Dragon Age 2 (Review)

I was a little slow getting this review out of the gate after two very difficult and work intensive weeks but here it is, my thoughts on Dragon Age 2.

When I first found out that Dragon Age 2 revamped the Dark Spawn to look like bizarre carnival attractions and made the entire game be set in one single city, it’s probably not difficult to understand why I had reservations about the game. After learning that the combat was made to be more action-oriented for console players, I became increasingly apprehensive and, honestly, I didn’t think that I would ever lay down the cash for Dragon Age 2.

But I did.

I don’t know what prompted me to buy Dragon Age 2 despite my fears, but it doesn’t matter any longer. I’ve played Dragon Age 2 extensively and I can safely say that my fears, while originally justified, have been washed away by what has become my favourite Bioware game that I’ve ever played.

I frequently see a lot of people bashing Dragon Age 2 on larger internet forums due to the many changes that Bioware introduced with the sequel to what was undoubtedly 2009’s best RPG by a landslide. Yes it is true that Bioware did cripple or completely remove a few gameplay elements from the first game, but for every disappointing change there is a positive one to counter it. I am hoping that my review will make it clear why Dragon Age 2 is a fantastic game that surpasses the first game, despite having several flaws that it’s predecessor did not have.

The Dark Spawn return, but are no longer the central antagonist.

Dragon Age 2’s story is pretty interesting to say the least. It begins in Ferelden as Hawke and his/her (gender is selectable) family are fleeing from Lothering after the Dark Spawn attack. For those who played the first game but cannot remember Lothering, it was the town where you could recruit Leliana and Sten. Anyway, the group quickly meets a very familiar witch from the first game who rescues Hawke and company from a horde of Dark Spawn. They are then escorted to a port town where they travel to a city called Kirkwall in the Free Marches, a location that is directly north of Ferelden on the continent of Thedas.

Kirkwall is where pretty much the entire game takes place. A few quests will take the player outside of the city, but you never leave Kirkwall for very long. Anyway, once in Kirkwall, the story really kicks off and is basically just Hawke’s life story as he/she rises to fame in Kirkwall while accidentally getting involved in a few major events that occur in the city. It really is a rags to riches sort of story, and it carries a lot of weight as it is a very personal story. Dragon Age Origins was about the entirety of Ferelden suffering from the Blight and the Grey Wardens who are tasked to stop it. Origins had a very standard and fairly cliche fantasy story behind it that could have been ripped straight out of Lord of the Rings. Dragon Age 2 doesn’t focus on being as epic or grandeur and is, as I said, a personal story. It is Hawke’s story.

As a whole, I enjoyed the story in Dragon Age 2 far more than in Origins. Since the story is all about Hawke and his/her life in Kirkwall, you get to know and understand the person you are playing much more than you did in Origins. It helps that Hawke is fully voiced as well, so we no longer control a silent protagonist. These two factors (personal story and voiced hero) enable the story to flow more naturally and feels more engaging as you are pretty much always at the thick of everything that occurs around you.

While Dragon Age 2 certainly has the better story, it is impossible to deny that the cast of characters in the sequel can’t hold a torch to the band of misfits that players acquired in Origins. In Origins we got to laugh at interactions between the cold Morrigan and light hearted Alistair, get a kick out of Shale and Sten who were both unintentionally hilarious characters, and even be entranced by Leliana’s tales and words of wisdom. Dragon Age 2 has absolutely none of this and beyond perhaps two characters, Dragon Age 2’s roster is about as forgettable as Wynne in Origins.

The Qunari have received a very well deserved makeover.

While some of the characters have a lot of personality, there just isn’t enough conversation or interaction with them for any of them to shine much. The only two characters that I felt were very enjoyable were Merrill and Varric. Merrill is an Elven mage that briefly appeared in Origins and Varric is a Dwarf who essentially narrates the story of Dragon Age 2. I find these two enjoyable because Merrill is sort of a clumsy girl who seems to have a lot of self-confidence issues and is never really sure of herself. Merrill frequently apologizes for “babbling” and always seems to look upon a lot of scenarios with a sort of child-like innocence that I found really adorable. Varric is a huge contrast to Merrill. He is a cocky little Dwarf who loves opportunities that could benefit him financially. He’s sort of like the joker of Dragon Age 2 as he utilizes a style of very dry and witty humour that defines his personality greatly. Despite being a little sarcastic most of the time, Varric is exceptionally intelligent and sharp. I find that pairing Merrill with Varric in my party often results in very amusing conversations between the two. It may not compare to Alistair and Morrigan slamming each other with witty insults, but it’s still a blast to see Varric sarcastically poking fun at Merrill’s child-like ignorance of the world around her. He seems to refer to her as “Daisy” just about every time they talk, and she doesn’t even seem to care or notice as she just continues rambling on and misinterpreting situations in cute and funny ways. For sure these two are the best written characters in the game.

Other characters cannot hold a torch to Merrill and Varric. Aveline, a tank character who is essential in your party if you are not a warrior yourself, has a cliche personality that is about as boring as watching paint dry. Anders returns from Dragon Age Awakening, though with a new voice actor and a butchered personality that no longer provokes amused chuckles from me. There are a few other characters to choose from (all optional as far as I am aware), and they too are about as interesting as Wynne from Origins. So, while Dragon Age 2 certainly has a better crafted story, the characters aren’t quite as good as they were in Origins with only Merrill and Varric really standing out.

Animations and spell effects have been improved drastically from Origins.

The gameplay can be a little tedious since the entire game is set in Kirkwall. There sheer amount of quests available to pick up in the city is pretty overwhelming at times and, unfortunately, most of them aren’t very exciting to do. You will find yourself experiencing deja vu very often as you may venture to locations to complete quests in that you had just visited only half an hour ago. The coastal cliffs and mountain outside of Kirkwall are visited very frequently and due to the barren nature of their landscapes, they get boring very fast. Major quests in Kirkwall are a little better however. While most quests aren’t much more than simple “go to X location and kill someone” it is worth noting that a lot of the dialogue that happens during the better quests is pretty enjoyable. There is one storyline fight in particular that I really enjoyed. To prevent there from being any spoilers but to clue in those who have played the game, I am referring to the quest that puts you up against a very certain murderer. While the story quests are very well written and are exceptionally engaging, the optional quests are pretty much just there to inflate your total play time and aren’t particularly entertaining.

Regarding the battle system, it is true that it has become more action-oriented. This doesn’t necessarily mean that battles play out differently than they did in the first game in terms of mechanics, it’s just that the fighting happens at a faster speed than in Origins. Battles that used to take two or three minutes in the previous game may now take only thirty seconds to one minute. The flow is faster and the battle animations are definitely superior, but the actual mechanics are hardly different at all from Origins and players will be clicking their action bar at the bottom almost constantly. Anyone who has bought into the “Dragon Age 2 is dumbed down to appeal to Call of Duty fans” nonsense should relax, because it is not the case. The fighting is the same as it was in Origins, it is just faster. Does that make it better? Well, that’s up to the player to decide. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

I only have one gripe about the combat in Dragon Age 2 and that is the fact that, most of the time, you never know how many enemies you’ll be squaring off against. You may see three or four enemies on your screen before the fight begins, but after engaging them it is not uncommon to have two or three more jump down from above and to be flanked by several more enemies. It is confusing to say the least, especially since the enemies that flank you usually come from wherever you just came from so, logically, that path should have been safe. It is a strange occurrence that can make some fights a little annoying, but it is really only a minor complaint and shouldn’t pose a problem to anyone who knows what they are doing in combat.

The most notable thing that was dumbed down in Dragon Age 2 is the ability to customize and interact with your companions. You can no longer click on them to initiate conversations, as they will just spout one liners like the companions did in Dragon Age Awakening. It is also impossible to change the gear that your companions wear. You can still manually choose their amulets, belts and rings, though it is no longer possible to equip pieces of armor on them. All characters can equip weapons of your choosing (except Varric, who has a storyline weapon) as long as it fits their class. Merrill, a mage, can only use staves while Aveline, a warrior, uses shields and swords. You can “upgrade” companion armor in a way, but it requires choosing various storyline options in the conversation trees. For instance, I noticed that after one of my characters romanced Merrill and convinced her to move into Hawke’s home, she lost her original dull armor and adopted a very fancy looking suit of what looked to be chain mail.

The Deep Roads return, along with the Fade, but both are now fairly enjoyable. (Gasp!)

I should mention the conversation trees after bringing them up in the previous paragraph. Dragon Age 2 adopts a sort of Mass Effect approach to conversations. When engaging an NPC, players will no longer have a few moral choices to choose from like in the original Dragon Age, but will now have a round wheel that has a few choices that represent very certain personalities. There are three standard choices which are compassionate, joking, and aggressive. Sometimes there will be a few other choices, but they don’t pertain to the three personalities mentioned and just serve as a way to get more information out of the NPCs. It’s not a bad system and it works well since you always know what sort of attitude Hawke will take based on what you choose, but the choices are often worded in ways that do not accurately reflect the words that Hawke will use. For instance, a selectable choice may simple say “I am Hawke.” Upon choosing it Hawke will say, “I am the Champion of Kirkwall, haven’t you heard of me?” Notice that Hawke does not say who he/she even is, so there can be a bit of confusion. With the joking/sarcastic options, sometimes Hawke won’t even say anything even remotely similar to the choice you are presented with. It’s a little peculiar and it can be annoying at times since the words on the screen and what Hawke actually says can, in some cases, be completely different.

So what is my verdict? Dragon Age 2 beats the original in storyline and general flow, but Origins has about four enjoyable companion characters to Dragon Age 2’s lowly two. The conversations were better structured in Origins, but Dragon Age 2 is better written and having your character actually speak adds volumes to the game’s presentation that the previous game sorely lacked. So, in conclusion, both games are very fantastic, but the overall presentation of Dragon Age 2 is better. I forgot to mention that Dragon Age 2 has slightly better visuals (keyword is slightly) and much better loading screens, so that also helps to give this sequel a greater presentation than its older sibling.

If you were a fan of the original Dragon Age, I honestly do not see how you could flat out dislike this game. I certainly do recommend it to any fan of Origins. There have been a few changes and Dragon Age 2 does take a few steps in the wrong direction, but considering how little development time Bioware was given by Electronic Arts to pump this game out, it is evident that the development team put a very admirable amount of time and work into Dragon Age 2 and all of their hard work has translated to a very enjoyable game. Even though we still have Skyrim due out in November, I am already close to pinning this game as the RPG to beat for all of 2011. Check it out!

Final Score

9.3/10

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New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Review)

“Mario returns to his roots once more in this enjoyable 2D platformer.”

For many years, I was complaining that Nintendo was foolishly wasting their time making fully 3D Mario games, which I still feel they inappropriately named as platformers. Mario 64 never clicked with me and Mario Sunshine was so mediocre that it was depressing. I never played either of the Mario Galaxy games due to not being a Wii owner. Despite the fact that I don’t own Nintendo’s latest console, I’m still allowed the opportunity to try a Wii game from time to time. Except for Mario Kart Wii, there’s probably no other game on the console that I’ve ever wanted to play except for New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Now that I’ve gotten the chance to try it out, I feel that I really must write about the game being the Mario fanatic that I am.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (let’s just call it NSMBW for short) opens up with Mario and Luigi, as well as many toads (the mushroom people), attending Princess Toadstool’s birthday. Things take a completely random turn for the worse when Bowser’s goons lift Peach’s gigantic cake and throw it on top of her, trapping her inside before running off with her. I know that this is just a Mario platformer and all, but really? The cake? Nintendo surely could have done a little better than this? A crew of koopa caterers in disguise nabbing her would have been better. Even though I didn’t like the cake scene and found it to be really uncreative, it hasn’t affected my overall take on the game so no need to worry.

After the princess is nabbed, it is time for Mario, Luigi, and the two toads (one blue and one yellow) to save the day. With four characters comes four player support, new to the main Mario series. I only played the game solo which is how I feel Mario platformers should always be played unless we’re talking two players taking turns. In NSMBW however, all four players can romp across the screen together. It sounds like a little bit too much for me, especially in a Mario game, so I’m a little glad that I didn’t get the opportunity to try the multiplayer since it allowed me to play this game for what it is, a Mario platformer and not a four player orgy.

So once all is said and done and you’re past the intro sequence and player select, you get to tackle the first world. As is the case with all Mario games, NSMBW is divided into eight worlds, each comprised of several levels. Each world in NSMBW follows a different theme, most of which are pulled straight out of classic Mario games.

On the subject of emulating the classic Mario games, NSMBW does not hesitate to take many pages from the older games. NSMBW in fact borrows so many elements from the classic games that it ends up feeling like the first four games (Super Mario Bros 1, 2, 3 and World) were dumped into a big cauldron and left to stew. The number of gameplay elements from the old games is staggering, but it is huge relief after the 3D titles which tried desperately to be different.

Most of the classic enemies and power-ups from the first four games have returned. While they may be rendered in 3D now and have received drastic makeovers, everything is the same as ever. As a long time Mario fan, I was constantly encountering somewhat obscure enemies that I had met in the older games, so I had the privilege of knowing what they do and how to get around them. It was so great to experience so much familiarity in a new Mario game and it left me feeling really good.

In terms of what’s new to Mario, there are three new power-ups that are quite a lot of fun to use. The first that you will likely encounter is the ice flower which, instead of giving Mario the ability to throw fireballs, allows our plumber friend to freeze enemies for a few seconds. The second power-up is a propeller cap which allows Mario to fly up and down by shaking the Wiimote. This is a cheap gimmick to add to a power-up, and it immediately makes the propeller cap inferior to the leaf from SMB3 or cape from SMW in my opinion. The third and final new power-up is the penguin suit, which allows Mario to glide across the ground effortly like a penguin on ice.

Level structure is the same as ever, keep moving forward until you reach the goal post at the end of the level. How to progress through the levels has remained unchanged so Mario veterans should be able to complete most of the game with relative ease. There are a few new challenges littered throughout the game, most of which start to appear in the secord world.

There are a few old faces that have returned to the Mario franchise, which makes me very, very happy. First off, there’s Yoshi. Our beloved dinosaur has been restored to his Mario World glory thanks to a smart decision by Nintendo. Gone is Yoshi’s bizarre baby voice which has been replaced by the deeper, more reptilian Yoshi noises that we fell in love with in Super Mario World. Unfortunately, Yoshi is only present in a small handful of levels and cannot be taken outside to other levels. This seems to be a nod to Mario Sunshine and, quite frankly, I hate it. The inability to bring Yoshi anywhere is really not beneficial to the gameplay at all. Super Mario World, which is essentially twenty years old, has a superior Yoshi that can travel to any level. That does not look very good on NSMBW.

Also returning for the first time in many years are the Koopa Kids. I missed this guys immensely, as they were among my favourite aspects of the old games. The order that you fight them in has been shaken up quite a bit and is fairly interesting now. For example, Larry Koopa was usually always in castle 6 or 7 before, but is now the very first Koopa Kid who you must overcome.

World structure is actually the best ever in a Mario game. While the game world doesn’t feel as diverse as Super Mario World, which featured a brilliant overworld map, NSMBW instead emulates the map style that we’ve seen in Super Mario Bros. 3 and New Super Mario Bros. for the DS. There are several levels scattered across the maps which the player must beat to progress. Among them are mushroom houses, ghost houses (returning from Mario World), and towers. The towers are actually quite nice. In most cases, towers sit smack dab in the middle of each world. Whichever Koopa Kid is lording over the world you’re in will be present in the tower, and you get to have a nice little fight with them before they flee to the castle at the end of the world. After beating the tower, you are treated with a save prompt and the second half of the world to play through.

The graphical style in NSMBW isn’t bad at all and, quite honestly, just looks like the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES with a massive makeover. This is quite a good thing, and there’s a lot of charm in the game’s visuals. Sound effects match nicely, as many of them are straight out of the classic games with few alterations. Music is a different story and I personally found it to be a bit of a bag of mixed nuts. Some of the music tracks are very enjoyable and pleasant to listen to, but others are entirely forgettable. It is a little disheartening that a Mario platformer could have music that won’t stand out or stick with you, but that’s just the sad truth. The music is at least an improvement from New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, but just about anything is an improvement over the music in that game. Sorry Nintendo.

So, is the game worth your time? If you are a Mario fan, then the answer is a definite yes. If you enjoy Mario platformers, then there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you will enjoy this game. Heck, even just fans of platformers in general should find a lot to like in this game. While the game falters a tiny bit from a few shortcomings, it stands strong and is only bettered by perhaps Mario 3 and Mario World. Nintendo has proven to us that they still have it in them, and this is undoubtedly the best 2D Mario platformer in a whooping twenty years.

Final Score

9/10

DiRT 2 (Review)

INFO: This is a review of the PC version of DiRT 2, which is identical to the 360 and PS3 version. I have no experience with the DS or PSP versions of the game, therefore this review has absolutely nothing to do with them.


“A respectable sequel that takes a few steps forward, but also a few steps backwards as well.”

A few years ago, Codemasters released DiRT, which was then the newest installment in the Colin McRae Rally series. The game was received favourably by gamers and reviewers alike, so it was only a matter of time before they capitalized on the success of the first DiRT game and released a sequel. Last year, DiRT 2 was released and received an even greater reception than the first. As for me, well, I think I might like the first one more.

DiRT 2 borrows heavily from a racing game that Codemasters had released just prior to it, GRID. The overall presentation of DiRT 2 has more in common with GRID than the previous DiRT game by a landslide.

Gameplay features and menus are almost ripped straight out of GRID, which makes the game give off a sense of deja vu that it truly should not have. GRID was an arcade racer and DiRT is a semi-serious rally game. It just feels awkward that the presentation of the game is so similar between DiRT 2 and GRID.

The profile function from GRID, which allowed the game to call you by your name, makes a return as it lays nestled in the game’s menus which, while cleverly scattered across a 3D environment, are borderline carbon copies of GRID’s menus. Another feature that returns is the flashback ability. Five times in each event or race, you can rewind time to before you make a bad corner or before you crash, and you can pick up and play from that point on. This essentially allows you to undo your mistakes, which I didn’t approve of in GRID and I certainly don’t approve of in DiRT 2.

The game’s presentation is very flashy and loud, which is a huge contrast to the calm and vivid presentation of the original DiRT. Codemasters aimed for style with this game, throwing in loud punk rock tracks and making half of the text in the game look like graffiti. It’s clear that, with DiRT 2, Codemasters changed their marketing campaign and aimed for DiRT 2 to appeal to the mainstream audience rather than the semi-hardcore fans of the old Colin McRae games.

The game itself is presented as a full career mode. As soon as you start the game, you are thrown into your travel trailer which is rendered in full 3D. From in here, you can select race events, check relationships with other drivers, and purchase DLC. When you exit your trailer, you can check out your purchased vehicles, go racing, and tweak the game’s options. I find that this menu system is a little cumbersome. Sure it looks good, but the game wastes a lot of time moving the camera around when it could instead be hurrying along and showing you whatever you’re trying to access. To hop into an event, you have to first select one on the event map that is laying on a table inside of your trailer. This can take several seconds or more to find an event that you want to do. When you choose one, the camera pans back and takes you outside so that you can select a car. Once you do this, the camera then moves to show you your car, and it is here where you press the confirm button/key to finally go racing. What takes only a few seconds in conventional racing games can take a minute in DiRT 2.

In terms of events, I was a little upset to find that there is a huge lack of actual rallying in DiRT 2. Most events are competitive races, meaning multiple laps and a full field of opponent racers. Look, the old Rally Cross games were not rally racing, nor are more recent games such as MotorStorm. DiRT 2 isn’t a rally game either, it’s just a racing game that features rallying.

Some events are even more peculiar and questionable, such as the gate crasher races. These play as point to point rally stages, but there are many breakable checkpoints all along the course, and to win you essentially have to break through more of them than the opposition. Does this even sound like rally racing anymore? This isn’t a minigame or an optional game mode, these are mandatory race events.

The event that you take part in is decided by the country you choose on the map. The available countries for you to race in are China, Croatia, England, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, and the United States. Since I bought DiRT 2 to play a rally game, I find myself sticking mostly to Croatia and Morocco, where I find most of the enjoyable rally events to be located. While mentioning the countries available, I want to touch upon Malaysia. I find it very peculiar that Malyasia, on the ingame map, is Madagascar. China’s name strangely appears over Malaysia instead. I don’t want to question Codemasters, but do they know their geography? Labelling Madagasar as Malaysia is quite an odd thing to do since they are on opposite ends of the Indian Ocean. It’s a shame that Canada is not featured in DiRT 2, because part of me believes that they would mistakenly label it as Ireland.

In terms of gameplay, I must admit to being quite impressed. Controls are tighter and much more responsive than they were in the original DiRT, and gone is the sensation of your vehicle feeling as if it is “floating” around the course. All cars feel like they have genuine mass to them now, and they behave as such. Actual rallying feels more developed in DiRT 2, and I really enjoy whipping around hairpins in rally cars, something that was extremely rare in the first DiRT. I truly couldn’t be happier with the rally portion of game. I do not feel that the buggy/truck racing really stands up to the rally racing, nor is the lap racing particularly exciting, but there is still some enjoyment to be had in these races and, thankfully, the quality of the racing never dips below average.

As you race, you will earn experience points and level up. This doesn’t increase any abilities that let you drive better. Instead, gaining levels unlocks new events to race as well as new liveries and car decorations. You will also be able to forge relationships with other rally drivers in the game. Real life rally drivers Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and Dave Mirra can be befriended, as well as two fictional female drivers named Jayde Taylor and Katie Justice, whom I presume are in the game to add some equality to the game. Unfortunately, the friendships that you develop hardly matter at all. A better relationship with a rival driver will really only increase your chances of partnering them in team events.

The sound in DiRT 2 is about the same as it was in the first game, meaning that the sounds of cars accelerating and crashing are about what you would expect. They sound realistic enough to get the job done, but in truth are not very convincing. The voice acting in the game is a different story though, and I find that it annoys me frequently. Throughout races, fellow drivers will make witty quips about you or the circuit, or yell at people who hit them. It’s pretty unrealistic and makes it seem that the drivers are all wearing headsets to talk to one another, making it feel more like the races are casual and friendly events that good friends are taking part in. It’s just really silly and doesn’t fit the game’s atmosphere at all when you’re driving and I find it very distracting. Co-drivers sound good and do their jobs well, and listening to them is more of a required fixation rather than a distraction.

DiRT 2 doesn’t look too bad graphically. I’m not sure what the reason is, but I found myself not being surprised by any of the graphics. Nothing really stands out as being exceptional in DiRT 2, and unlike the first game which looked absolutely stunning when it came out, DiRT 2 just looks simply good.

Overall, it’s certainly an evolution of the original DiRT. While I don’t like how the rally experience has been neglected in DiRT 2 very much, the ability to replay rally events whenever I want makes me feel a little better. For the most part, DiRT 2 is a vicious offroad racer that can be quite unforgiving at times. If you’re a fan of rallying or chaotic offroad races, then DiRT 2 is likely your cup of tea. However, if you’re looking for the next Need for Speed, then you may want to give DiRT 2 a pass.

Final Score

8.1/10

F1 2009 (Review)

“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.

Final Score

5/10