I feel sorry for F1 2011. The last “proper” racing game I played was the TOCA Touring Car Championship game for the PS1, which was released in 1997, so we’re talking a pretty big gap here. And I’m not really that much of an F1 fan. I’ll watch it if it is on, I guess, but it always seemed more exciting on TV than it ever would be either watching it live at the track, or actually driving the cars themselves. So it looks like we’re both stuck with each other, whether we like it or not. I can certainly say it’s a great representation of the real sport. It’s technical driving at its best. But if F1 2011 is truly the height of realism when it comes to Formula 1 racing games, I can quite confidently say that watching it from the comfort of your living room will beat playing the game if you’re not already an F1 connoisseur.
One word that sums up this game, and the sport in general, is “gentlemanly”, possibly highlighted a few times with massive circles drawn around it in red felt tip pen. I’d barely been playing five minutes when I unlocked an achievement called “Have you tried Dirt 3?” Avoiding the temptation to put this game down to pick up Dirt 3, I ploughed on through F1 2011 as a complete novice, hoping the game would ease me in gently and help me develop my basic driving skills without feeling the need to punish me or be too harsh on me from the first race.
Of course this would have been the logical thing for the game to do. Unfortunately, without the inner workings and deep knowledge of the F1 rulebook, a book that would easily make L. Ron Hubbard’s “Missions Earth” seems like a short read, I was soon being shouted at over my radio ear piece that I’d done something wrong, and that I was having another ten second penalty added to the end of this race. Erm, I thought I selected the “Easy” difficult for this, Codemasters? Surely there could be some tutorial video included for beginners on some of the basic mistakes to not make when driving? I lost points for cutting corners, unintentionally or otherwise, as well as causing collisions in front of me, collisions behind me (that still baffles me that I can be accountable for that which I cannot see) and crossing over invisible penalty lines that randomly decide I haven’t been penalised enough in the last thirty seconds.
My incompetence aside, the game’s visuals are a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve seen other reviewers wailing about how wonderful everything looks and sure, the cars themselves and the rain effects are spectacular, but I have to say I wasn’t really that wowed overall. Some of the human faces in the game seem a little prehistoric, if I am to be kind to the game, and the voice acting is as compelling as having Jeremy Irons read you the complete works of Shakespeare when he has a stonking cold. The frame rate also suffers somewhat for the apparently “phenomenal” graphics involved in the game. Several times the game chugged more than frat boys on “Free Beer Night”, which I wasn’t really expecting, and it is off-putting enough to be distracting, especially to someone who isn’t comfortable with this game to begin with.
I shan’t bother explaining the driving controls to you all, because anyone reading this is already a fan of Formula 1 and is probably preparing to send me enough turd in the mail to build a series of mud huts. The gear change mechanic seems to bug me more than anything. I am not a driver so this is probably another thing that appeals to me about games like Mario Kart, but at times my car would “over-rev” and I would lose speed. I presumed this was due to the gears being incorrect, so tried using X and A to increase and decrease gears at the correct moments. So either I was doing something massively wrong, or the game had already given up hope on me and was sulking in the corner somewhere trying to drink itself to death with a can of paraffin, because my car was having none of it, and no amount of breaking and decelerating was going to help me.
There is a Career Mode to play through as your chosen character. You get to pick a name at the start, so I went with Jonny Blaze, and fitted JB with a bright purple helmet. From here on in the game became far less interesting to me. You can play around with your tyres and aerodynamicism (should be a word, but isn’t), but the default settings seem to have your car ready for the road, so why you’d want to waste any time faffing around with this is beyond me. Apart from changing the type of tyre to match the weather, I see little use for this whole section. I used wet tyres once, I think, but it begs the questions why bother racing in a wet country anyway?
Anyway, you can also race freely in Grand Prix mode. The biggest issue I have here is that, whereas any other sport game can be shortened, F1 plays out in real time. So if you have to complete 58 one-minute laps, not accounting for the penalties and time spent staring at gravel, you’re already looking at well over an hour of gameplay for one race. With 19 courses on offer, most of them being an hour long if you play them at their full length, you’re already looking at 20 hours of input to try and see everything and experience everything properly. I don’t have the time or the patience to sit and be so blasé about going round in circles for hours on end, waiting for the planets to align themselves accordingly so I can fill out a letter to the HR department to allow me to overtake my competitor at the next turn.
There is the Proving Ground, to test yourself on some different skill sets during races as oppose to just “drive politely and go fast”, or indulge in some Multiplayer action. The game features split-screen multiplayer, which seems about as retro as the soundtrack in places, but was effective on a nice, large, lush screen and, for two complete novices playing together, actually provided a bit more enjoyment compared to the main campaign. Trying to outdo each other in the “Who can get the most penalties in a single race” stakes was more interesting than anything else I’d been asked to do thus far. On a smaller screen, however, things got a little clustered for my liking, and swapping my point of view, or looking behind me to try and prevent the idiots from crashing while they admire my shiny purple helment, got a tad on the confusing side.
Okay I better wrap things up here before I get carpet bombed by Codemasters. The game undoubtedly plays incredibly well for experts; looks incredibly nice compared to previous F1 titles; and is the cream of the crop when it comes to sporting simulators compared to their real life counterpart. But is it fun? For me, no, but for anyone else who is a driving game fan, or Formula 1 fan, this is probably an absolute dream title. There is an opportunity here for future games to be more accepting of novices, and give greater attention to us pedestrians in teaching us what the gears and other assorted bits mean. So I award points based on a combination of my experience, and what I think the game would be worth to someone who would want to play it. I personally would only score it a 4 or 5, but I know people who are playing this game for the right reasons, and are enjoying it, would score it an 8 or 9. So in the interest of fairness and all things gentlemanly…
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: Xbox 360/ PS3 Release Date: 23/09/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of F1 2011 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.