Let me start by saying that I am pretty big F1 fan, as well as being a fan in general of racing games (arcade & sim). I have owned various F1 games, on a variety of consoles. Last weekend I purchased F1 2011 on the PC through Steam (by far the best digital solution for buying games), now that I’ve had a chance to play the game for a bit I thought I’d share my thoughts.
Like F1 2010, the newest F1 racer from Codemasters is hard, really hard. Or, it can be really easy. It all depends on how many assists (things like, traction control, or automatic gears) you have turned on. With the game assisting you as much as it can, it’s fairly trivial to drive an F1 car around the track and keep it there (setting a quick time is something different altogether). However, turn all of the assists off and I can barely get the car to corner without a huge amount of concentration. If you accelerate slightly too quickly, or put a bit too much steering into a corner, the car will spin. This level of assistance is really designed for the true racing sim aficionados, who are playing the game with wheel and pedals. I am not that good, nor am I using a wheel, so I apply a small amount of traction control, as well as ABS brakes. I don’t have the concentration or multi-tasking ability at that level to do gears myself either, so I stick it with automatic gears.
When you start a career, you have to start with one of the lower teams in F1, I chose Williams. The first track of the season is Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. From years of starting career modes and playing demo versions of F1 games, I know this track like the back of my hand. I have the difficulty set to Intermediate (the difficulties are: Amateur, Intermediate, Professional and Legend). When I get things right, this difficult is too low for me, as evidenced by qualifying in 2nd place in my Williams. However, when it came to the race, it turned out it was more than enough.
In the short 20% (12 lap) race around Albert Park, I took Lewis at the end of the first lap to lead. By lap 7 I had spun 3 times and was in 20th position. The concentration required to play this game well, is immense. Last night apparently I didn’t have it. What was satisfying in weird way, was that I struggled to catch up with the guys around me after I had spun. On previous racing games, I would spin, then catch up and overtake the opponents easily.
I have always found in the past that the qualifying was always considerably harder than the race, and even qualifying 10th-15th would let me win the race with some ease. However, this version seems to be the right way around. I out-qualified myself, then struggled in the race.
I will say, however, that the AI completely and utterly sucks. I’ve never played a racing game with such bad AI. Even Mario Kart has better AI than F1 2011. Sure, they can drive a lap quickly, and they seem to get into battles with each other, which is interesting. But they barely seem to even notice that you’re on the track, constantly doing stupid things, getting in your way, ignoring the blue flags that mean they’re supposed to get out of the way. It is incredibly frustrating, especially when playing multi-player, and you end up smashing into the back of a slow moving AI car, who has decided to crawl around a corner. Not just that, but sometimes when you spin out, or move over to let a faster car come through (to avoid blocking them and getting a penalty), the AI decides to just come and sit extremely slowly behind you, thus giving you a penalty!
The biggest challenge in this game is competing with yourself, if you’re not interested in doing that, you won’t enjoy F1, the AI doesn’t offer any kind of rewarding experience and you’ll often struggle to find friends who are at the same level, since the difficult varies so much (the varying levels of assistance that you can turn on per player does solve this a bit I suppose).
I retired from my first race of the season in Melbourne, because I was too angry to carry on. This is what’s so brilliant about this game for me. The only other game that has come close to eliciting such an emotional reaction from me is Championship/Football Manager. My mood was completely and utterly destroyed last night be my failure. I was gutted, I felt like crying. I know that if I’d concentrated more I could have beaten Hamilton and won the race, but instead it has been recorded as a DNF and gone down as 24th. That sucks.
The game is fantastic for that, with only the AI seriously letting it down.
If you’re an F1 fan, you should get this game, you’ll need a controller of some sort though, the keyboard really doesn’t cut it.
Also worth a mention is the tyres. F1 rules state that you must use 2 types of tyre during a race, a softer quicker tyre, and a harder slower one. Codemasters have got this spot on in F1 2011. You have to warm up your tyres and you feel yourself struggling for grip with the harder tyre and when you put the softer, quicker tyre on, you can feel the grip, the speed, the confidence you gain is brilliant. This is of course if you have tyre simulation on, otherwise they’re all the same and boring 😉