Whether you’re into Formula 1 or not, if you like racing you’ll want to know up front if this is a ‘game’ or a ‘sim’. Because, ultimately, it all boils down to how the cars handle, how they feel.
In terms of the car physics, this is most definitely a sim. In this respect it is an entirely new game, when compared to F1 2010. Driving and racing is exhilarating, challenging yet satisfying, and very addictive. The cars now exhibit real physics and straight off the bat you’ll feel at ease in the cockpit knowing that your inputs and reactions deliver a response that fits, makes sense, and lets you know that the headroom –and there’s plenty of that – is in getting good at real driving, rather than mastering a hit and miss developer’s model of driving.
The car is just so much more responsive and dynamic than before. Codemasters point to a new suspension model as the main reason the cars are better, and you can certainly feel that at work. The cars are alive, dynamic and energetic. They are agile and respond beautifully to throttle and brake, with the car understeering beautifully as you lift, while pushing wide exactly as you’d expect when you squeeze on the perfectly responsive throttle. Braking power is immense, as it should be. Your braking points can be daringly later than the last game, while very precise control of both pedals yields equally precise dynamic response.
Car handling varies as it should across the types, though the McLaren is markedly different to the rest, being an angrier, peakier and twitchier car. Altogether though, all cars feel fast and powerful, and the sense of speed and acceleration is phenomenal.
KERS (a push-button dose of extra power) and DRS (another button that drops your rear wing for better speed and conversely less grip) alter the car feel enormously. KERS is dynamite, a real kicker that shakes the car, makes the engine scream and can be used to pass, or get back to speed quickly if you have an incident. It’s displayed on the wheel as remaining kWh and you get 400 to meter out in a lap. While DRS requires judicious use – drop the wing on a curve and you’ll knife off the track as downforce disappears in an instant. Regulations limit its use to designated straights and only when you’re within 1 second of the car in front, but it qualifying you’re free to use it anytime, which adds an exciting new dimension to pushing the car hard, as well as needing to create a setup that works for qualy as well as race.
On the track, AI is altogether new. Opponents are more aggressive and will cut you off and drive like they want to win, which is fantastic. It’s a bit too aggressive at times, and you’ll be bumped off the track too often, so if that’s a deliberate ‘gameplay’ element from Codemasters, tsk tsk from us.
Engines sound spectacular now. A huge improvement over the last game. There’s no more control lag either, and you really do need a wheel and pedals to enjoy this game properly, of course.
It doesn’t really look any better, though the nasty green tint Codies have used in racing games for years now is gone, so blue is finally blue. Object detail is very good, but textures are disappointingly flat. Wet races look very nice, though when a dry racing line appears it’s edged by brick-sized pixels that really detract.
Multiplayer now supports up to 16 players, and there can now be two of each car on the track, as it should be. You still can’t view a race replay after a multi-player session, and players can’t join a session already in progress, but on the flipside there’s a new co-op championship mode that’s brilliant fun to do with a mate.
We’ll consider F1 2010 a qualifying round for Codemasters. F1 2011 is the real race