F1 2011 (PC)
Last year Codemasters released F1 2010 and in the process brought a more serious style of racing to PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. The level of depth available to fans of the sport was unmatched and mixed with this was some very impressive gameplay, the two combining to ensure F1 2010 won numerous awards.
At the beginning of September we took a look at a preview build of F1 2011, covering some of the major changes which have taken place since last years release. Now we have access to a near final build which allows us to review the game so read on to find out what we thought of the experience.
As with F1 2010 the main gameplay aspect for the player is career mode where we join a team and fight to win the championship. Those who played F1 2010 will remember that the experience can be set to be very in-depth, even down to being involved in out of race press conferences and as with a number of aspects in the 2011 edition this has been enhanced to the level that Codemasters now call it "live the life". This gives us added cinematics and more overall involvement in the season as it progresses, now also including the Nurburgring and Indian GP.
We can of course just jump into a race which uses familiar controls as well as supporting wheel/pedal systems, maybe performing some minimal qualifying but the true F1 2011 experience comes from maximising our involvement in the race process. In the latest version of the game this is much more enjoyable for fans of F1, or racing in general and comes down to a number of key enhancements.
First up we have the more obvious updates which are the inclusion of rule changes with the most notable being the inclusion of KERS and DRS. For those not too familiar with these technologies KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) adds extra power to a car for a short period of time in each lap, DRS (Drag Reduction System) allows for the opening of the rear wing, reducing resistance, in certain circumstances... essentially enhancing the ability to overtake.
These new technologies very much change the racing tactics we must use, and those of the AI. This effect is enhanced further by the fact that the game models tyre wear on the new Pirelli branded units which are now used in F1 and the new in-game suspension/handling system which is designed to give cars a more realistic feel such as the ability to ride kerbs. The fuel system has also been significantly changed which has an impact on our and the AI's race strategy.
For some that would be enough to make it a worthwhile update over 2011 but not Codemasters, they went further with improved AI which now adapts to conditions and events as the race progresses. In the previous game the AI used a set strategy, that no longer happens. Additionally work has been performed to ensure that they react more naturally when racing, being aware of track quality when out of the racing line and through bug fixes which ensure they corner appropriately.
Another significant change is the introduction of the safety car. This is a feature fans of the series have been looking to have implemented and it can have a significant impact on races. We might for example have qualified badly, then dropped further down the running order during the race and in past games that wasn't a recoverable situation. Now through crashes or weather the safety car can be deployed, bringing the grid together and adding new life to the race. Codemasters have also applied nice little touches such as the need to weave in order to keep tyre pressure up and we can change our pit strategy during this time too.
Less obvious changes include mechanical failure tweaks which are based on our driving style, more race engineer feedback, improved penalty system and new on screen display layout.
So far we have seen that there are some pretty major changes to the game in terms of how it "drives" and the effect that has on the career mode. Multiplayer has also been a key focus for Codemasters though and one key aspect is Co-op mode. Through this we and a friend can join the same team and work together to win the constructors championship. This camaraderie of course adds a new aspect to the gameplay but we also have to compete with that same friend for the privilege of being the number one driver in the team, and for the championship. For most gamers this will add an extra edge to proceedings as the need to beat a mate is always higher than nameless, faceless AI. (Split screen available, as is online)
Codemasters have also enhanced the race and network code to enable 16 player online races (with 8 additional AI) and during these the track positions are more accurate, allowing for "wheel to wheel" racing. Players are benefited for their skill, or penalised for using driving assists above a certain rank and extra XP is awarded for those who overachieve.
Graphics and Audio
Like DiRT 3 which was released earlier this year F1 2011 uses the latest version of Codemasters EGO engine, v 2.0. This has allowed them to update the appearance of the game for more realistic visuals. As always when given the option we chose to test the PC version of the game and this supports DirectX 11 features which maximise the visual experience, creating some very impressive racing moments whether we are in-car or viewing from behind. Those with multi-display setups will also benefit from the games support for extreme resolutions such as 5760x1080.
On the audio front F1 2011 sounds much like 2010, the cars sound good and the race engineer feedback still there but this time tweaked to accommodate the race/AI/strategy impacting changes in the overall game engine.
It is clear from listening to the staff at Codemasters talk about their game that they are incredibly passionate about creating the best product they can and in F1 2011 there are some significant changes because of this. In a way the older game can be looked at as a starting point for the franchise, a game where Codemasters put in place a base of driving, AI and experience which they were happy with but always had the intention of evolving. With the 2011 release, and beyond, the core aspects were already in place and this was a case of tweaking, enhancing and improving on what had gone before.
The end result is a game which will feel noticeably different to players who have F1 2010. This of course opens up the opportunity for Codemasters to "break" the game in the eyes of many but thankfully this hasn't happened. All of the changes are for the better, such as improved AI, suspension, handling, tyre and fuel updates and the new focus on multi-player and increased enjoyment has transformed that aspect of the game. We were also especially pleased to see the implementation of the safety car which adds another level of depth to the game.
Improved graphics also have a positive impact on our racing which ensures we remain as absorbed in the race as possible, something which is taken further with support for steering wheel and pedal controllers. Combine them with a surround gaming setup from AMD/NVIDIA or a big screen TV and we have the makings of a great racing game experience.
In summary F1 takes the franchise to a more detailed, enjoyable level and contains enough improvements and evolution to make it a worthwhile purchase even for those who have F1 2010.
||Helped in many ways by the rule/equipment changes in F1 but Codemasters own changes such as the overall handling of the car ensure some top notch gameplay.
||Very impressive on the PC, includes DX11 support and extreme resolutions. We also expect full 3D support from both major GPU vendors in the near future.
||There to do a job and they do it well.
||A career that is as long and in depth as the player wishes mixed with a lot of multiplayer options ensure a lot of replay value in this title.
(Not an Average)
||A great evolution of the franchise, not just a basic update of teams and tracks for the new season.