Reviewed: March 2, 2007
Released: February 27, 2007
One of the few things I remember from watching the coverage of the Sony E3 press event was the demo for the Formula One Championship Edition game where the speaker held up a PSP and demonstrated how you would be able to hook-up the PSP to the PS3 with a USB cable and use your PSP as a real-time rearview mirror Ė just one of many PS3-PSP connectivity features planned for the two systems.
When my review copy of F1 arrived I eagerly grabbed my PSP and USB cable and was prepared to experience exactly what I saw in what I was quick to discover was either a staged demo or some experimental concept in progress that unfortunately never made it into the final game I was about to play. Sure, I was disappointed and admittedly, itís not a huge deal, but it sure would have been cool if they had actually done it.
On a more positive note, F1 does support Logitech racing wheels including my old Driving Force Pro, which hasnít really gotten much use since I quit playing GT4, and their new G25, the mother of all racing wheels. I actually had to detach the G25 wheel from my PC and haul it into the other room just to see how good F1 really was. It was worth the effort.
You see; Formula One Championship Edition isnít your typical racer. This is technical racing elegance in its purist form. Playing this game with the SIXAXIS is akin to playing Microsoft Flight Simulator X with a keyboard. If you donít own a wheel and donít plan on owning one soon then donít even consider this game. Sure, it can be played with a game controller, but not very well and not as the designers intended.
SCE Studios Liverpool has assembled the complete Formula package with all the official teams, drivers, and tracks from the 2006 season. Combine that with next-gen weather effects, ultra-realistic car handling, and authentic broadcast presentation and you have one of the most technically perfect racing games available on any system.
Make no mistake about it; F1 is a racing sim and certainly not for everyone. First of all you have to actually like Formula racing, which is arguably a European sport. F1 is to racing as soccer is to football. Your driving cars with engines that sound and perform like fighter jets on curvy technical tracks that would send most NASCAR and Indy racers running home to their mommies.
So while F1 is a fantastic technical sim, it is not all that accessible to the general public, especially those looking for fast action and explosive crashes. Iím not trying to discourage anyone here, but merely warn you of what lies ahead if you purchase this game. Thankfully, the designers have included numerous driving aids to ease you into the driverís seat and out of the pit.
The first and most valuable of these aids is the ideal racing line, which not only shows you where you should be driving, but also when to brake and accelerate. Since perfect track memorization is required to be remotely competitive in this game, youíll need to know speeds and racing lines for every curve on every track. Itís a monumental task that will really make you appreciate what the real-life F1 drivers have to do.
There are other assists like auto-shift and auto-brake that will keep rookie drivers from getting into too much trouble, but veteran racers and those wanting to exploit their car to the fullest and turn in record times will want to turn these aids off and probably dig into some of the more advanced garage options to mechanically tweak their car for the best lap times possible.
There are numerous game modes to train and perfect your driving skills. These start with standard Quick Race and Time Trial modes or you can jump into the more serious Grand Prix Weekend mode to simulate practice, qualifying, and racing. And when you are ready you can become your favorite F1 driver and recreate the entire 2006 season in World Championship mode.
The best mode is also the least accessible. I think I played this game for nearly a week before I got good enough to tackle the Career mode, which allows you to create your own driver and take them through five complete seasons of F1 racing. But you canít just jump into a career, you have to be accepted by a racing team and this requires you to run some hot laps and beat some pretty stringent lap times. And even if you make the team you might not get a car. You could end up as a test driver, biding your time for the day when you impress the sponsors enough to actually drive in a race. Sound too real? It is.
Career mode is definitely the ultimate achievement, the culmination of all your efforts and experience gained from playing all the other modes until you are living and breathing Formula racing and you know each track like the back of your hand.
An important element of any racing game is control and F1 delivers on all levels. Despite my harsh criticism of the SIXAXIS earlier, it does a respectable job as long as you donít plan on getting too serious. The analog stick steering is usually a bit too twitchy, especially compared to a nice wheel, and the up and down on the right stick for gas and brake works, but not well enough. If you opt for configuration F you can actually use the motion-control ability to steer the car by holding and moving the controller like a real racing wheel. This works much better for steering but makes it awkward for using any other buttons, while trying to turn at the same time.
F1 supports three wheels, all from Logitech. You can use the Driving Force Pro, Driving Force EX, and the new G25 Racing Wheel. The G25 works like a dream, but donít go rushing out to buy one just for this game. Costing as much as $280, this wheel is total overkil. First off, you donít use the clutch pedal at all so that goes to waste. The standalone stick shift package is unnecessary since real F1 cars use the paddles to shift. And none of the wheels offer any force feedback or rumble effects, even though they support it Ė the game just doesnít generate the effects, which is a huge injustice since driving on the rumble strips and getting that tactile feedback is a huge part of F1 racing.
Formula One Championship Edition is a stunning title, but again, purely from a technical standpoint. There arenít a lot of flashy effects, explosions, time-reversing undo crash modes or Matrix freeze frames. Instead, you have what can only be described as realistic perfection, whether you choose to drive from behind the car (shame on you) or inside the fully animated and functional cockpit, each unique to the car you are driving.
Cars are modeled with superior detail, and skinned with glistening body panels sporting all sorts of authentic decals and markings. With damage turned on, a wreck can send your car flying apart in dozens of individually modeled pieces. Wings will fly off and tires will bounce down the track.
Tracks are meticulously recreated from their real-life counterparts complete with crowds, banners, and all the other small details youíve probably seen on TV and would expect in a sim of this caliber. You can really appreciate these details when watching the race from a myriad of camera angles, both external and others locked to the car of your choice. You can even see the drivers straining against G-force and wind effects.
Lighting is superb with lens flares and shadows and light streams coming through grandstands and trees and bouncing off realistic pavement. The real-time reflections in the cars must simply be seen to remotely comprehend. You can almost reach out and touch these gleaming cars and probably leave a fingerprint on their mirror-like finish.
There is also some excellent pit crew animation that ties into a mini-game of sorts where you match a sequence of buttons to rapidly change tires and refuel your car. Itís great to watch these guys swarm and service your car before you speed back onto the track.
Music is pretty much limited to the open movie and menu screens. Once you get onto the track this game is all business with nothing but the screaming of engines and the roar of wind outside your helmetÖas it should be.
There is some really good commentary that actually manages to follow the racing action with surprising accuracy. That combined with vocal input and feedback from your pit crew chief really immerses you in the F1 experience.
You can probably play F1 forever, or at least until a new version comes out. By design, racing games like these have no end. It will take you a month or more to get good enough to even attempt a career mode and that encompasses five seasons of racing, and a single season can take a week or more of dedicated gaming if you are playing full-scale races.
F1 delivers a technically perfect online racing experience for up to 11 human competitors and 11 AI cars to fill in for a full field of 22. There is virtually no lag, which really surprised me for a game that delivers so much speed and this level of detail. Setting up a game is easy and you can maintain a lobby and keep a group of drivers together after a race if you want to keep going. This allows you to create your own impromptu tournaments, which is nice since there is nothing really structured in the way of official online leagues or tournaments.
There is no way to rank yourself in single-player mode, but you can create an online game and race against AI opponents only. Itís a cheap workaround, but it will get you ranked and give you an online presence without the trouble of finding a field of human drivers.
Formula One Championship Edition is easily the best F1 racing game console gamers have had the privilege of playing. Thanks to the power of the PS3 and Sonyís painstaking attention to every last detail, the console is now capable of delivering a sim experience that was previously reserved for high-end PCís.
F1 racing isnít for everyone. It requires a lot of practice, track memorization, and intimate knowledge of your car; how it handles under a variety of weather and track conditions, tire wear, and how to tune your machine for each track. If you are up to the challenge, Formula One Championship Edition will reward your efforts with one of the best racing sims I have ever played.