Reviewed: October 14, 2011
Released: September 23, 2011
Iím a big fan of auto racing; everything from NASCAR and IndyCar to Rally racing and Formula 1. Over the years, Iíve had the pleasure of participating in racing schools for NASCAR and IndyCar, and just this summer I had the rare privilege of traveling to Monaco and driving a real F1 race car on one of the most famous and scenic tracks in the Grand Prix circuit. The experience was indescribable. I had driven that track so many times in video games that once I was behind the wheel of a real F1 car everything just seemed to snap into place. Even my driving school instructors were impressed.|
Admittedly, most gamers arenít going to go to the expense of flying halfway around the world and spend thousands of dollars to fulfill their childhood fantasies, so Codemasters gives us the next best thing with F1 2011. Iíve always been loyal fan of Codemasters and their dedication to racing games, the fun ones like GRiD and the more serious sims like DiRT and their F1 franchise. While last yearís F1 2010 proved a bit too daunting for most casual racers I loved the attention to every last sim-like detail and precision controls that demanded you play the game with a wheel. Now, itís back to the Grand Prix circuit with a new installment that somehow manages to tweak and refine this franchise, moving it one step further towards perfection.
If you are looking for a serious racing sim then look no further. F1 2011 is brutally real Ė almost harder than driving a real F1 car. The cars handle much more realistically than last year with improved controls and a better physics model that handles suspension and air-flow much better. This means that all those tweaks you can make in the garage will actually affect the way your car handles and performs on the track. I was amazed to learn at driving school that you could potentially drive one of these cars upside down on an inverted track at speeds less than 100mph Ė thatís the level of downforce these cars generate, and it's amazing how well the cars stick to the track, even at low speeds.
F1 2011 puts the most realistic driving simulation in your hands then asks you to go up against some of the most aggressive AI racing Iíve seen in any racing franchise to date. All too often the computer will just follow the preferred racing line and adjust speed to avoid conflict, but in F1 2011 the computer seems to always be watching and waiting for you to slip up and then it will make its move. Iíd almost like to compare it to playing against real humans online, but Iíve never played humans who were this good. Humans will often take unnecessary risks and endanger your car or their's with some reckless passing maneuver, but the AI seems to only take smart risks, and all this is playing on the Medium setting. Crank this sucker up any higher and you are just asking for trouble.
Being a simulation, and a realistic simulation at that, gamers will have to come to terms with the fact that not every racer wins every race. Games (and Ricky Bobby) have lulled us into this sensibility that if you donít come in first you didnít win. F1 racing (actually all racing) is about the big picture, the entire season, which is why you take your lumps and earn as many points as possible by finishing as fast as possible. Sure, you can try to game the system and keep replaying till you win, but honestly, unless you resort to some underhanded driving tactics, you probably wonít have the car or the skills required to even take the lead, let alone keep it until the checkered flag until much later in the season.
All of your favorite tracks are back including the new Buddh International Circuit in India for a total of 19 racing venues. Intimate knowledge of all these tracks and each of their turns is crucial for success. Once you master the speed and timing and ideal racing lines (which can optionally be displayed) itís just a matter of tweaking your car and practicing until perfect. You can play in quick races or dive into the full season experience complete with race weekends that feature practice sessions, qualifying, and the main event. The career mode is a bit slow getting started, and the limited ďstoryĒ has you working your way up from humble beginnings in search of respect, reputation, and a champion sponsorship, as you manage your career from your team trailer between races.
Youíll need more than driving skills to win a race, let alone the season. You and your racing machine must become one, as you learn which tires to use and how to adjust your fuel mix for certain conditions. Pit strategies also come into play, now more than ever with the addition of the safety car that will come out on track after a bad accident. And finally, youíll also get to learn how to use two new features; DRS and KERS. DRS allows you to adjust the angle of your rear wing while KERS is a small engine boost you can trigger once per lap. While not particularly beneficial for racing, these new tweaks will help you shave precious seconds off your qualifying times.
When youíre ready to dazzle the world with your racing skills you can head online for 16-player races and you can even fill in the field with up to 8 AI racers to complete the grid. Local racers will enjoy the splitscreen mode and for those looking to tackle the buddy experience, check out the innovative co-op mode that allows two racers to race for the same team, essentially allowing you to work together against the rest of the pack, forming any necessary mid-race strategies to ensure at least one of you wins.
F1 2011 looks great when captured in stills or viewed in replays, but when you are tearing around the track at 200mph most of the scenery is a blur. Oddly enough, the designers seemed to have put most of their efforts into wet racing since the game looks its best when the skies are overcast and the track is a mirror of water that kicks up a magnificent spray behind each of the cars. Naturally, this introduces all sorts of new driving challenges, both in visibility and handling. Car damage is modeled pretty well with bent and broken parts that try to visually live up to the serious impact they have on performance.
The audio package is fantastic. If you think these cars sound like F-15ís when they streak by you in the bleachers, you should hear one from inside the cockpit. Even with a padded helmet and earphones, the sound consumes your body, and F1 2011 does an admirable job of recreating that feeling, but a good home theater sound system and sub-woofer helps. There is a decent soundtrack and the ability to use your own music, but true racers will be in this for the screaming RPMís and squealing rubber.
Casual racers need not apply. Even when you try to dumb down the game with options and settings F1 2011 will prove too taxing for all but the most serious F1 racing fans. Bring a good sound system, a comfortable chair, and a reliable racing wheel to the table and prepare for the ultimate F1 racing experience you can have without leaving the houseÖor the country.