“F1 2009” by Codemasters (Sony PSP)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The Sony PSP and Nintendo Wii are the first consoles to get the new F1 game
The Sony PSP and Nintendo Wii are the first consoles to get the new F1 game

After a three-year wait, F1 fans finally have an official Formula 1 game.

New licence-holders Codemasters have produced a game based on the 2009 season for the Sony PSP and Nintendo Wii, while a 2010 game is under development for the more sophisticated PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms.

It’s fair to say most F1 Fanatic readers have been clamouring for a simulator in the Geoff Crammond mould. But the PSP and Wii offering is clearly aimed at more casual gamers – it’s an arcade-style title which owes a lot to its Sony-produced predecessors.

2009 season data

As you’d expect from an officially-licensed title, all ten teams are present and correct with the 20 drivers they started the season with. Romain Grosjean, Luca Badoer, Jaime Alguersuari, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Kamui Kobayashi aren’t available to select.

You get all 17 tracks as well and I took the first opportunity to dive into the acid test of any F1 game – Monaco. It’s the most recognisable F1 track in the world, and the large amount of street furniture can make it difficult to render properly.

Codemasters have done a decent job of it – they haven’t gone down the path of making the circuit far wider than it is, as a sop to challenge-averse gamers. But the lack of collision damage on the basic setting means you can ricochet around the principality and still win comfortably.

Another tricky challenge for the designers was simulating the new Yas Island circuit before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had even happened. Here they’ve done less well – there’s a lot more grass in the game than there is in real life. Although they have put in the underground pit exit and the hotel straddling the circuit is there too, the mid-race sunset doesn’t happen – the entire race runs in daylight.

The representations of the tracks are generally good with most of the major track-side scenery in place. The circuits are all up-to-date but some of them feel a bit flat – particularly Spa.

Of the two main technical innovations to appear in 2009 – KERS and adjustable wings – only one is present. Every car has a KERS (whereas only McLaren, Ferrari, BMW and Renault actually raced them) and you get a limited number of jabs per race. The adjustable front wing is not simulated, but given how little we heard about the technology in 2009 it hardly seems worth grumbling about.

On the whole it’s a largely faithful recreation of the 2009 championship. The teams and drivers perform broadly in line with their overall position in the championship standings, but without the kind of extreme fluctuations shown by Force India at Belgium, McLaren at Hungary, or Toyota at Monaco, for example.

Pick-up-and-play

As you’d expect practice sessions, knockout qualifying and full race distances available. As well as the usual career, championship and single race modes there’s also a ‘challenge’ option where you have to complete a certain task. This can be setting a fast lap, winning a particular race or overtaking a driver without making contact. As you complete challenges and win races you unlock new parts of the game.

For an arcade game the set-up options have a surprising amount of detail – you can tweak wing angles, gear ratios, suspension and tyre settings and much more, and you can usually suss the difference it’s made to the car’s handling.

But the handling model is very basic, which it has to be given the limitations of the PSP’s all-button control system. Getting the car around the track quickly requires a delicate and rapid touch on the buttons. As you’d expect, the onus is on pick-up-and-play simplicity, not realism. It does make for a fine multi-player experience, with up to four players able to race at the same time.

Racing the computer-controlled opponents is much more formulaic, They cling to the racing line and barge you out of the way without mercy if you dare occupy the square of tarmac they’re heading for (make your Michael Schumacher jokes in the comments). You can happily charge past ten of them at a hairpin while they queue up to go around it, and it’s hard to get overtaken if you don’t crash.

“F1 2009” offers little in the way of killer new features that make it stand out from the game it replaced, other than that it’s more up-to-date. It’s hard to escape the feeling it’s something of a stopgap product for the ‘popular’ end of the market and we’ll only see what Codemasters can really do with the F1 franchise when F1 2010 comes out for the PS3 and Xbox 360 next year.

But while hardcore gamers wait for the more mature title to come along, less demanding players will find a lot of fun to be had from “F1 2009”.

If you’ve ordered “F1 2009”, or are planning to, tell us what you think of the new F1 game in the comments. “F1 2009” is also available for Nintendo Wii, and I’ll be trying that version of the game soon.

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F1 2009 by Codemasters – pictures

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F1 2009 by Codemasters

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