequences which are tied to your development instead of choosing the right answer to a question of no significance.
Team races are always a good source of fun and strategy, but now with the inclusion of co-op, racing with a real life partner is extremely gratifying. Using a friend to block an opponent on your tail is just as exciting as it is battling for first place. It’s a competitive and co-op approach wrapped into one package. Multiplayer has 16 players with eight bots rounding out the line-up, and the action is more fierce and visceral than in single player. Crashes are aplenty when playing online, with most players not fully understanding the notion of braking or drafting. It’s still fun to drive against people aside from the A.I, this is largely due to the fact that humans make mistakes on a regular basis and this leads to a unpredictable type of racing.
F1 2011 looks great most of the time and especially when it rains. The developers put a lot of emphasis on the element of water when racing at breakneck speeds, its disorienting and invigorating at the same time. Car models are detailed enough and the 19 tracks included are nicely rendered even when the background is not meant to be of importance. Still, nothing is terribly exciting to look at besides the weather effects or the crashes. Tracks don’t feature much to distinguish themselves from the other, maybe a tree or two in a different location but that’s about it. Beyond looking realistic it’s hard to make F1 racing appear as dynamic as street racers or have the effect of globe-trotting adventure like in Gran Turismo.
Anyone who’s a fan of F1 racing has another game tailor-made for their admiration of the sport. They will dive right into the career and soak up countless hours trying to complete everything it has to offer. F1 2011 is truly the best representation of Formula 1 and the world that revolves within it. However, it’s a demanding experience that requires commitment and love for the sport. This may turn some people away from trying it out, but that’s mainly because they don’t care for F1 racing to begin with. Sticking with F1 2011 will result in an engaging complex driving simulator that perfectly captures the look and feel of Formula 1.
It’s a huge game with a long, but overdrawn, career mode and amusing multiplayer options with great co-op play. Racing at tremendous speeds is never a dull moment, not to mention when the cars happen to be the fastest vehicles on the planet, the rush of exhilaration can be intoxicating. F1 2011 captures this sensation seamlessly and makes you the pilot of a car only available through video game technology.