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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DiRT 3 (Review)

In 2007, Codemasters released the newest game in their Colin McRae Rally series simply titled DiRT. It was a stunning rally game that was a huge blast to play and I couldn’t have been happier with it. Two years later, DiRT 2 was released. I was less than impressed with the aesthetics and presentation changes from the first game. DiRT 2 was still a decent game to play, but the game itself had been “mainstream-ified” by tossing in a punk rock soundtrack, silly gameplay features (friendships… seriously?!) that added little to nothing to the core gameplay. Despite these problems, I still thought that DiRT 2 was a pretty great game overall, but it could not compare to the depth of the first game. Now here we are in 2011 and a new game, DiRT 3, has been released. Is it a more traditional rally game like the first DiRT, or does it stray from the established Colin McRae Rally path in favour of something that will appeal to people who don’t even really like rally racing, like DiRT 2 had done?

DiRT 3 has abandoned the whole “the entire game is a career mode” approach that DiRT 2 featured in favour of a more traditional presentation similar to what was found in the first DiRT. The game is no longer centered within a three dimensional motorhome and the career mode is an actual selectable game mode from the main menu once more, and I couldn’t be happier with this. The previous game focused too much on trying to drag the player along a silly career mode and not straying from that path much, which made the rest of the game feel a little weak. DiRT 3 gives ample attention to everything in the game, and it makes for a far better experience than DiRT 2.

From the main menu, there is of course the career mode, but several other choices are present as well such as the single race mode that lets you set up a specific race or rally to compete in. There’s a good number of options here, but I did not seem to see any option that let me make a custom championship or even a custom rally that would let me play consecutive point-to-point stages. This was a bummer for me, and it seems that to access any form of championship gameplay, you will have to venture into career mode and select a pre-made championship. This can be a little upsetting since individual rally stages aren’t very long in DiRT 3. The longer stages will probably take most players about three minutes to finish which is, once you get driving and into your groove, painfully short.

Gymkhana is a fairly disappointing addition to DiRT 3.

There are a variety of ways to go driving in DiRT 3. Typical point-to-point rally racing is of course present, which is a relief since it is indeed true rally racing. Other mainstay modes such as circuit racing and rally cross are there while a new mode tries to establish itself. The new mode in question is gymkhana. Many people have probably seen videos of Ken Block doing all kinds of impressive stunts and tricks in a rally car on YouTube. These videos are in fact gymkhana, which Block seems to be popularizing quite a bit. While gymkhana videos are pretty cool and entertaining to watch, the actual game mode in DiRT 3 is not nearly as impressive. While the controls are certainly responsive, the challenges presented in the gymkhana mode are extremely dull. You’ll be asked to drift around poles, break through obstacles, and even collect tokens. While this doesn’t sound so bad, it is all executed pretty poorly and is not a very replayable game mode. It all feels very gimmicky and out of place, especially when you are forced to compete in mandatory gymkhana events in the career mode.

A lot of lame tacked on features from DiRT 2 have been removed to deliver a slightly more realistic gameplay experience. No more will you have to forge friendships with fictional female rally drivers. In the career mode, you only have one objective… Do better than your competitors! By doing so, you will level up every now and then which now serves a much better purpose than it did in DiRT 2. In the previous game, gain levels would give you pretty useless things like dashboard decorations for your car. DiRT 3 understood that this was pretty stupid, so now gaining levels will instead increase your popularity and recognition in the rally scene. Get enough recognition by leveling and new rally teams will be interested in offering you a drive. The career mode is also narrated by a few different characters who serve as your staff (mechanic, etc.). They are a breath of fresh air compared to the hopelessly bad narration by Block and Pastrana. While they never say anything particularly important or useful, they will crack a few jokes or say funny things from time to time, and this helps break up the mononotous nature of the game’s menus.

As far as gameplay is concerned, there’s a definite step up from the previous two games. In the first DiRT, games felt very floaty and gave the impression that they were hovering above the ground. DiRT 2 tried to address this issue and did indeed make the cars feel slightly grounded, but the controls were still incredibly forgiving and cars still felt a little floaty. DiRT 3 has eliminated all previous issues with controls, with cars that now feel completely grounded and respond brilliantly to your inputs.

One joy that I’ve found in DiRT 3 is how much more entertaining it is to deal with a car that is trying to spin out on you. In one rally stage, I took a turn too sharply and ran off the road slightly and over a few bumps in the grass. This was all it took to make my car want to fly off the other side of the road and into the ditch, but I was able to quickly wiggle the car and snap it back in place, thereby averting disaster. While it certainly was not impossible to straighten your car out and continue during spins in the previous two games, it feels better in DiRT 3. The cars are just much more responsive to you when you tell them what to do. Only the worst of mistakes will force you to crash without being able to prevent it from happening.

Yes, DiRT 3 really does look THAT good!

The AI has been revamped to be much more aggressive in DiRT 3. While they wrestle their cars through rally stages more realistically now, the AI racers in lap races are pretty terrifying! It is not unlikely to be rammed from behind, or for a car to violently slam into the side of your car when they try to pass. In many racing games, these events occur from the player being overly aggressive when trying to defend or overtake, but in DiRT 3 I point my finger exclusively at the AI. Outside of lap racing, the AI is pretty bearable. However… Once you’re confined to a race track with the AI drivers, you’d best watch your back. They are positively ruthless in DiRT 3!

DiRT 3 also boasts the ability to upload portions of your replays to YouTube. While this sounds cool in theory, you are limited to uploading only 30 seconds of your replay and uploads take several minutes at a time. There is no way to save the replay and rewatch it from within the game either. Because of this, the YouTube functionality that is present feels half done at best, and the inability to watch entire replays at a later date is a real downer. Fortunately for PC users, programs such as Fraps are easy enough to find and use.

Multiplayer is pretty great in DiRT 3. There are the usual rallies and lap races to take part in, but a few silly minigames are also thrown into the mix. Want to play capture the flag? It’s here. How about playing a zombie themed game of tag with cars? Yup, you can do that too. How about defending Earth from an invading alien swarm? That’s here too, no joke! DiRT 3 offers a variety of fun themed minigames to jump into, and they are all fairly interesting and varied. Gamers who really don’t feel like racing and rallying all the time will definitely enjoy what DiRT 3 has to offer here.

In terms of graphics, DiRT 3 is probably one of the best looking racing games out there. The original DiRT looked great in 2007, and DiRT 2 looked a little above average in 2009, but in 2011 it is safe to say that DiRT 3 is king. I am more impressed with the graphics in DiRT 3 than I am in other games such as Gran Turismo 5 – a game that takes photo realism a little too far. Car models in DiRT 3 look absolutely incredible, and the rally stages that are held in the middle of nowhere, like just about any stage in Finland, look absolutely breathtaking as you zoom through forests and past the occasional house or two. The HUD also looks pretty nice, abandoning the urban graffiti look of DiRT 2’s HUD and replacing it with a cleaner, sleeker looking one that is easier to read and understand.

DiRT 3’s soundtrack is definitely worth mentioning. Most of the tracks are really entrancing techno or foot stomping rock songs, which isn’t a bad thing at all! Every single track I’ve listened to in DiRT 3 simply sounded great. Need proof? Here is a tune that many feel is the unofficial theme of DiRT 3.

Sound effects are pretty much what you’d expect. There hasn’t been much of a change since DiRT 2, so most vehicle engines and such sound more than adequate but won’t really excite the diehard fans. Environmental sound effects are pretty good, though. You’ll hear nearby spectators cheering and shouting an awful lot and, if you park your car in the right areas and listen, you’ll get to enjoy mother nature as well.

So how good is DiRT 3? Truthfully, it is Codemasters’ best rally game since Colin McRae Rally 3, which was released in 2003. The superb rallying from the first DiRT is here and gone are the tacky filler features from DiRT 2. The interface and menus have been cleaned up, and DiRT 2’s reliance on graffiti art and text is now a thing of the past. DiRT 3 is proof that this new series (it is no longer a part of the CMR franchise) has grown up and has established a true sense of identity for itself. While a few features such as gymkhana aren’t really up to par, overall this is probably the best mass appeal rally game there is.

PROS:
+ The graphics are absolutely stunning.
+ Meaningless content from past games has been cut.
+ Multiplayer modes are very fun and original.

CONS:
– AI can be frustratingly aggressive in races.
– Gymkhana events feel bland and lack replayability.
– Rally stages are far too short.

Final Score

9/10

F1 2010 (Review)

“The best F1 game on consoles in several years.”

The 2010 Chinese Grand Prix was, quite possibly, the most exciting race of the year. I will not forget how the race started bone dry after a qualifying session filled with torrential rain. The precipitation allowed the grid to be fairly jumbled come race day, resulting in Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus qualifying an impressive 7th.

The race was fairly processional until, only five laps from the end, the rain started to fall! It was only a trickle at first, and few drivers seemed bothered. However, within the next lap, the trickle became a massive downpour. Most of the field scrambled for the pits to change to wet weather tires. One brave man, however, decided to remain on slicks. That man was Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus. By staying out on slicks, Kimi was able to assume a very risky race lead.

The rain intensified, and Kimi’s Lotus had trouble staying on the circuit. Sebastien Vettel in the Red Bull was closing extremely fast from second position. It looked as if Kimi would not have enough time to clinch the first win for Lotus, but luck was on his side as he kept his head down for three more laps, winning the monsoon-struck Chinese Grand Prix on slicks!

Of course, the race I just narrated did not really happen. It all took place in F1 2010, the latest Formula One game and the first developed in-house by UK developer Codemasters. It is the first licensed Formula One game to appear on the current crop of consoles (excluding the Wii) in several years, and is arguably one of the best F1 games ever made.

Upon loading up the game, the player will be treated to a press conference in which they get to choose their name, nationality, and team they will initially drive for in the career mode. You can specify three, five, or seven seasons. Which teams you can initially choose from depends on how many seasons you want to race. I chose seven seasons, and could only pick from HRT, Lotus, and Virgin. As you may be able to guess, I selected Lotus. Since my favourite F1 driver, Kimi Raikkonen, isn’t around in 2010 for some pretty shoddy and stupid reasons, I named my career driver after him so that Kimi could, hopefully, bring glory to the Lotus brand.

After the press conference, you are free to basically do whatever you want. Your agent for career mode will show you how to navigate the game’s menus, which are so similar to DiRT 2’s menus that you will get a severe case of deja vu. In DiRT 2, the menu was fully 3D and took place in the player’s trailer, as well as outside in the locale that the last rally event took place in. F1 2010 copies this by plopping the player down into a motorhome located in a Grand Prix paddock. Players can navigate several menus inside of their motorhome (talking to your agent, career mode, changing your helmet, or checking out the championship standings). If you choose to exit your motorhome, you will find yourself in the paddock of whatever the current circuit is that you are racing at in career mode. From here, you can choose Grand Prix or time trial modes, tweak your game options, or go online. During your career, you will also be interviewed by BBC’s David Croft outside of your motorhome. He has a continuous presence outside of your motorhome, as well as a camera man, two grid girls, your team-mate, and two team engineers. It’s pretty cool, and the immersion is certainly there. My only complaint is that the immediate area outside of your motorhome feels very sterile. Aside from the few characters lingering around who I just mentioned, there is a sort of empty feeling as if something is missing. I guess I just expected it to be busier in the paddock?

If you choose to jump head first into the career mode, you will have to race the entire calendar of the 2010 season. Nineteen races, complete with practice and qualifying sessions, can certainly be daunting. Thankfully several new circuits, as well as revisions to older circuits, keeps things fresh. The new infield section of the Bahrain Grand Prix changes the experience of the circuit drastically. Unfortunately, the Bahrain International Circuit is just as boring in the game as it was on television this year. I didn’t enjoy the new slow section, and I doubt that anybody else will. Other circuits such as Abu Dhabi, Singapore, South Korea are interesting to drive on. Valencia, predictably, is not very enjoyable. Throughout career mode, you will be interviewed by the media. This will have a direct affect on your relationship with your team, team-mate, and rival drivers.

For the most part, the graphics are really stellar, and the sights and sounds of each individual course was enough to make me enjoy the career mode. All circuits look very impressive, especially Monaco. Unfortunately, Monaco seems to be very difficult for me to play in this game. While I secured a win in China, I found that even qualifying within three seconds of 23rd position in Monaco to be next to impossible! Bizarre, since Monaco used to be one of my best tracks in older games. The game sounds just as good as it looks. Some diehard sim fans may not be impressed, but to me the cars sound exactly like they do when I watch a race on TV. This is an awesome accomplishment. Your engineer Rob, who is always giving you tips and updates, never shuts up and can become slightly annoying after hearing him comment on every single minute thing that you do. His voicing isn’t bad at all, he just talks far too often for my liking.

I found the controls to be pretty decent. Adjusting to dry weather driving took me approximately an hour and a half. When I began, I was flying off of the Bahrain International Circuit at almost every turn, but by the end of my first race on that circuit, I was smashing the lap records set during the race. I thought that I had things all figured out until the game threw wet weather driving at me, which is an entirely different beast. While your car will handle surprisingly well in the wet most of the time, I’ve found that cars like to try to spin out when taking sharp corners. The Turkish Grand Prix ended up being wet for me, and a few corners were exceptionally difficult for me in the rain. Visibility can also be a problem. Rain drops will land and splatter all over the screen, obscuring your vision. The opposition will also kick up lots of spray as they drive around. If you end up directly behind another car in the rain, your visibility will almost be reduced to zero. It sounds like it could be frustrating and very harrowing, but I personally loved it. Having such detailed rain effects helped the immersion immensely. I’ve found myself to be more impressed by the weather system in F1 2010 more than in any other game I have ever played.

Now for a few bad points. First off is the time trial mode. Quite a few “hardcore” players have complained about this, so I know I am not alone. When playing time trial mode, you will find that setting an actual lap time is the greatest challenge there is! If you even so much as touch the grass with your wheels, your lap time will be invalidated. Touch the grass again on the same lap and your lap time for the next lap will be thrown out before you even start it. It’s a ridiculous system, and it took me almost ten laps as a beginner to even set a timed lap. As a whole, time trial mode is just a lot of unnecessary frustration.

When you are actually racing, however, something else peculiar happens that is just as frustrating. It seems that the AI sets “false times” when in qualifying and during races. Essentially, AI opponents will just chug around the circuit at whatever speed they wish, and the game will generate a time for them when they cross the line. There is also a strange bug that forces the AI back onto course when something bad happens. I have not encountered it, but somebody was kind enough to share it on YouTube.

Unusual to say the least! It makes me wonder how many strange shortcuts Codemasters took in programming this game. However, I’ve found that as long as you don’t actually witness any bugs or strange happenings such as what occurs in the video above, the racing feels fairly realistic for the most part. Some are accusing the game of having rubberbanding as bad as what is in Mario Kart. I’ve had trouble losing many AI opponents myself, but I blame this on the Lotus that I am usually driving, since it is one of the slowest cars.

All in all, the game is quite good. For the casual F1 fan, or for fans who aren’t expecting a miracle in game-form, this is probably the best console F1 game since F1 Championship Edition on the original Playstation. That was 1997, folks. If that doesn’t say something about this game, then I don’t know what does. Aside from the glitches and programming shortcuts taken by Codemasters, this is a very solid Formula One game. If you have the cash, give this one a go.

Final Score

8.9/10

Since I have this game on my PC, here are two videos of me driving in place of the usual four screenshots.

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

F1 2010: What do we know so far?

After reviewing the developer diaries pumped out by Codemasters, as well as after checking additional sources of information, I put together a list of what is currently known to be in F1 2010.

  • Release date is in September 2010 for PC, Playstation 3, and XBox 360.
  • Based on the Ego Engine that DIRT, DIRT 2, and GRID used.
  • All new drivers, teams, and tracks will be represented.
  • Anthony Davidson assisting in the development of game by offering advice and input on how the cars should handle. Car handling will be consistent and predictable, but nervous and twitchy in corners to simulate a real Formula One car.
  • All drivers and key team personnel are fully modelled in 3D.
  • Cars will behave realistically. Downforce settings will be felt significantly in corners, and cars will change their handling drastically at high speeds.
  • “We don’t want to make the game as realistic as real life, otherwise you’ll be spinning off left, right, and center,” says Anthony Davidson.
  • Tire temperatures and wear will be present and will be very important in the races. Marbles, water, rubber on the track, etc. will also affect tire performance differently.
  • During pit stops, mechanics will change aero settings, replace tires, and replace damaged or broken car parts.
  • The most complicated weather system ever seen in a racing game. Weather is unpredictable and will change in real time.
  • Falling water will cause the race track to slowly lose grip. Trees and trackside objects will be able to shelter areas of the track from rain.
  • Performance changes and parts on the car being upgraded throughout the season will be present.
  • AI drivers currently lap at nearly the same times as their real life counterparts.
  • Players will be able to interact with the media, allowing them to answer questions, criticize their team, and so forth. This will affect the off-track gameplay in career mode significantly.
  • Career mode will also involve interacting with your fans and sponsors.
  • AI drivers will know when to defend and attack, and individual drivers will have personality characteristics that are meant to mirror the real life drivers that they are based on.
  • No spectator mode in online racing.
  • Race engineers will inform you in real time what is happening in the race. Your brakes, lap times, gaps to your opponents, and events going on around you will all be dictated to you.
  • Career mode will be 3, 5, or 7 seasons long. The player may choose how long they want it to be.
  • Beating your team-mate in career mode often will make your team favour you more, allowing you to be the first to have new car upgrades.
  • Puddles will cool your tires if they are overheating.
  • No mechanical failures.
  • There will be no safety car.
  • Players will be able to design their own character for career mode and can spray champagne on the podium.
  • Ability to “choose” a rival in career mode.
  • Formation laps will not be present in the game.
  • All kinds of flags will be present.
  • “Flashback” feature from DIRT 2 and GRID will be in the game.

I’ll make an updated post on this in the middle of June, since the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) occurs in the middle of the month, and the game will likely be presented at the show.

Return to May 2010 Articles