F1 2011 Review
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham / Publisher: Codemasters / ESRB: Everyone (Mild Lyrics) / Played On: Xbox 360 / Cost: $59.99
If you could think of a single 12-month period that was the best in a developer/publisher’s history, what would it be? Yeah, it’s a tough call for me, too. But undoubtedly, you’d have to include Codemasters’ 2010-2011 on that list. And in my opinion, they’re doing it with little recognition or fanfare; ask your everyday gamer what companies are going to have a huge year, and I’d be willing to bet they say EA or Activision.
I thought F1 2010 was last year’s best racing game. Up until a couple weeks ago, I thought Dirt 3 was this year’s. But now I’m reconsidering that assessment.
The Ego Engine that powers both the Dirt and F1 franchises is something special. Even one year on, I’m amazed at how it spits out water effects at such high speed. I was qualifying in the rain at Sepang and I couldn’t see anything as I got up under the rear wing of the driver in front of me. My only navigation aid was the strip of dry, racing line tarmac that looped the course. And somehow I managed to turn in a few clean go-rounds to make 15th place on the grid. But the spray, drops, and driving physics when it’s raining is just a racing sim gamer’s wet dream (pun intended).
Of course the tracks still look great when the sun dries everything up, too. It’s just not as wow-worthy as last year since outside of two courses, they’re all the same, with minor visual tweaks here and there. This isn’t a failing of the game, just a reality of the real F1 season.
While the graphics look amazing and the menus are as gorgeous as ever, I was a bit dismayed with some textures when viewed up close. Car liveries aren’t quite as sharp as they should be, displaying a blurriness that contrasts sharply with the lighting at work as you get closer and closer. Track environments look about the same as last year, but they are noticeably flat (especially the grandstands at China; welcome to the PS2 era of visuals).
But for every slightly off texture or blurry car decal, you get amazing effects like marbling and roadside debris on tires and the rain.
Last year’s game was great. This year’s game is even better, thanks to the improved physics and handing model (though I still do have an issue with that). Let’s start with the positives: in 2010’s game, there were spots on every circuit that would send you into an instant spin out if you took them at the wrong angle. These were usually the inside curbs of hairpins, or sharply cambered corners that destabilized the inside wheels. And there was nothing you could do about them; hit one of those spots, your race was pretty much shot.
In 2011, the car feels much more attached to the ground. There’s a relationship between the tarmac and the tires. Because of this, the insta-spin is pretty much gone, and you’re free to attack the curbs through chicanes much more aggressively (and this makes me wistful that Imola is no longer part of the F1 tour). There are still spots that are tricky to navigate at high speeds, but not so many. It’s also easier to catch the car as it starts to go into a spin, meaning you can save yourself if you get into trouble and stay on track.
That said, I think it’s way too easy to get the back end to slide out. The default car setups are all really squirrely, inducing over-steer around corners that should be flat out affairs. I constantly have to adjust the rear wing aerodynamics to keep the car glued to the road. The only reason I bring this issue up is because these are supposed to be representations of some of the most technologically advanced race vehicles on the planet, capable of pulling five lateral Gs around corners. The game makes driving them sometimes feel like you’re driving on dirt or ice.
What I like best about the gameplay in this year’s game is the ability to make minute difficulty balances through a number of options. You have control over how hard or easy the AI racers are, how much of a racing line you want on the track, and whether or not you’re driving with assists like ABS or traction control. You adjust these factors independently of one another, meaning no matter what skill level you are, you can find a happy medium to stay competitive during a Grand Prix. Racing games sometimes fail to get the balance right, and thankfully F1 2011 delivers.
One of the new additions to both the real world F1 season and the game is the KERS and DRS options. Both of these were implemented to make the sport more exciting for viewers and allow for more overtaking. For the game, that effect is magnified a hundredfold. KERS allows you to store several seconds of extra engine power every lap that can be used for a small boost to your speed. DRS can only be used when you’re within a second of the racer ahead of you, but it allows you to fold the back wing of your car up to make it more aerodynamic. Using both of these systems during qualifying and races adds an incredible level of subtle tactics to every moment. Do you save your KERS for the long straight or use it to get to red line speed quicker coming out of a slow corner? KERS and DRS are one of those amazing moments where the real world gets more videogame-like but also makes the videogame world better because of its existence.
Career mode is back in 2011, with some marginal improvements. The interface is a lot cleaner and simpler. Interviews are still in the game, and it feels like you’ll do more of them, but there hasn’t been a lot of improvement in the questions or the responses; it’s still very simple. I was also a little dismayed that you can only do a total of five consecutive seasons, rather than last year’s option to choose three, five, or seven. Why remove that feature?
In the online space, you can play with up to 16 players (and fill in the rest of the grid with eight AI cars). There’s also a co-op championship mode this year, where you and a buddy can take a team through the F1 season together. I don’t know how else to say it: this is awesome. Team racing hasn’t been explored too often in the genre, definitely not in sim racers, and it’s thrilling to join another F1 fanatic as members of the oft-maligned HRT Racing to change the world.
I really, really like F1 2011. It’s the most exhilarating racing experience I’ve had since Dirt 3, and if you had to ask me which one I liked better, it would be like having to choose one of my children to sacrifice. Even with my complaints on the new handling model, it’s still a ridiculously fun game. The sense of speed, the finely adjustable difficulty curve, and the new rules freshen up a familiar presentation package to make F1 2011 an excellent choice for drivers and gamers.
9 / 10