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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BATracer (Review)


“A browser-based simulation that petrol fans will eat up.”
Today I’m stepping back from console and PC video games and focusing on something very different called BATracer. While some people may not see the “game” aspect here, many people do including BATracer’s creators, hence the game’s official subtitle being “Browser Based Race Simulation.” Yes, BATracer is played entirely in your browser.

BATracer lacks the exhilarating thrill of physically driving a car around a track and instead replaces it with a page that lets you manage the settings for your car and then letting the game calculate your performance during each driving session.

How the game plays depends widely on which championship you choose to enter. There are countless ones to pick from and they are all inspired by real life racing series such as A1GP, BTCC, DTM, Formula 1, and more. Different championships require different skill levels. For example, all cars in the GP (Formula 1) championships have different performance levels and the best teams are likely to come out on top, while all cars are identical in performance in the Formula Nations (A1GP) championship.

Upon joining a championship, players get to pick their team. If the player is able to create their own team, they will be able to select their chassis, engine, team livery and name, and more. After setting the team options, the player gets to colour their helmet, choose a nationality, and select one or two driving characteristics. The characteristics are fairly important and define how you will perform under certain situations. The “wet weather warrior” characteristic will allow the player to drive extremely well in the rain, while “speed demon” will make the player drive exceptionally fast under almost all conditions, though this increases the chance of getting into accidents.

Between sessions such as practice, qualifying and race, players must perform setup changes to their car by moving sliders for various parts of the car such as downforce, brake bias, and more. Getting the best out of the car involves finding the optimum setup, which involves putting each slider on the “perfect” number. Each slider has one and the player must find the perfect number by moving the sliders and then doing a test lap. After the lap, the player’s engineer will offer suggestions on what to do with each slider, such as decreasing or increasing them. As the player gets closer and closer to the magic number, the range for each slider decreases. Sliders start at 0 to 100, but after several practice laps they usually drop down significantly. As an example, the range may be 25-40 after five or six laps, which indicates that the ideal number is between 25 and 40. The number is different for every part of the car, and finding each one is essential in getting to the top of the time sheets. Provided you have a good car and decent driver characteristics, it’s reasonable to assume that having a 100% perfect setup (all sliders on the optimum numbers) will put the player at the top of the tme table.

Perfecting your car setup is a lot of fun, especially if you’re in a championship that allows you to have team-mates, which will allow you to bounce setups off of each other and work with one another to make your have the absolute best setup it can possibly have. The only problem with this is that sometimes team-mates will stop playing during the championship season, leaving you to fend for yourself. Thankfully there is an option to give inactive players the boot.

BATracer is fairly well made for a browser game and it’s hard to fault it for much considering it’s simplistic but strategic nature. My only complaint is that the game will ultimately decide if you do well or not. BATracer is, unfortunately, a game of luck at times. It is not uncommon to be doing practice laps and then receiving a message stating that you crashed out of the session and destroyed your car. This can happen incredibly often, as well as a message that says that you pushed too hard and made mistakes on your last lap, which for some reason reduces your number of laps left by two or three most of the time. You can set yourself up to be the most conservative driver imaginable and these driving errors can and will still pop up frequently. I don’t know what sort of formula the game uses to determine if something bad happens, but if you are unlucky, then bad things will happen almost endlessly. Having disaster after disaster strike you is not very fun, even in what is supposedly a simulation. There are no options available to you to refine your car’s reliability or anything of the sort, which is just a huge kick in the teeth.

BATracer’s greatest feature, without a doubt, is the uploader. This unlocks when you make a donation to BATracer and acquire “Kool Tools” for your account. The uploader allows you to customize the game even further than you are normally allowed. While users without Kool Tools can only paint their helmets using RGB sliders, Kool Tools users are able to upload their own helmet designs that they’ve made in Photoshop or whatever. Championships with custom teams work the same way – normal users can only paint cars while Kool Tools users can upload their own liveries complete with sponsors or whatever else they stick on the design.

The top car is a normal user's GP2 car, and the bottom is one that I uploaded with my Kool Tools access.

Players who love stats will have a lot to check out here as well. BATracer keeps track of all of your accomplishments and features world rankings and more. It’s a blast to check out your worldwide rank not only in championships won, but also other little things like fastest laps and points scored.

BATracer is a hugely customizable browser game that truly comes to life and becomes something very neat when Kool Tools are unlocked. For anyone interested in browser games or simulations, this is probably worth a look.

Official BATracer Website: http://batracer.com/

Final Score

7/10

No screenshots due to this being a browser game with a mostly text-based interface.

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.