Being obsessed with Top Gear will NOT make you good at this game. From Codemasters Racing comes the simulation-toned racer based on Europe's most prestigious auto league. And although the "true to life" form of the game can be felt in full force, the hard "sim" edge marginally subtracts from its level of fun.
Formula 1 (F1) is the top open wheel league in the world. Period. IZOD Indy doesn't come close to its level of fan fare, history, talent, ect. No offense to Indy necessarily, but this is America, and this is NASCAR land. I, myself, have been a Sprint Cup fan for about ten years, but I recognize the acute attention to detail that is required to run in F1. And so do the folks at Codemasters.
From a pure gameplay standpoint, things are quite sharp. F1 machines weigh about 1,400 lbs. (including the driver) and are pushed by a 2.4 liter V8. While the engine could be considered relatively small, the power-to-weight ratio makes these one-seater scorchers very quick. Acceleration is the name of the game, with limited straights and an litany of tight corners pertinent of every track. Being flat out at 180mph, then grabbing tons of break and motoring down to 38 to successfully navigate a hairpin is a precise, tricky ordeal. Clearly, the devs set out to once again make sure this perpetuates F1, and they've succeeded.
The feeling of the cars while controlling them seems "authentic." Naturally, I have no idea what it is actually like to be behind one of these finely tuned, really well oiled machines, but this title makes me think I have. While there are a range of assist options, the most rigid "training wheel" settings don't allow you to be competitive AT ALL. So, you will need to eventually turn down the help if you plan on passing anyone. When you allow for more control, F1 begins to detail the immense patience and precision the drivers must have throughout each lap. Pulling L2 to break at the right time, bending the left stick in the direction of the turn in the favorable moment, then clearing the apex and stomping back down on R2 to "power out" of the corner takes practice, and a boat load of temper. Each event gives you up to four "rewinds" in case you get a bit too adventurous and sling yourself off the track, but these can go really quick, particularly in qualifying runs and races lasting more than just a few laps.
If you're new to this franchise, be prepared to go though some hard knocks to familiarize yourself with how to get the car from the start/finish line and back round again. Trying to "muscle" the car into obedience does not work. Many times I was too aggressive in the entry of turns, and paid the price. Codemasters wants you to realize the old adage of "slow is fast" while playing this year's game. At first I thought the turning mechanic in the game was faulty because I would have to crank the thumbstick too far in order to turn. But if I really focused and applied the proper slowdown, taking turns felt natural. Powering off is also key. You have to make sure the car is straight enough out of the turn for that super sudden jolt of speed. If it isn't, you will crash. If the effort is to accurately represent the strain of being fast lap after lap in Formula 1, they've definitely done that.
Other aspects of gameplay are also sharp. The HUD is quite handy on longer run races. Of course you have the standard speedometer, position counter, map, ect., but F1 also has a cool additional readout. Pressing circle slides in another set of info that shows engine part "health," tyre condition ("tyre" being the Euro spelling) and changing car conditions like fuel expectancy. The in-game assists also work. Your crew chief continually feeds valuable updates on assorted items like how well or not you're keeping pace with the field/rival. Speaking of tire wear, this is a pretty good contribution to the design. Eutechnyx's NASCAR: The Game 2011 has the best degenerative rubber feeling I've ever played in a game. I imagine this to be a very hard thing to relate in a video game, and Codemasters does a decent job. I didn't really seem like the grip was slowly fading, but I would beg for the last circuit before a scheduled pit stop to be done. It becomes so much harder to stay fast on that lap because breaking is exaggerated and accelerating becomes quite tricky. Solid design, but not the best.
I did have a few gripes with F1 from this aspect. One thing that is oddly remiss is the "sense" of speed. Routinely you will be virtually pushing 170mph before slamming that down to take a turn. But despite such a breakneck mark, it never seems that fast. I think this is largely to blame for the intense learning curve of the title. Forza, for instance, accurately relays how fast or slow you're moving that BMW, or Ferrari, or whatever. This gives you mental feedback, and enables the opportunity to narrow down which parts of the track demand conservatism, and which ones allow for more of a dare devil spirit. This feeling is lost in F1, and makes shaving seconds off lap times much more of a chore than it should be. Also, the hardcore "sim" outlook on the game does detract from the sheer fun of it all. I'm a proponent of realism to a certain extent, but let's not forget that we are talking about games. First and foremost? Fun. F1 sacrifices a good amount of this for the sake of accuracy. Not a slate on the brilliant gameplay itself, but it is a negative nonetheless.
The great number of game modes does reel things back in from these shaky points. The tutorial on hand is called Young Driver Test. This is a great way to get familiar with the p's and q's of racing Formula 1. All major aspects are covered with either an actual driving test or a tutorial video. The largest mode on hand is Career. This is the create-a-character option that puts you in five seasons of the full 20 event schedule. Here you will start out on one of the lower tier teams and slowly trudge your way to the top levels in F1 by passing goals (like targeted finish) and placing ahead of your teammate. The best part of this is, again, it's sense of realism. It is not realistic for a new driver on a lower tier team to come in and be a world beater. And unless you are just that good at this game, you won't. And the goals reflect this. After going through round after round of qualifying efforts during the very first race, I was dead last (24th) on the starting grid. So, the benchmark in that event was to finish 19th or better. Success leads to new R&D for better parts, giving you better performance. Do well enough, and you might get a contract to join a better team and start really competing for Driver's and Constructor's (Owner's) World Championships! If you'd like a more abbreviated approach to this, Season Challenge shortens to one, ten race season in which you choose a Rival from another team. Finish better than him in three consecutive events, and you'll be the man behind his steering wheel. One DigitalChumps top tip I'll give is, particularly in these "season" modes: qualify, and qualify very well. Again, realism is the happening thing in F1. To that, it is very hard to pass folks. After the first circuit or two and cars space out, good luck catching up. So being mired in the bottom half at the start will not lead to a favorable finish. Rolling off in the top 6 gives you a good shot to win. Anything less would be a stretch.
Cutting your teeth on the two meatier selections is not advisable. So you'll want to spend some time in the "pick up" style Proving Grounds. Quick Race is available as usual (choose your favorite driver and go against 23 others in a sprint). Go to each track in Time Trial and race against your friend's ghosts or other times from PSN players and find the fastest way around each track. Time Attack is similar, but here there are set of three ghosts that represent a particular medal. Beat the top to win gold. Champions Mode is perhaps the most interesting addition to F1. There are a series of six challenges with top level drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher. These steps build up to an ultimate showdown where all of them have to be beat in the same race. Cool little "aside" from the usual.
Multiplayer is also presented quite well. You and a friend can do a quick split-screen race or participate in the Co-op Championship. You all will be teammates on the same F1 team like Hamilton/Button of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. Go through a season and employ the spirit of "co-opetition" to best the other teams while trying to finish in front of one another. Online is another worthy component of the title. Sprint is a lightening fast three lapper assigning random starting spots. Endurance also features random starts for the possible 16 racers, but the length is turned up to 25% distance and at least one pit stop must be made. Online Gran Prix is a seven lap race, but features "dynamic" weather effects and is preceded by a 15 minute qualifying session.
The presentation side of the game is quite good in most areas. Visually, the car models are fantastic. Detailed, proportioned, interesting, and very shiny, it's the kind of stuff that is said to blur the line between reality and virtual reality. And even the character models of your pit crew aren't half bad. However, the environments are not the best. The track seems "flat" in terms of it's overall look. I know this sounds odd, but it comes across as just some hard, gray surface as opposed to asphalt/concrete. The environments didn't garner enough attention either. Pretty bland and uninteresting. Now, the sound of F1 is all good. Engine noise is sweet. And the astonishing thing is, during a race it's not "muddled." With 24 of these racket makers, you'd think it would be one big mess. But I actually got the feeling each car "sounded" like where it was on the screen. Fascinating stuff.