F1 2010 was (still is) a very impressive game. Not only because of the quality of its gameplay but because of the fact that it was the first game in a new series – the development team largely treading in blind water, not knowing how an expectant audience would react.
So, if F1 2010 was a tentative first step into the complex, high-speed, exhaustive world of Formula 1 racing then F1 2011 must surely be about getting the running boots on and tackling the subject matter with the full force of the experience and knowledge the team now have in their possession. Despite the preview build we’ve been playing having only a selection of tracks and game types available, it’s clear that the changes are many and the changes are significant.
Upon completing only a couple of laps, the difference between the car physics of the past game and those of this one are very different. Handling in F1 2011 is much less twitchy meaning it’s possible to take corners in a smooth arc using the control pad’s analogue stick, as opposed to the enforced one-again-off-again fiddly approach of F1 2010 adopted by everyone without a racing wheel.
The smoother handling model also helps increase your awareness of your tyres grip, your speed and, as a result, allows you to calculate much more accurately the required braking distance and acceleration force into and out of corners.
This increase in information proves especially useful in wet and damp conditions, which alter your car’s performance and lap times much more realistically this time around. In short, exit a wet, sharp turn with your foot to your floor and you’re going to end up spinning and throwing your car headlong into the barrier or (if you’re lucky) Lewis Hamilton.
Each team’s relative car performance has been altered, too. The days in F1 2010 in which you could cruise to victory in a Team Lotus (albeit through skilled driving) are gone, now a good performance in one of the smaller team’s cars is going to earn you a single championship point at best. Indeed, racing the same track with the same weather and same basic car set-up saw times of anywhere between three and five seconds difference when switching between the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari to a Virgin or a HRT.
However, the performance realism applies amongst teams that are much more closely matched also. While Red Bulls tend to perform best around the majority of circuits given their remarkable ability to stick to the road like glue at high speed, it’s possible to keep pace and overtake them on the straights with a car packing good straight line speed (a Mercedes, for example). Throw in the additions of KERS and DRS and you outcome of these digital races seems to bare a greater resemblance to the real-life race weekends.
A lot of the pre-release communications coming out of the Codemasters camp have been centred on the improvement to the opposition AI. Fingers were pointed at F1 2010 for the way races would play out in a processional format with cars simply following each other around the track without any real attempt at overtaking. Well, that doesn’t happen anymore.
In fact, the opposite is probably truer – racers do their upmost to stay out of an opponent’s dirty air, resulting in cars going three abreast into corners and many more accidents in which you’ve not played a part.
The AI’s new found love of aggressive driving has thrown up a few odd moments whereby we’ve been sideswiped and/or shunted in an attempted overtaking move (collisions that have often resulted in us being wrongfully penalised, we hasten to add). Of course, given the fact that overtaking is much more common in Formula 1 nowadays, this aggression could all be part of the design. It’s just that we’ve never witnessed Jensen Button willing to take himself out for the sake of a single position on TV before…
(We’ve been informed that the aggression levels are still being tweaked.)
Presentation elements such as cut-scenes showing the winning driver celebrating, stewards waving flags at trackside and Parc Ferme have also been implemented which ramp up the sense of scale, pomp and importance no end. Without having properly delved into career mode, we can’t comment on the lasting appeal and diversity of these elements but anything is better than nothing (as was the case last year).
It has also been announced recently that, despite Codemasters saying otherwise for so long, the much requested safety car has been included. Unfortunately, this particularly feature hadn’t been implemented in the most recent build we’ve been given so it’s impossible for us to ascertain its impact, frequency or realism on races.
Add to all this the new 24 car online racers (16 human and eight AI), a split screen function taken straight out of Dirt 3 and the all-new co-operative career… it’s clear that the dev team have been working hard since the launch of the first game.
Due to the quality of last year’s game, expectation for F1 2011 is sky high. However, on the evidence of what we’ve played there’s little to be concerned about in terms of the races themselves. The unknown is the lasting appeal of career mode (both single and co-op) and the online races.
Still, this is Codemasters we’re talking about. We’ve asked this question before but, do they even know how to make a bad racing game?