Despite some years out of the industry, F1 2010 put Formula One back on the map for gamers in a big way. Not only did it satisfy their craving for a realistic simulator that would allow them to play out their driving fantasies, but it delivered in a big way on the gameplay front too. We're now a year on, and Codemasters has had some time to reflect on what was essentially a renaissance for the franchise. The result is a game that builds upon last year's successes, but there's still some room for improvement.
Let's get things started by talking about the game's career mode. To mimic how many other sports franchises now tackle things, you can't just jump into the hot seat at McLaren or Red Bull. No, you have to start as a rookie and work your way up. This means you'll be offered a spot at some of the lowly teams, such as Lotus or Virgin.
The result of this is that you won't be winning races off the bat, much like a rookie racer won't expect to do the same. Someone like Paul di Resta, for example, has to be happy with a few finishes in the Top 10 during his opening - you should expect the same. It can be a bit frustrating, especially as teams like Lotus don't even employ all of the necessary technology, such as KERS.
That's not to say it isn't possible though, but in practice and qualifying, things are very different. In these very important parts of the race weekend, you're fighting with yourself and there isn't much interference when racing. This means that the AI will perform near perfect laps and qualification high-up on the grid becomes a real challenge. As it should, after all, you're a driver in one of the worst teams.
However, when it comes to race day, things change. The AI are much more negative about how they drive when there are other cars around. They will set much slower lap times and it's down to their very early braking. Despite driving the same way as in qualifying, where you ended up way down the field, you'll find yourself passing people with ease just by braking a little bit later into hairpins or tight corners.
It creates an interesting mix, because you may well struggle in qualifying, but on race day, you should be able to get a good gain of places. Sometimes you might even still be able to win a race despite qualifying in one of the last few rows. The problem for Codemasters here, is that they don't want to make the game too punishing, but there is a definite lack of consistency.
Another problem, is that once you go into your second season with a better team - for example, Force India - things become a lot easier. Perhaps too much easier. Now you have access to technology such as KERS and the Drag Reduction System (DRS) becomes much more accessible so utilising this correctly can see you setting times 3-4 seconds faster even though your skill as a driver hasn't improved. Again, this is realistic to a degree, but the balancing needs some work. You'll go from struggling to qualify above 19th to getting pole position without too much trouble.The interviews that appear throughout the career mode are also something that's been implemented very poorly. It's disappointing that David Croft couldn't have been utilised in a more effective way, because it's rather embarassing. After practice sessions, qualification and races he'll be there with his trusty camera man to ask you questions. But it's a very underwhelming element and it doesn't appear to affect anything. It's also quite frustrating when he keeps asking you the same pointless questions like - do you think you can win the title... even though there's no chance in hell of that happening.
That's enough griping though, because the core gameplay experience is second to none. There are plenty of simulation driving games on the market, but none of them quite capture the speed of driving like F1 2011.
Small movements can make the world of difference and when you're driving you do get the sense that you could fly off of the track at any moment if you make a mistake. It does a great job of demonstration just what drivers like Sebastien Vettel have to go through as they try to perfect their craft and it's rather fascinating.
Describing the sense of auxileration the game projects is quite difficult. But there's nothing quite like the playing the game and trying to push both the limits of the car and your mental limits. It's a very raw experience - this is how driving games should feel.
It isn't without its faults though and there are still a few physics glitches that pop up every now and then - such as when the car drives along on two wheels for quite a while. It also doesn't feel as though damage plays a massive part. Losing your front wing doesn't seem like that much of a big deal in a race.
The recreation of the courses also deserves a special mention as it's fantastic. Monaco feels very claustrophobic and when you have to do certain courses in the rain, it changes the game entirely. You may think you're quite good at a certain course, but when the heavens open, confidence seeps away very quickly.
In terms of replay value, it depends on what you're looking for. In many ways, F1 2011 is a bit disappointing. The core game modes are there, but there's very little beyond what's expected of the game. You can continue doing career mode and there is of course the option to just do a generic Grand Prix at multiple distance settings. Online is also thrown in there as is a time trial mode - but it's all very bland. Perhaps in future installments they could add things it to make things a little bit more fun, such as driving challenges.
You can level up your driver too, but there doesn't seem to be anything that's actually attached to doing so - it just feels like an arbitrary number to make you feel like you're achieving something.
F1 2011 is a driving simulation like no other, but that's not where its faults lie. Sure there are the odd glitches that plague most driving games, but it's the other elements that the game feels a bit flat. The career feels a bit unbalanced and the game's modes are very standard. It's a shame, because it takes the sheen away from a driving experience that portrays all the raw emotion of Formula One perfectly.
|Great representation of Formula One driving.|
|Course recreation is fantastic.|
|Weather effects change everything and show the true presentation values of the game.|
|The career mode feels quite unbalanced.|
|Interview segments add nothing and can be a bit annoying.|
|The package feels light on modes - it does what it needs to do and nothing more.|