If you're tired of playing in the DiRT then come see how the big boys drive.
Last year in F1 2010 the bar was raised on F1 racing. Better car and track design mixed with brutal gameplay made for one of the most realistic F1 experiences ever to grace a video game console. It truly brought a lot to the table. This year with F1 2011 the game has been improved more than completely upgraded. All the little things that drove players nuts have been corrected, for the most part.
So, without further ado let's get into it.
One of the biggest frustrations of last year's title was the controls. There wasn't anything particularly bad about the controls, in fact Codemasters did what the should have done when it came to developing them. Driving the car was a sensitive process that was nearly unforgiving when you made one wrong move or turned a sharp corner. If you crashed last year then that was it; there was little to no forgiveness in getting out of the situation. Again, it was frustrating, but it was how the F1 racing world probably actually works. People wanted realism and the studio gave it to them.
This year, Codemasters seems to have pulled back the loosey-goosey feel of the car and tightened it up a bit. When you're coming around curves on the track the process feels a bit more heavy and a lot smoother. There's still that element of over-turning or swinging out a bit more than you should around corners, but it certainly feels a lot more grounded. Even when you're about to spin out of control on the track there is still a chance to bring it back, which wasn't the case last year. My palms aren't as sweaty during races as they were with last year's game. Of course, this doesn't mean that you're going to go all DiRT on the game and drive without any regard to how you should treat an F1 machine; you still can't do that. What the improvements do mean is that you're going to find less frustrating moments with the controls, which can only be a plus for the series.
Switching gears a bit (no pun intended), you get several modes with F1 2011 that make up the entire game. If you have never played the series before then you should start with the Career Mode. The Career Mode gives you the full experience of an F1 racer and racing team. The first thing you should do is forget every racing game that you've ever played in your life. As other racing games would allow you to jump out of the gate with a chance of dominating race after race, the F1 series has never been that type of game. In Career Mode you will have to live the life of a racer who is truly a rookie. The objectives that you get at the beginning of this game are simply to slowly move you into the best position possible to eventually get in the top 5 of races. It's possible to win races, but impossible to do it early on without developing your racer and car. That sort of stuff takes time. This mode will take gamers through the ringer and develop them slowly through the 19 race F1 championship season. You will have to do things like tweak your car depending on weather conditions, learn tracks forward and backward, and get to know the best way to take corners and keep on the road. It's truly a career mode, as you also have to meet your team's goals and answer interview questions after a good or bad race. There's so much to the career mode that you will be stunned with how detailed and difficult the entire process of becoming an F1 racer can be.
For those of you who have played last year's game then you're going to see more of the same. Much like the improvements made to the racing, the Career Mode feels like an update rather than an upgrade. It's tighter, more confined than last year's version. It's more polished and less messy. You understand the process of what you need to do to become a better driver through track data, e-mails and tweaks here and there. Codemasters seems to have made sure that gamers have the right amount of things to work with in this mode this year and less of the gimmicky crap that may or may not make a difference. Again, it's nothing spectacular, but much like the car improvements it's tighter and more focused.
Cousin to the Career Mode is the Grand Prix mode.
In Grand Prix you're basically going through a similar Career Mode formula. You've got almost all the elements of the CM mode, but the biggest difference is the freedom to customize. You can basically build your own F1 season by putting together a track schedule. There's something nice about putting together the tracks that really work for you and tougher tracks that you struggle with. You can play to your strengths and help compensate, through proper schedule structure, for all the your weak tracks to give yourself the best chance of success. Sounds pretty great, right? For the most part it is. The only downer to this mode is that you can't use your own driver; you must use the 'real' professional drivers of the world. Using a real driver, and their team, is pretty cool, but in my opinion the option to bring your own driver into the situation would have been far better. I've been racking my brain for the last few days trying to think about the logic behind this restrictive decision making, but haven't found any reasons. For me, it's a minus. It's still neat to see the pro drivers in action, though, but there is something about pride of ownership with your own player. One of the brighter spots to this mode is the fact that you still get objectives to complete during a racing season and you can still earn points.
The last mode in the game that will probably appeal to the greater racing masses is the Multiplayer Mode. In this mode you get 2-16 online players you can play against. Codemasters also brings in 8 additional computer players into the race, making for a possible 24 racers at a time. You get access to all tracks, players vote for tracks in between races, and you can still earn points through objectives and position. On top of this, there is no lag to the online racing, so it feels like career and grand prix modes. That's saying a lot for Codemasters' efforts, as it's tough to get this much movement on screen with the erratic movement of online gamers' cars. It's easy to notice the 'real' gamers, as most are shaky during races (that actually makes you relax a bit more, strangely enough).
Inside of Multiplayer Mode you will find different ways to play, which include:
Sprint - It's simply every racer for themselves. You get three laps to finish as close to the top as possible. The better you do, the better the points.
Pole Position - It's a 20-minute qualification session. The player with the fastest lap is the winner, and the competition is brutal. It's a fun way to play against other players, especially if you know the track you're racing on really well.
Endurance - A shorter race, brutal weather conditions that wear on the car (and racer). I like this one a lot, as it really tests a racers' nerves.
Online Grand Prix - It's a tough 7-lap race that includes multiple pit-stops. It's a more traditional race in terms of longevity. Players will feel less rushed and can use a bit more strategy in comparison to Sprint.
Multiplayer Mode is damn good, and should be a big reason for gamers to own F1 2011.
The only other mode is Proving Grounds. I won't say much about this one, as I found it unexciting (to each their own), but it contains Time Trial, Time Attack and Leaderboards. If this is your sort of bag then enjoy. For me it's too 'typical' and I prefer actual racing. It does what you would think it would do, so people who love this in other games will love it here.
As for the visuals of the game, you get some rich graphics and car models. One of the biggest improvements in last year's version of the game was how well the cars interacted with the environments, the weather and with each other, and this year keeps that trend up. When you smack into the back of a racer's car then the front fin will go flying, as it should. If you drive off track into the dirt the tires on the car will collect rocks and debris inside the grooves making racing a bit more treacherous, as it should. One of the biggest pluses is how the car and driving conditions react to extreme weather, like heavy rain. You get rain spraying up in your vision making for tough driving moments, again as it should. F1 2011 still brings the look, feel and style that last year's title established, so expect nothing less in terms of visuals and physics.
So, with all this said, are there any real areas where F1 2011 could improve? Yes, start with the load times. The load times in the game range from 40-60 seconds in length and are just horrendous. To Codemasters credit, they did their best with the load times by putting statistics onscreen to try to make you forget that it's taking really long for the game to load. You'll see things like 'Objectives completed' or 'Average Speed' that will give you some interesting numbers to feed upon. Unfortunately, when you're not doing well in the game the statistics either show nothing or very unexciting stuff. Regardless, you're going to notice the amount of time it takes to load.
Other than this, I really don't have any huge complaints about what Codemasters has put together with F1 2011. It's yet another solid title that has no rival when it comes to F1 racing. It brings the most realistic F1 racing experience, the graphics are simply some of the best (including destruction) and there's enough depth in the game to warrant the $59.99 that you'll spend.