Be the driver, live the life? Not quite.
When Codemasters claimed the exclusive rights to the Formula One license for the price of a medium-sized country, expectations were high that the DiRT/GRID publisher would turn around a solid game to please fans. Last year’s F1 2010 was surprisingly good, though not without its faults. Codemasters wasted no time in getting a follow-up ready, but despite the developer diaries touting a vastly improved game, what’s the team really delivered?
To be honest, it’s hard to say. Side by side, F1 2011 looks and feels awfully similar to its predecessor. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but many of the new features fail to impress. The meat of the single-player is the Career mode, but don’t expect any bells or whistles. You’re provided 19 courses from around the world and race them one at a time to complete a season. Every round includes Practice, Qualify, and Race segments, so you’ll be getting to know each track intimately.
You can greatly customize your F1 experience, and that’s one of the game’s notable strengths. If you want to drive the entire 60-lap-plus race with full tire wear and dynamic weather conditions, you can. If you want to turn off damage completely and make every race a mere three laps to quickly swoop up as many achievements as possible, you can. With five long seasons to hone your skills, the game gives you the perfect opportunity to slowly wean yourself off of assists and ramp up the difficulty accordingly.
2011 saw a number of rule changes to the sport, including the DRS and KERS systems, which Codemasters has faithfully implemented into the game. DRS—or drag-reduction system—is a controversial feature meant to stimulate more frequent overtakes. In real life, it’s the equivalent of Mario Kart’s spiky blue shell, as the leading car has no way to properly combat the new mechanic. In the game, I predict most players will skip using it altogether, since the parameters are extremely strict. Likewise for the KERS—or Kinect Energy Reduction System—which was introduced to the sport in 2009 and removed in 2010. I’d suggest not getting too attached to these features, as they likely won’t be around next year.
The other big addition—and easily the most requested by fans—is the safety car. During races of 20 percent or more (meaning you race a fifth of the laps that you would in real life), the safety car will be deployed under certain conditions to assist the pack in avoiding road hazards. The appearance of the safety car drastically changes racing strategy, acting as a midrace restart that tightly packs all the action together once more. It can actually be pretty intense plotting your move for when the green flag drops and the speed limit is lifted. Unfortunately, the average player will never even see the safety car, as applicable accidents are few and far between.
Last but not least is the co-op championship, easily the game’s most innovative feature. A quick note: If you’re thinking your partner can just turn sideways and bottleneck the AI, letting you lap everyone while laughing maniacally, expect to get disqualified with haste. Sadly, co-op can only be played online, which is probably for the best, considering splitscreen’s reminiscent of Virtua Racing on the 32X. In fact, the entire game suffers from bland, underwhelming visuals that aren’t all in line with Codemasters’ usual aesthetic pedigree. At least twice, I checked to see if my Xbox 360 controller was plugged into a Wii. Aside from that one unique mode, this game is loaded with only the most basic of multiplayer options, none of which you’ll enjoy anyway since everyone online drives like they’re playing Burnout.
To say F1 2011 is the best Formula One game on the market is a rather hollow compliment, considering a total deficiency of competition, but despite a mostly lackluster overall package, it does manage to be an enjoyable, challenging experience for a very distinct type of gamer. If Codemasters intends to solidify these releases as an annual tradition, I just hope they put a little more value into next year’s outing. And for crying out loud—can we get some textures on these buildings?
SUMMARY: A fairly bare-bones package with solid gameplay and mediocre visuals, F1 2011 could’ve been so much more. Not a bad buy, but not a great one, either.
- THE GOOD: Sturdy, rewarding gameplay
- THE BAD: Few meaningful additions to this year’s offering
- THE UGLY: Embarrassingly outdated visuals
F1 2011 is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.