F1 2011 – Preview
With the British Grand Prix weekend starting in one day at the time of writing, it’s somewhat fitting that within the confines of the M25, in a building close to Shepherd’s Bush sits, if you let your imagination run, a temporary paddock. Within those rather white walls awaits Codemasters and a look at how F1 2011 is shaping up. Will it be sitting on pole position or suffer from technical difficulties before a KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) malfunction causes a perilous slide down the grid?
Codemasters are no strangers to the racing genre, with hit titles like Grid and Dirt under their belts, but it was the release of Formula One 2010 that sent them in a new direction as it gave fans the chance to sit within the cockpit and experience the pinnacle of motorsport, all from the comfort of their own home.
When it was released last year, F1 2010 ended a drought in the racing genre that had, from a fan’s perspective at least, gone on for far too long. There were a few niggles here and there, but critical acclaim was set to follow as it became the first Formula One game to reach the top spot in the UK charts for over a decade. F1, it seemed, was back on everyone’s radar. On the back of the success of 2010 all eyes soon started shifting towards the inevitable 2011 version; could the success be carried forward or will it spin out into the gravel? I spend some hands on time with the game to find out just how it’s shaping up.
As with any sequel, fans will always be looking for and, perhaps rightfully so, expecting new features and F1 2011 brings a host of these to the table. First is the rather exciting co-operative championship mode where you and a friend can play through the same season. Going through a championship can be tiring and can also become tedious without the banter and friendly rivalry that a co-op mode offers. Whether you and a friend want to play within the same team, fighting for seniority, or going head to head as rivals, the choice is yours. The system is such that both players have to be present at the start of a session but only one is needed to finish it. This, in a nut shell, means that should your friend crash out with only a quarter of the race completed he won’t have to sit around watching you take home the points and the accompanying glory.
Further enhancing the multiplayer aspect is the addition of horizontal split screen play, which will allow for local multiplayer to take place from the same console. It’s a welcome feature, and having tested it out first hand I was pleased with what I experienced. As you would expect, there was a slight reduction in its graphical prowess to make up for the extra detail being rendered but it wasn’t anything too drastic and may well have been a side effect of the early build on display. The important aspect of it was that it worked and, more to the point, it was enjoyable.
Heading down into turn one with your friend sitting next to you as your car edges closer to his rear wing, knowing that any number of factors such as early or late breaking by either of you could result in a loss of friendship as a collision takes you both out of the race, adds an entirely new gameplay dynamic. Again it’s that banter from having a friend playing at the same time, locally, that was missing in the 2010 version that makes it so enjoyable.
The single player side of the game has also had some love and attention lavished on to it as various aspects of the championship mode have been enhanced. Two immediate examples would be that the view from your paddock is no longer confined to that of a trailer and instead shows a mass of track activity, and anything you’ve said in interviews can now end up as newspaper clippings. Should you make it to the podium, you’ll be treated to the whole experience of watching your car pull in, where you can get out and jump around and maybe even hold a finger aloft if you’re that way inclined. While only the smallest of changes that have been made, with nothing necessarily ground breaking, together they help form a package that makes the experience much more enjoyable and immersive.
Graphically, the game looks stunning and this is never more evident than when you’re driving around a track in the pouring rain; it’s simply beautiful and words just don’t do it justice. The tracks themselves are now looking better than ever, with little touches here and there adding an extra level of environmental depth. Even the addition of the plants on a grassy section next to a corner can bring so much more life to a track.
Whereas 2010 had generic steering wheels with nothing but an alternating logo based on the car you were driving 2011 goes one better. Each car now sports their very own and very authentic wheel so players who prefer utilising the cockpit view will get that extra bit of realism, If you’re in a Ferrari you will be looking at a genuine Ferrari steering wheel and that’s all you could ask for.
Another such area that’s had a bit of a touch up is in the tyre department where it’ll now be far easier to identify just what stage of wear your tyres are in, visually. The comparison shots looked highly impressive, with bits of rubber peeling off as the tyre gets progressively worse. Fans will be pleased to know that the tyres are replicas of this year’s new additions from Pirelli, once again adding that extra touch of realism.
Damage is something that, if you are anything like me anyway, will play a huge role in the game. All the standard stuff is there such as wing and tyre damage from any bumps and collisions you experience, but for 2011 there’s a brand new damage system where, instead of random events occurring such as your engine exploding on lap 69 out of 71, failures will happen over time.
What this allows is for you to experience the first tell-tale signs that something is wrong and, with a bit of luck, the ability to possibly rectify it. Ignore the problem or fail to spot it and you’ll run the risk of the issue escalating before eventually culminating into a possible full blown system failure. In other words it’ll be one of those times were the brown stuff impacts with the fast moving propeller.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects in any simulation style game is how it controls, and upon picking up the controller for the first time you can’t help but notice just how responsive it feels. I can’t say I’ve ever driven an F1 car but there’s certainly an element of belief conveyed through the controller in your hands – it feels like an F1 car. Even with the use of the analogue sticks you always feel like you’re in complete controls and, what’s more, it felt natural. When it came to activating new additions such as KERS or DRS (Drag Reduction System) it was all done at the push of a button and while it may be somewhat patronising to say pushing a single button was highly intuitive, the bottom line is that it was.
Control is really taken to the next level when using a wheel and pedals and while that’s not to say that a controller won’t do the job (because it will), it’s the use of a wheel that takes the feel of the game to a whole other level. My first time playing the game was sat in front of a screen with a controller and I thoroughly enjoyed it; the second time around was with the same track, car, and setup, except this time a wheel replaced the controller and it was another story. I was engrossed; it was as though, through the use of the wheel, I had become the racer; truly brilliant stuff. There’s just no better feeling than weaving your car through a chicane as you gently feed the wheel through the palms of your hands.
Make no mistake, the game plays and controls exceptionally well with a controller, but a wheel helps to take it to the other level that simulation fans will definitely want to experience. Maybe that’s where the success of F1 2011 lies – in the realism and its ability to stay true to the sport. Take your eyes off the track for just one second and it’s goodnight Irene as you’re staring at a screen with a face full of gravel and tyre wall.
It was confirmed that there are a few features that didn’t make it into the game, with formation laps and safety cars being the two biggest absentees. It’s a shame because, for fans of the sport, both things are of great importance but these haven’t been ruled out for future so there is hope; just not yet, sadly.
DLC is something that is currently not planned for the 2011 game, but there were rumblings of possible nuggets of content filtering through for any future versions. Content such as historic cars and race tracks which had previously been confined to the history books, but we’ll just have to wait and see. It would certainly be a welcome addition, but one can only imagine the legalities involved with licensing.
It seems to be a growing trend in F1 that at the end of the season, the rules and regulations are chopped and changed to the point where some may argue that the sport is completely unrecognisable from just a few years ago. With the 2011 series seemingly following trend and introducing a raft of new features to the sport, it’s ensured that the next instalment of the franchise can be seen as more than just a sequential update, boasting new rosters and liveries; it’s a true sequel, having evolved in the same way that the sport has.
In all, F1 2011 is shaping up to at least match its 2010 younger brother in terms of technical ability, but with a host of new features , more realism and an improved graphical palette, it’s in in pole position, set to surpass its predecessor and take home the Chequered Flag.
F1 2011 is due to release on Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC on September 23rd. Further handheld instalments on the Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita are also in development with release dates yet to be confirmed.
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