I’m a self-confessed sports management game addict. I’ve sank more hours days weeks into Championship Manager and Football Manager than I care to admit. I’ve cancelled nights out when I’ve looked at my watch and realised it’s 11pm and I should have been in the pub at 8. I’ve spent hours tweaking and tinkering with formations and set pieces, doing everything I can to get the upper hand on my opponents and I’ve been fixated on the tiniest financial details of how my club is run. Truly, I am a man obsessed.
On the other hand I’ve never been particularly excited about motorsport in any of its many guises. While I can appreciate a daring high speed overtake manoeuver and I watch the replays of a crash with the same perverse enjoyment as everyone else (don’t lie to yourself, we all do it), the idea of sitting through an entire F1 race fills me with a dread I normally reserve for occasions involving distant relatives whose names I have long ceased caring to remember.
This is why I found being asked to review F1 Online:The Game an intriguing prospect. Would the lure of complete hands on control of all aspects of a racing team create an enjoyable and engrossing gaming experience for me or would the F1 management sim fail to cross the finish line?
After a simple registration process you’re presented with 3 options. You can’t yet take control of one of the current F1 teams as this is a reward for progressing through the game, so for now you can either create your own team or go through a tutorial.
The tutorial starts with teaching you how to control your car. This is all done via the mouse and a couple of keys. It’s a very simple control scheme but once the brake assist comes off it takes nimble fingers to hit the anchors while careering round the tight corners. It took me a few laps to get the hang of this but by the end of the tutorial I felt happy to move on.
You view the driving action from an isometric viewpoint which moves round as the race progresses. It’s quite a close camera angle so it’s easy to be surprised by a tight corner. Thankfully there’s a mini map in the bottom corner to show where on the course you are.
The team creation is as expected. You pick a name for your team (Munkisport in my case), design an emblem using the creation tools then pick colour schemes and patterns on both the vehicle and the drivers helmet. After this you’re presented with the Garage screen. Here is the main hub of the game, where you can upgrade your vehicles. For now you’re hurtled through into your first race, which I was surprised to see wasn’t against the computer but against other human competitors.
Racing against other people was a different experience than the tutorial laps. I kept losing focus on the tracks and instead following the person in front, more often than not leading to me going head first into a barrier. After regaining some composure I managed to finish to a not exactly terrible (but could have been much better) 8/14.
The completion of this race allocates your fledgling team some much needed funds and to progress the game insists you invest this money into the rather critical engine component. A few short minutes later your newly created part is completed and fixed into your car. The game then asks you to take part in another race, this time with the objective of finishing in the top 20. With my new engine and some nifty overtaking work I roared home in 3rd place.
The game does a great job of holding your hand through the initial few hours of game play. Through a variety of methods, from on screen prompts to the achievement system, F1 Online gradually opens up the various aspects needed to run your team. There’s a huge amount of areas that need your input and it could have easily been incredibly overwhelming but credit should go to Codemasters for creating an intuitive and well explained system. The Research, Commercial, Production and Race functions are all introduced slowly, giving you a chance to get to grips with the wide range of options.
As your in game level progresses your car needs to follow suit. Moving up the classes requires more of your winnings to be invested in the development of your vehicle so you can keep up with the other competitors. This brings in an RPG style element to the game as you use the development points earned while levelling up to create new blueprints for improved components and buy ‘perks’ for your team which give bonuses such as extra XP or quicker development times.
As is usual for free to play games there are certain aspects which can involve real world money. Boosts can be purchased throughout the game and these vary between converting cash into in game currency, giving you an XP boost or providing more workers for creating your parts. I’m pleased to say that at no point did I feel that my progress was being hindered by a reluctance to invest my hard earned cash into the game, although I would guess that those who become heavily involved in the game may feel it’d be beneficial in the long term.
It should be noted that F1 online is still in beta. Despite its work in progress tag I only had a single issue during gameplay where my car stopped accelerating. Quickly releasing the mouse button and pressing again rectified this. Thankfully this didn’t affect my position in the race however if it was to occur on the final straight while neck and neck with another racer I can imagine it’d be hugely frustrating.
F1 Online is a very good game which in many ways belies it’s free to play tag. A combination of in depth management, easily accessible arcade style driving and a constant feeling of progress makes this an addictive game which is easy enough to lose a few hours in while also maintaining the ability to pick up and quickly compete in a few quick races if you’ve got 10 minutes to spare. More importantly it’s enjoyable to those with little knowledge of F1 and won’t be overwhelming to those who aren’t regulars to the world of management based games. I wholeheartedly recommend this game and look forward to seeing how it progresses on from the current beta stage.