First of all, an apology. This review is late in comparison to a lot of other sites around and there are two main reasons for this: Firstly, we didn’t get a preview copy of the game, and second, it has taken a while to get used to.
I didn’t want to rush out a review until I had the chance to play the game properly – I wanted to be able to say what it’s really like and to do so I had to spend a couple of weeks playing it. I hope you’ll forgive me.
So first things first – it takes a while to get used to. And as I said, it takes a while to get used to. Got that? Good. For someone that played 2010 to death, the changes initially appeared terrifying and dislikeable. The handling model feels very different, and I felt like a really bad/incompetent/pitiful driver when starting a new career (now set to a default five seasons in length) and when the rain came down I was ready to throw my controller across the room in frustration.
The reason for this was F1 2010 had an amazing ‘bug’ where one could grab hold of the brake as soon as they started spinning and the car would automatically right itself. I don’t think I realised how much of a difference getting rid of that would be, or how much I had come to rely on it. F1 2011 truly punishes you for being too early on the throttle or turning in that bit too fast, and is all the better for it.
The car now feels ‘alive’ and is so much more satisfying to drive. Take it for a few laps around Monaco and you’ll see what I mean. The ‘groove’ and rhythm you can develop is astonishing, and whilst there is a steep learning curve to F1 2011, it’s well worth the climb.
The rules of F1 are again implemented excellently, including the new safety car. When an incident occurs and a car is left stranded on the racing line (see Carlo, Monte) the Safety Car gets deployed. In practice, this means being part of a ‘snake’ behind it where you can weave to keep up your tyre pressures but don’t have full control over acceleration. The game will ‘auto brake’ if you get too close to the car in front, and ‘ghost’ you if you fall too far behind. I think it works pretty well and is a nice addition to the game, especially your engineer coming over the radio reminding you to “save fuel” and turn your engine mix down to the lowest of the three available pre-set options.
Having previously featured only in the Wii version of F1 2009, split-screen racing makes a debut on PS3, Xbox and PC. It works very well too, and is a long overdue addition to the series. There’s no official ‘championship mode’ in split-screen however, although you can create your own custom season where points will be added up. It seems a little strange when you consider the inclusion of the spangly new ‘online co-op championship’ mode where you and a friend can play through a season as team-mates. I don’t see why this wasn’t made available offline, but then I’m not a games developer so I probably wouldn’t understand.
It’s another good addition to the series, but the largest disappointment of F1 2011 and the thing that stops it scoring a full 10 is the lack of the promised online revolution. You can now race a full grid online, with 24 cars (16 human, 8 computer-controlled), the safety car is available and it generally feels good, but it still suffers from the same problems it did last year – let me explain:
I race without driving aids (ok, sometimes I use automatic gears, shut your face) and the online experience was ruined for me last year by constantly racing against people using traction control. It makes the game much easier (and less fun) but people that want to ‘win’ all the time rather than ‘race’ all the time will always do everything they can to take the chequered flag first. Codemasters promised a penalty system for F1 2011 where players using driving aids would be penalised by carrying extra ballast, but from my first few forays online, nothing appears to have changed.
This could also be sorted very easily, perhaps with a server search filter to get rid of specific driving aids, instead of the standard ‘allowed’, ‘banned’ or ‘custom’ – there’s not enough choice. A ‘no driving aids but automatic gears’ filter would probably earn the game another point in this review, but as things are I spend more time refreshing the ‘available servers’ page than actually playing the game. I know this is a personal thing, but I truly believe it would make a big difference to players who don’t wish to be four seconds a lap slower than those playing with ABS and TRC turned on.
So it’s not quite perfect, but only a couple of gripes stop F1 2011 getting top marks, and it is still a positive step forward from F1 2010. The general feel of driving, speed and danger (I’m presuming no-one plays with damage off? If you do you are an idiot) is second-to-none in the racing genre and it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s games collection.
To be good you have to learn the tracks and spend time getting used to controlling the car on each corner and in different weather conditions, but the more you play the more rewarding it is – and that’s the mark of a great game.
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