F1 2011 Review
- F1 2011
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Format reviewed: PS3
Made2Game F1 2011 review score: 8/10
Truth be told, I was never a keen follower of F1. With Schumacher winning year after year and the remaining drivers too preoccupied with fussing over their hairstyles rather than their lap times, it became a predictable and uneventful waste of a Sunday afternoon. No, to get my motorsport fix I would always rely on the lunatics in the British Touring Cars for some entertaining close racing action.
It was a similar story with the F1 game series. Initially revolutionary, the influx of yearly releases made them become as stale and unexciting as the sport they portrayed. Again, I flocked to the British Touring Car games, which represented Codemasters’ first foray into the racing genre.
Things have since changed: F1 is now actually watchable (although you could argue Vettel’s winning streak mirrors the days of Schumacher), the popularity of the Touring Cars has dwindled whereas F1 has risen and Codemasters are now at the top of their game.
Codemasters’ unexpected takeover of the F1 license was an important milestone, as prior to F1 2010 we hadn’t seen an F1 game in years. Coming just a year after F1 2010’s monumental success, it’s therefore hard not to fear that F1 2011 signifies a return to the lacklustre yearly updates of the past.
Indeed, if you played F1 2010 religiously you’ll get a strong whiff of familiarity, but you’ll also be able to spot the subtle yet potent tweaks. The handling, for example, has markedly improved since last season, swapping the somewhat twitchy model for a more refined approach that improves the experience tenfold.
The cars feel much more taut and responsive as a result, allowing you to tuck into corners with added precision. It’s particularly noticeable when equipped with a racing wheel, but don’t be surprised if your arms are begging for a break after a full length race.
That’s not to say taming these high powered machines is an easy task – switch off the assists and the cars suddenly bite with acute ferocity from the slightest misjudgement, just as you would expect in real life.
It demands a refreshingly unrelenting level of concentration and endurance, making the prospect of participating in a full length 70 lap race all the more daunting. Coupled with the challenging AI, F1 2011’s races are often pulsating – the sheer challenge means that finishing in 8th can conjure an equal sense of accomplishment as a podium position. It’s testament to the skill of the drivers who are now forced to drive without the aid of traction control, a feat I found practically impossible.
To say that F1 2011 can be relentlessly difficult at times would be an understatement, but there are fortunately a multitude of assists that can be enabled if it all proves too daunting. That’s the beauty of F1 2011: it can be endlessly tweaked to suit your skill level to the point you can set the cars to auto-brake for you.
Don’t fancy a gruelling 70 lap race? It’s now possible to participate in short but sweet 3 lap races, though it would have been nice to be able to fully customise the number of laps as 12 laps is the next lowest setting, which is still a long race. While ideal for a quick fix, I can’t help but feel that doing so deprives you of immersion somewhat, as you don’t have to strategise over pit stops.
Unfortunately, Codemasters’ attempts to draw you into the life of an F1 driver fall largely flat. While navigating menus from your cockpit in the pit stop before a race is a nice touch, having to trawl through emails, sit through laborious driver cutscenes and answer inconsequential interview questions still feels tacked on and doesn’t seem to have evolved much from F1 2010. Plus, the least said about Codemasters’ lifeless character models the better.
Fortunately, the car models boast significantly higher levels of detail. Dashboards are faithfully authentic to their real life counterparts this time round, and you’ll see a lot more parts shatter in a shower of debris when you inevitably crash. It’s a shame we don’t get to marvel at the cars in closer detail, in all honesty.
Rain effects still look stunning when trickling droplets obscure your visor, and fellow racers kick up copious amounts of spray for good measure just to heighten the drama. Coupled with having to strenuously concentrate on your driving, the other racer’s positions and the monotone voice of your instructor dishing out instructions, this is where F1 2011 is at its most fraught and totally soaks you in.
Elsewhere, the graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. Trackside detail has improved and the colours don’t look as washed out as before, but the presentation still looks a little bland overall. F1 2011 also suffers from frame rate issues on the PS3, which is particularly noticeable whenever you exit the pit lane – perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Driver: San Francisco’s flawless 60 FPS, but speeding at 200 mph doesn’t feel as fluid as it should.
F1 2011 may stumble when it tries to replicate the personal life of an F1 driver, but if you can’t fault it when it comes to authenticity in adhering to the 2011 season. Most notable, and arguably the most significant additions to the game, is the inclusion of two new race rules: KERS and DRS.
KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) initiates a 7 second 80bhp boost which is recharged after each lap and works much like a typical racing game nitrous – except F1 drivers use it in real life. Yes, a motorsport has conformed to videogames. Probably.
DRS (Drag Reduction System), on the other hand, opens the rear wing on specific parts of the track for an added speed boost due to the decreased downforce. Careful use of both DRS and KERS can work in your favour when overtaking, offering an additional element of strategy to consider, and it’s undeniably made the sport more watchable if it means more overtaking.
To the delight of fans, even the hotly-requested Safety Car has finally made it into F1 2011 after being noticeably absent from F1 2010. Its optional appearance is fleeting however, restricting your speed for two laps after an incident thus narrowing your lead if you’re far ahead of the opposition. I only saw the safety car called out a couple of times during the course of a season.
F1 2011’s AI drivers are considerate and intelligent, dodging each other and slowing down accordingly – the same cannot be said for much of the online community. Up to 16 players can race online with a further 8 AI drivers to make a full 24 car grid, but enter a 3 lap race and it’s often utter pandemonium as idiotic players treat it more like a round of Burnout by repeatedly smashing into you at every given opportunity.
Playing with likeminded players or friends is therefore essential to gain the best experience online, but it’s the new online co-op career that provides the most quintessential online F1 experience. Here, you and a friend can compete in the same racing team for a full racing season whilst still competing against each other for the championship. It’s a smart idea on Codemaster’s part, though it’s disappointing to find it isn’t available in split screen.
F1 2011 is undoubtedly a better game than its predecessor, but if you already own F1 2010 then a purchase largely rests on your level of F1 fandom. Its numerous updates feel incremental rather than revolutionary, yet still profound enough to warrant a yearly release. It’s still got a way to go until it fully captures the ambience that comes with an F1 season, but F1 2011’s deep and rewarding driving still remains the best video game representation the sport has seen.
Words by Martin Bigg (Twitter: @drivinggamespro)
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