F1 2011 Review
Written : Friday, September 16, 2011
By: Richard Walker
Formula One is a tough sport. That's one thing you can take from playing F1 2011 straight away, and while you might watch Formula One on the weekends, thinking it doesn't look all that difficult continuously driving around a circuit for a few hours, a brief spell with the second F1 title to leave Codemasters' racing garage will dispel any preconceptions you might have of the sport. Hardcore fans will already know the score here, and F1 2010 did a bang up job in simulating the many intricacies of F1 racing, but believe it or not, Codies has managed to wring even more out of the sport this year, in the same way a constructor ekes out every last drop of power from its cars race after race.
This might not come as much of a surprise considering this is only Codemasters Birmingham's second lap with the F1 license, but when the studio's first effort was as exhaustive and as comprehensive as F1 2010, how can there be room for improvement? Erm... Quite easily actually. It was obvious in what areas the previous game was lacking, and Codies apparently knows this too and has gone to great lengths in ensuring that F1 2011 represents the most complete Formula One experience imaginable. Seriously; everything is in the game, except for the glamour model girlfriends and copious mountains of cash.
"Sure, driving for Red Bull would be great, but..."
You'll open your illustrious (or in our case, disastrous) career with a press interview where you'll enter your name, announce which team you'll be racing with from a choice of lower rung competitors, and your expectations for the year ahead. You can be modest or brag like some sort of mouthy idiot if you like, and subsequent interviews between races enable you to trash talk your team or be diplomatic, thus preventing the burning of bridges. This is part and parcel of creating that full F1 experience, which like its predecessor extends to the garage, but this time, you can now hang out in the parc ferme too. Here you have your own office space looking out onto the pre-race bustle, where you can check your emails, choose your helmet from 22 designs, look at the race calendar, or perv at the pit girls from out of your window.
This is essentially mission control for your season, and before all 19 races, you'll be dropped here before heading into the garage, where the real business happens. Sat in your cockpit, you'll get to know your engineer, set up your car, fanny around with tyres and then decide whether you can be arsed to put in practice laps, go qualify and then race. You'll get the latest weather reports to aid you in making the right choices before venturing out onto the track, but if you can't be bothered with all of that stuff, then there's the quick set-up option to make things easier for you. And equally, if you're put off by the normal, hard and expert settings that provide an ultra-realistic simulation when racing, you can opt to play on easy with braking assists and the optimum racing line switched on.
This is how we played to begin with, just to get the lay of the land and test the car out, before choosing the full-fat sim. Truth be told, we found it hard enough just steering the car on easy mode, so suffice to say, we consistently ended up being shown the black flag for blocking, getting numerous penalties for cutting corners and being disqualified for our overly-aggressive driving in simply jostling for a better position with the harder difficulties. F1 2011 gives you a real insight into just how frustrating it must be for a driver competing with a lower level team, because we just wanted to ram the cars we had no hope of ever catching into the tyre walls. Should debris from a crash litter the track, you can now drive behind the silver Mercedes safety car, which is also new to F1 2011. Huzzah!
"...we completely suck."
Career then is the crux of F1 2011, with your team – we chose UK-based Team Lotus – having to vie for position with what you've got, which to begin with, isn't a whole lot. Your objectives include achieving 20th place on the grid to go on to achieve 18th place in the ensuing race to begin with. Anything beyond that is a bonus, and as you progress your team's demands become more, well... demanding. Couple that with having to compete with your team mate with progress in Team Mate Challenges measured between races, and you have a lot on your proverbial plate. We stepped into Heikki Kovalainen's shoes at Lotus, and found that kicking Jarno Trulli's ass was easy enough, but the lack of progress in the grand scheme of things feels like banging your head against a brick wall. If you want to race with the big boys, you'll have to put in the hours gaining XP to level up your reputation and make the other teams take notice. Luckily, you can still set each race to 3 laps to make things easier on yourself, or if you're a true F1 fan or a sadist, you can race a full-length Grand Prix.
Beat your team mate, and the team will then appoint you as number one driver and build the car around you, based upon your needs. Or you could just jump straight into a single Grand Prix from the main menu for instant gratification, able to pick from any of the 12 cars, 24 drivers and 19 circuits. 'Nuff said. Career will be the first port of call for many though, and its hard to find a deeper and more definitive racing experience out there. New rule changes are taken into account too this year, so hitting Y for the DRS (Drag Reduction System) for an overtaking boost is another strategical point to consider, as is the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems), which can be deployed by pressing the left bumper.
There's so much to take in, that F1 2011 can seem daunting, and indeed the sheer depth of options to tweak and fiddle with will delight the most ardent petrolhead fans out there, but could prove off-putting for some. Codemasters has nailed the 'Be the Driver, Live the Life' mantra this year, and the visuals are still every bit as eye-poppingly realistic as they were last year, if not more so. With the weather, tyre effects, car models and tracks all improved, the visuals are pretty much flawless and everything has its place and consequence within the overarching F1 framework. So, rain tyres for wet races, slicks for dry days and so on and so forth. There's obviously more to it than that though.
"At least our tears of failure are lost in the rain."
F1 2011 also adds 'Go Compete' to its tagline this year, which means a full grid for online multiplayer (16 human players and 8 AI) and brilliantly, the option to tackle an F1 championship with a friend in co-op, which boasts support for local splitscreen, system link and online co-op. Codemasters has truly thought of everything. Competing in multiplayer is of course every bit as trying as you'd expect although the lobbies have been improved and it's much smoother overall, but co-op is a masterstroke, upping the competitive element between your team's two drivers considerably. This time, it's personal!
As you'd expect, F1 2011's achievements aren't particularly easy, much like the game itself, and if like us it takes you forever to grind though one race, then you'll be playing for a long time before you unlock anything. It's indicative of our racing skill (or rather lack thereof) that the first achievement we unlocked was called 'Have You Considered DiRT 3?' for a 10-metre drift. Clearly, we're not cut out for this F1 malarkey. Nor are we cut out for winning 9 consecutive F1 career victories to beat Alberto Ascari's record. Nods to the great Ayrton Senna in the list are very welcome, although the achievements in general feature a lot of grinding, but they're not too bad overall.
With the EGO Engine looking better than ever, providing minute attention to detail and startling weather effects, F1 2011 also has more depth than a bottomless pit and presents a sterner challenge than trying to KO Mike Tyson with both arms tied behind your back It's about as close to climbing into the cockpit of a real Formula One car as you can get. There are masses of improvements that we could spend another several pages listing, but the fact remains that F1 2011 is hard as nails and could prove too much of a grind for some. For F1 fans though, there's little to fault here, with the competition between drivers behind-the-scenes improving the career mode immeasurably.
Menu music is fine, but on the track, it's the angry beehive sound of engines and tactical talk from your team keeping you informed. It's realistic, sure, but might drive you insane after a while.
There really is no faulting F1 2011's graphical fidelity. Cars and tracks are right on the money, and the weather effects and tyre wear are still incredible. The EGO Engine has done it again. If we were being picky, and let's for the sake of argument say that we are, we'd say the pit crew and your driver look a bit weird.
Again, there's essentially no faulting F1 2011 as a racer. The handling is superlative and the game plays like a dream. Provided you can master it, of course.
Grand Prix is for the more casual F1 player or the newbie cutting his teeth, career is for the purists, while co-op and multiplayer offer something for the competitive socialite. F1 2011 has it all, and with competition between you and your team mate heating things up, the monotony of going round and round circuits is alleviated somewhat.
Grind, grind, grindy, grind, grind. There are some decent achievements in here, such as the nod to Senna and the funny DiRT 3 reference, but for the most part, this is a grinder of a list.
Codemasters Birmingham has excelled in improving upon F1 2010, resolving some of the issues that held back its first effort, with a game that offers the definitive Formula One experience. F1 2011 is an awesome racing game, but really, only the hardcore need apply. This is as real as it gets, and as such deserves the champagne and podium treatment.