F1 2011 (Review)

“Codemasters comes close to perfection with their third Formula One title.”

It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, Codemasters had nothing more than the official license to develop F1 games for the next several years. F1 2009 on the Gamecube and PSP was arather slow start to their career as F1 developers (2009 wasn’t even developed in-house) and, while 2010 was a very nice treat, there were a lot of problems with the game that ultimately turned away even I, an obsessive fan of the real life sport. F1 2011 continues the trend of each Codemasters F1 title being significantly better than the last and I can probably even say that 2011 is perhaps one of my favourite Formula One games of all time.

For starters, if you want a realistic/sim racer, don’t even bother with this game. F1 2011 is developed for mainstream appeal because, of course, Codemasters would like to maximize their profits from this game’s sales. The hardcore sim fanatics will find plenty to be upset over in this game due to the slightly arcadey feel of the cars at times, but the rest of us? Oh, we’ll gobble this game up like a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.

F1 2011 is, predictably, very similar to 2010 in many areas. Your statistics are still flashed before you during loading screens, and most menus are still set up in the same way that Codemasters established with the very first DiRT game some years ago. Regardless of the quality of racing in Codemasters games, I can’t help but frown a little bit at their laziness. We’ve had three DiRT games, GRID, and two F1 games that have all had scarily similar features and menus. For some reason Codemasters seems content to simply copy and paste a vast amount of code and resources over and over again throughout the years. As a result, it feels all of the games they release are merely mods running on the same engine due to there being so many similarities with each of their games. It is sort of like how many Source mods still look and feel like Half-Life 2 in terms of visual presentation, controls, features, and so forth. It’s also worth noting that the ingame garage menus at the race tracks are literally ripped straight out of last year’s game. The garages even look the same, which is just completely lazy in my opinion. Even when you choose to go out on track, the animations of the mechanics are the same from last year. Heck, they’re even standing in the exact same locations from last year’s game. This goes back to how I feel like all Codemasters games simply feel like mods. F1 2011 may be far superior to F1 2010 in many ways, but it also unfortunately feels like a mod of it as well. So while there is a lot of copying and pasting going on here, which I feel is a horribly lazy thing to do, there’s also a lot of fantastic improvements in the game.

The best part of F1 2011? Car handling has been improved drastically. While I am still a little saddened that driving over grass and sand traps isn’t as difficult as it should be, I honestly revel in the fact that kerbs can now be driven over without having a fear of spinning out wildly sitting in the back of your mind. In 2010, spinning out by riding the kerbs was a pretty common problem that a lot of people complained about. In 2011, the realism has been improved greatly in this area and players are now able to ride kerbs as well as the real life drivers. This will encourage a lot of players to be more aggressive with their hot laps as it gives us more room to be creative and develop our own proper racing lines.

There are a few new features in the game that were not present in 2010. Split screen racing has finally made an appearance in a Codemasters racing game for what I think may be the first time ever. There’s also co-op championship where you and a friend can plow through career mode together by driving as teammates for any of the twelve teams. This is an amazing feature that more games should incorporate, as it should help develop a real rivalry between good friends as they fight to beat each other and become the team’s #1 driver. This mirrors what happens in real life, so kudos to Codemasters for adding this! I only wish that I had even a single friend or relative who liked Formula One as much as I do so that I could utilize this game mode.

Codemasters did all of us true fans a favour by adding the safety car to 2011. It’s pretty rare to have the safety car deployed (a stark contrast to the real sport in recent years), but if a pretty substantial pile-up occurs then you can certainly expect to see the silver Mercedes safety car being deployed to lead the cars around the track for a lap or two. They have also added DRS and KERS to the game. I won’t bother explaining what those two systems are because I am sure that most people reading this will be actual fans of the sport and won’t need to be educated. Both systems are incorporated fairly well, and you will notice a frightening increase in speed if you are lucky enough to have DRS and KERS at your disposal at the same time.

The AI has also been improved tremendously. While they are still likely to make some pretty awful driving errors at times (I’ve been side-swiped on straights), they now behave appropriately when they are on cooldown laps or being given a blue flag. If you are lapping them or are on a hot lap, then the AI drivers will always make an effort to pull out of the way for you. This is a massive improvement from last year’s game where the AI felt as if it was travelling on rails and almost ignored the player.

The visuals in 2011 have been improved upon slightly. I honestly have not seen a large change from 2010 to 2011, though the mysterious green fog that plagued the race tracks of 2010 have been done away with. I understand that this was done to capture the look and feel of how we television viewers see the sport from the T-Cams since the television cameras do capture a big of mist, though this is probably from the glare on the lens or something. One aspect of the visuals that I believe certainly looks better is the car modelling. When the lighting is just right, the cars in this game are almost photo-realistic. I really have to commend Codemasters on making the cars look this good, though they do seem to be a bit too high off the ground. The ride height of the cars isn’t too realistic and it does make the cars look a little funny if you are looking at one head on from the nose cone.

The soundtrack has been much improved in 2011 and I find myself tapping my feet to many of the game’s pseudo-electronic tracks. 2010 was a big bag of mixed nuts (the paddock music in particular was sleep inducing), but just about every selection in 2011 sounds very nice. The music you will have play if you qualify well or get a podium finish is incredibly uplifting and is certain to make players feel very good about what they’ve accomplished, especially after relatively long races.

My two beefs with this game? First and foremost is the lack of Bruno Senna. A name like his would certainly attract more gamers than Nick Heidfeld and his scruffy over-the-hill mug. Replacement drivers simply are not in this game and it’s a shame. I remember F1 ’95 having all replacement drivers throughout regular seasons and including them in the races they drove in, so why can’t that happen sixteen years later? My second complaint is the difficulty. Even on the amateur difficulty setting players who are unfamiliar with F1 games or simply take a while to get up to speed will find that it is quite hard to set competitive lap times on some tracks. I recall my first race in Australia driving for Force India. I did not have a single off and really drove what felt like I was on the limits and where did I end up? Around eighteenth. You really need to be incredibly precise with your acceleration, braking, and racing line in this game. Gone are the days where, on the easiest difficulty settings, new players could immediately be on the pace if they at least stayed on the track. 2011 will make you work hard for your positions even on the easiest difficulty setting. This isn’t too terrible, but there is a habit of the AI being better at some tracks than others. For instance, the Ai is laughably easy to beat in China, but other at tracks? Get ready to pull your hair out if you’re not a master at the game.

F1 2011 is a huge improvement over 2010, but there are still a few critical issues in the game that hold it back from absolute greatness. While this is a very good F1 game, it is still not even close to being in the league of the greatest console F1 game ever, F1′ 97. Still, this one is worth a look. Give it a go if you have a hankering for some truly fun grand prix racing.

Pros:
+ Car handling has been improved drastically.
+ Exciting new multiplayer game modes.
+ Graphics have been improved upon slightly.

Cons:
AI difficulty can be very inconsistent.
Copying and pasting of menus from previous Codemasters games is starting to feel VERY old and overdone now.
Lack of substitute drivers.

Final Score

8.9/10

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