Review: F1 2011

Last year F1 2010 was a warmly received but also quite heavily criticised title. Despite Codemasters bringing F1 back to consoles in spectacular style, a long list of bugs and peculiarities prevented hardcore racing fans from becoming too involved. 12 months on and we’ve got F1 2011, an all improved, all singing and all dancing update which ticks more boxes than you can through a box ticker at.

Codemasters’ pedigree with racing games is as clear as it is impressive. For years now they’ve released quality game after quality game, from the first versions of Colin McRae Rally and TOCA Touring Car up to modern works of genius such as GRiD and DiRT 3. Few developers make a better racer than Codemasters, and with F1 2011 that trend continues in spectacular fashion. The core mechanics of the game remain the same from last year, focusing mostly on the career mode. Starting life in a lower team you’ll begin in the bottom half of the results, fighting for points and feeling genuinely happy if your name appears in the top 10. Finding the right difficulty setting is key here, and after winning the first race from pole in my fairly rubbish Williams I upped the AI difficulty and had a much more realistic challenge. There were still a few odd things going on; my qualifying results were always significantly worse than my race results, suggesting the qualifying pace is maybe a bit quick (especially in poor weather conditions) and the slower cars during qualifying didn’t do a great job of getting out of the way. But generally the issues with the qualifying from last year have been ironed out beautifully.

Obviously the key with any racing title is the on-track action, something that this year’s F1 has got absolutely spot on. The cars feel like they’ve got power and grip, letting you take long sweeping corners at bewildering speed while always worrying about crossing the line and losing grip. As with real life F1 cars, giving it too much in the corners will leave you in huge trouble, either spinning you into a nearby gravel trap or, worse still, into a wall. The impressive damage model not only reflects the punishment you’ve put your car under but also changes how your car feels to drive. Take your front wing off with a clumsy overtaking move for example and you’ll struggle for front grip until you can make it back to the pits, making turning into a corner surprisingly difficult. And overtaking isn’t something you can take for granted here. This isn’t DiRT or GRiD; you can’t just barge your way through, instead having to wait for the right moment, make brave dives into a corner or use your DRS or KERS (more on that later) to get past down the straights.

Even then, overtaking isn’t black and white. Opposing cars will fight for their positions and, once overtaken, wont just sit back and take it on the chin. The fight will generally be fair – this year’s racers are far more aware of your position and will race sensibly to avoid collisions – but don’t expect an easy ride. You’ll be defending your position for a fair while after the initial overtake, and don’t think you’re the only one who will use their extra toys…

If you’re new to F1, brace yourself, this is going to get confusing. If you’re an F1 know-it-all, skip to the next paragraph as you’ll know this already. KERS and DRS are the new(ish) technologies in F1 this year, giving you a couple of ways to gain a speed advantage over your opponent. KERS uses energy captured while braking to give you a few seconds of extra power each lap as and when you want it, where as DRS opens the rear wing and reduces downforce down the straights, basically making you go a bit faster. The latter can only be used in specified places on the track, and only if you’re within 1 second of the car you’re trying to overtake. Both have made overtaking more frequent, and both are available to you in F1 2011.

Welcome back, F1 fans. KERS and DRS are as much about strategy as they are raw speed. Use all of your KERS at the start of the lap to overtake someone, and you’re at the mercy of them using their own later on, along with the DRS. So do you wait until later in the lap to overtake, or get in front as soon as possible and try to defend your place? That’s something you’ll need to constantly think about while racing, especially if you’re no faster than the cars around you. It’s great to have these available, especially having seen how they’ve made overtaking more possible, but anyone who hasn’t seen F1 for a while might not even notice they’re an option and the game itself hardly makes it glaringly obvious.

But you’ll get the hang of the handling, the speed and the gadgets and will probably want to play online. I headed into a lobby, fearing the worst. Years of playing online with GRiD, GT5 and other racers have prepared me for muppets crashing on purpose, driving the wrong way and generally being tits. To my surprise, everyone I raced against seemed to want to win without all the bumping and bashing. I put that down to two main factors. Firstly, F1 isn’t the type of game any old gamer will buy – it’s not varied or track-laden enough for those who prefer the likes of Shift 2 or Gran Turismo – and those who are actually buying this are interested in real racing. Secondly, while you get XP for decent results and completing clean laps you lose XP for causing accidents, cutting corners and so on. Not only does this make you look like an arse, but can also get you booted from the game after the races leaving those who actually want to race. The system isn’t perfect though; while racing round Spa I overdid it round a corner, hit the wall (taking my front wing off) and spun across the track. When someone else ran into the side of me (something neither of us could avoid) I got the penalty for causing a collision, and got hit with an XP reduction and 10 second penalty. I guess it was my fault for screwing it up in the first place, but had the car not have hit me I wouldn’t have got the penalty. But I won’t complain – the system looks like it’s working and definitely makes the racing more enjoyable.

Aside from all this Codemasters have also added the online co-op, letting you team up with a friend and run through a championship competing with the other teams as well as each other. A teammate comparison screen keeps you constantly up to date with who has qualified better, who has the better race results and so on. There’s also a Proving Ground, letting you do time trials and suchlike on whichever tracks you fancy. If you’re one who likes to perfect your lap times and shave off tiny fractions of a second then that ought to keep you pretty busy.

I could sit here and tell you about plenty of other great moments I’ve had playing F1 2011, but you’ll probably get bored and start watching videos of people falling over instead. But you’ll get a lot of good stories to tell after playing F1 for a while… the racing is top notch, the handling feels razor sharp and the opponents are fighty and intelligent during the races. To get the most out of the main campaign you’ll need sizable chunks of time available as each Grand Prix consists of Free Practise, Qualifying and the Race, with various race lengths available, and many people just won’t find the time to do anything more than a shortened weekend, but there’s no denying that this is the best Formula 1 game that’s ever been made, and yes that means it’s better than Geoff Crammond’s series all those years ago.

Reviewed on PS3


  1. Rubbish very flawed game, didn’t get it right first time haven’t got it right this time sort it out dont you test these games before you market them , it’s not rocket science

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