“A completely average and unremarkable F1 game.”
I’d like to take a moment to talk about Codemasters’ F1 2009 on the Sony PSP, was was released in November 2009. While I have heard good things about the Wii incarnation of the game (which I’m unable to play due to not owning a Wii), I feel that the PSP version must be inferior due to the fact that I’m unable to find much that is “good” about it. Words I would use in place of “good” to describe this game are bland, average, and uninspiring. Read on and I’ll tell you why.
Due to the imited distribution of F1 2009, this game can be hard to find in physical form. I did not even bother trying my luck and just shelled out roughly $40 CDN for a digital copy over Sony’s online Playstation Store. This is, more often than not, the approximate asking price for a brand new game on the Playstation Store. Fortunately, most games that wind up available in digital download form turn out to be quite good, which I discovered when I had bought a few games for about the same price. They were quality games, so I expected the price to reflect the quality of F1 2009 when I decided to take the plunge. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
Upon booting up the game, you are treated to an opening cinematic that is fairly uninspiring and boring. It didn’t capture the excitement and speed of Formula One, and I felt myself feeling underwhelmed after watching it. However, the main menu was very pleasant on the eyes, as was the background music. Unfortunately, the menus do not function as well as they look. Take for example the driver selection screen. In most cases, Formula One racers treat us with onscreen options to change between teams and drivers. However, in F1 2009 on the PSP, you can only scroll through drivers. To add insult to injury, information onscreen during this process is kept to a bare minimum. Beyond the driver name, portrait, and 3D rendition of their car, little else is given to you. Those who do not follow Formula One may not even know what they are selecting. There were a few statistics submenus for the drivers, but they didn’t really give many statistics at all. World championships and highest finishing position, I believe. What, no wins, poles, points? Odd.
Choosing a circuit to race on is visually satisfying, but the fact that you have to watch the globe spin around to various countries before really even committing to whatever track you want to race on hampers any enjoyment I had gotten out of this submenu.
After I chose the time trial mode and selected Rubens Barrichello and Singapore on my very first sitting with F1 2009, I had to sit through a loading screen which, fortunately, was not that long.
Once the track loaded, I quickly got to the point of the game, the driving. Did I like it? No. The handling of the Brawn was an absolute joke as I found myself wondering if I had mistakenly purchased a Need for Speed game with a Formula One license. For those unfamiliar with Need for Speed, all of them minus the latest in the series, are arcade racers with extremely loose handling. I found myself making my way around Singapore with little to no effort, underwhelmed by how easy the game felt.
The graphics weren’t too bad though, so this was a plus. They reminded me of a late Playstation 1 Formula One game. Actually to be fair, the graphics are a little better than any PS1 Formula One game for sure. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, though. The sound is in a similar boat to this, with passable sound effects which do the job considering this is a PSP game. You can only do so much with a little handheld console with tiny speakers. This does not excuse the KERS sound, which sounds very strange and out of place.
By lap three or four, a very serious problem reared its ugly head. I really have to address the controls in this game, and I have to really stress that they are very, very uncomfortable. Square is brake, X is accelerate, and Circle is KERS. Given how small the PSP is, I found myself twisting my hand in awkward ways, and having to shift between braking, accelerating, and using KERS really started to take its toll as I felt my entire hand getting sore, especially my in palm. I found myself aborting the time trial to give my hand a break and I tried to understand how anyone would be able to complete a full distance race in this game.
Now, I’m 24 and I love gaming. I can sit down with a keyboard and mouse, or a Playstation 3 Sixaxis controller for hours and never develop sore hands unless I’m playing something that involves a lot of quick finger motions (fighting games and action-filled side scrollers do the trick), and this takes at least an hour to occur. The fact that some little PSP racer was able to accomplish this same feat in a matter of minutes said something. This game has a very terrible button layout! To make it even worse, I spent five minutes trying to find a way to reconfigure the button mapping, but it appeared to be completely absent from the game.
I attempted an actual race later on though, five laps around Interlagos as Kimi Raikkonen. I started 20th and finished in 6th,and overall I found the actual racing to be fairly decent. It won’t win any awards and the AI did not really do anything to wow me, but it was pleasurable. My only problem was that the controls made my hand sore about four laps into the race. I should mention KERS as well. I found that it was difficult for me to concentrate on the actual racing and where my car was going whenever I would use KERS, because I would shift my thumb so that it would cover both X and Circle. This left the Square button far, far away from my thumb. As a result, if I made even the slightest mistake, I couldn’t brake in time and I would always go off track because of this. If the button mapping wasn’t so terrible and could be reconfigured, then this would not be a problem. Ideally, L1 should be brake, R1 should be accelerate, and X should be KERS. Having all three lumped together made focusing on the race difficult, and I spent about half of my time staring at where my thumb was.
But let me end things right here. I’d like to say that this is a pretty decent F1 game, as it looks and plays just fine. However, it cannot even compare to the more popular ones out there. F1 ‘97 on the Sony Playstation remains my favourite F1 game of all time and, from a gameplay standpoint, that game did more impressive things than F1 2009 on the PSP.
However, if you are both a Formula One and gaming enthusiast and own a PSP, then I would recommend this game and you should find at least get some enjoyment out of it.