Formula 1 is one of the hottest properties in sports at the moment, especially in the United Kingdom, with the last two seasons resulting in British champions. However, there hasn't been a Formula 1 game for a few years, as it last appeared exclusively on the PlayStation 3 and was developed by SCE Studio Liverpool. The licence has now been acquired by Codemasters, and Sumo Digital have been tasked with creating F1 2009 for the Nintendo Wii.
Everything is fully licenced in the game, with all of the teams appearing as well as all of the drivers and tracks. Even the newly created Yas Marina Circuit is included and it all helps to give the game an authentic feel. However, the game oddly comes out at the end of the season, whereas most sports-based titles come out towards the start of a season. It unfortunately means that the game is already out of date, as some drivers actually changed teams before the game was even released. With no updates available, it could be seen as a negative for some, but it doesn't affect the gameplay at all.
Players are able to jump straight in to races, selecting to race as their favourite driver, or they can take things at a much slower pace by taking part in a Career. This sees players taking the role of a newcomer to the Formula 1 scene, who has to earn his place on a team by performing well in a trial. From here, everything mimics that of a real season, with practice sessions, qualifying sessions and of course, the races. It's nice to be an unknown, but it doesn't really offer much in terms of progression, and while there is a email service to give brief updates, it doesn't feel overly engaging. Sometimes quotes will appear from other racers, but they seem like stock quotes, as they don't often match the personality of the person who's supposed to be saying them. The most exciting parts of Career mode probably come during the close seasons, because other than that, it's essentially just the same as playing Championship Mode.
Formula 1 is an extremely high-octane sport, and the cars in real life are finely tuned and well refined. Parts of the experience translate well to this version of the game, but unfortunately others are a bit lacking. There is definitely a sense of speed, but the handling borders on arcade racing, as opposed to a simulation-based experience. It's not uncommon to see opposition drivers look like they're actually drifting around corners, and the player's car sometimes feels like it's driving on ice, as it swerves around. It just looks and feels like there's a severe lack of down force on the car and it ruins the illusion of driving some of the most powerful cars on the planet. Aside from this, using the basic Wii Remote and Nunchuck combination also hinders the experience, as none of the controls are analogue-based. It means that the throttle and brake are either on or off, and the Nunchuk causes a similar situation when steering unless players are extremely soft with its handling.
To help players who might not be ready for the full experience, there are quite a few driving aids available. These include turning off realistic damage, parts failures and the adoption of a suggested driving line. It makes it a lot more accessible, but for the hardcore, the options are still there to customise all the tuning aspects of the car. It's nice, and with other additions such as different weather types, and grip which changes as the event progresses through the different sessions, it means that more serious fans shouldn't dismiss the title despite some of the gameplay elements not being overly realistic. Kers, the innovative system revolving around kinetic energy, has also been included for use on all cars in the field.
Graphically, the game is practical. It look as expected, and doesn't really do anything more than that. Cars are accurately modelled and the tracks are faithful to their real life counterparts. There are some noticeable frame-rate drops at times though and they seem to happen at specific moments, not randomly. The weather effects also aren't overly convincing, especially in heavy rain when looking backwards. Sound design is also adequate, but again it doesn't really go beyond what's expected. While racing, players will hear someone from the pit crew who speaks in a very monotone voice about current affairs.
F1 2009 does offer a decent amount of replayability, as there's a strong focus on the 2-player multiplayer mode. It's essentially the same experience as single-player, but it's much more fun racing this type of high-pressure experience against someone else. The accessibility means it's open to almost everyone too. Challenges are also available to mix things up a bit and these can be played single player or against a friend. Some of them involve simply winning a race, while others reward taking corners correctly. There are also special challenges where the player must achieve success in difficult conditions.
It's good to see Formula 1 games being produced again, and F1 2009 isn't a bad ambassador for the sport. However, dedicated fans may well be turned off by the game's confused gameplay style and its already out of date roster. All the expected modes are included and these are bolstered by challenges and a 2-player experience, but while it's the Formula 1 game that was needed, it's not necessarily the Formula 1 game that does the licence justice.