F1 2011 is Codemasters’ second official Formula 1 game for major formats.
The original was generally well-received, but wasn’t without its flaws and some embarrassing bugs.
With the new title Codemasters say they’re offering more than just an updated roster of 19 tracks and tweaked rules.
The attention-grabbing addition for 2011 is the safety car. This is part of a revised race environment in which Grands Prix can also be red-flagged if the track is sufficiently blocked.
As in real life, when the safety car comes out you have to queue up behind it and not overtake until it returns to the pits. A rather heavy-handed automatic control system keeps you within the rules while the car is out.
This continues to govern until the Mercedes SLS AMG is back in the pits. When the field is released your opportunities to get a jump on the car in front are rather limited.
Still, it’s good to see Codemasters have responded to the huge numbers of fans who were crying out for this feature.
Those who are not so keen on the idea may be disappointed to learn the safety car period cannot be skipped. However the safety car is only ever out briefly – not as long as in real life – so you’re quickly on your way again.
KERS, DRS and more 2011 tweaks
Among the other new inclusions are the Drag Reduction System and Kinetic Energy Recovery System. Now more than ever it’s worth making sure you’re totally happy with you control system before you dive into a race, because you’re going to be jabbing a lot of buttons.
In practice and qualifying DRS is one of the most entertaining new additions to the game, as you dare yourself to open it earlier and close it later, risking disaster if you do.
Obeying its implementation to the letter, it even slams shut as you head towards the Monaco tunnel or Eau Rouge in Spa.
The same attention to detail has been paid to the implementation of KERS, which is not available if you drive for Lotus, HRT or Virgin.
Given that, it’s surprising to see another of the new rules for 2011 is absent: the 107% cut-off time in qualifying is not enforced.
Last year Codemasters admitted exaggerating the qualities of the Bridgestone tyres to make them more of a feature in the game. But this year the Pirelli tyres appear to have been toned down – I was easily able to do half a race distance on super-softs at Montreal without the lap times dropping off.
The new Indian Grand Prix circuit is present and I hope the real Buddh International Circuit looks as good as the virtual one does. The only other major update among the circuits, aside from the disappearance of Bahrain, is the new pits at Silverstone.
The cars and tracks are rendered in crisper, more detailed graphics which create a more convincing environment than before. The team-specific steering wheels are especially good, complete with functioning LED KERS meters.
But by far my favourite new feature in the game is the menu option for ‘engineer verbosity’. This allows you to tune out the yammering voice in your ear, who waits until you’re trying to judge a braking point in streaming rain to tell you your engine temperature is fine.
I also like the choice of driver nicknames which include ‘legends’ – the first names of all the F1 world champions.
See here for a summary of the major features in F1 2011:
At the wheel
F1 2011 ticks a lot of boxes for its appearance and faithfulness to the current rules. But just as important is how it handles.
The new generation cars are decidedly less twitchy and punishing than in the previous version.
The cars feel softer, with noticeably more pitch and dive in cornering and braking. Without the real-world sensations of movement, these act as a substitute for the player’s senses and help you judge when the car is on the point of snapping out of control.
In the two easiest modes, which have a decidedly ‘arcade’ feel, even the most ham-fisted player will find it nigh on impossible to get the car sideways in the first place.
Playing in the tougher difficult settings you’ll find the car tricky though not unpredictable in its movements. You at least stand a chance of keeping the car under control when it starts to break traction.
For all the progress Codemasters have made with the game, some niggling drawbacks remain from the previous version.
Top of the list is your inability to see what else is going on during a race. The new Race Director feature makes a small improvement in this respect by allowing you to keep tabs on the running order.
But, at the end of a two-hour race, you want to be able to go back and see the collision which took your closest rival out, how Lewis Hamilton ended up out of the points, and if anyone hit your front wing when it came off.
This limitation is also evident in new video walls positioned around the track, which only ever show what’s happening from your point of view.
I expect this drawback will, for many players, undermine their belief in the authenticity of the racing in F1 2011.
It’s partly because much of the F1 2011 world is so believable that bubble-bursting moments like this are so disappointing.
The performance of the cars and drivers, for example, is much more even than in real life. In half-a-dozen races I only saw a Red Bull on pole position once, with such unlikely figures as Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg heading the field.
The damage model still leaves a lot to be desired. This may be partly because Formula One Management forbid Codemasters from allowing the car’s survival cells to be damaged.
The cars seem unrealistically sturdy and react unconvincingly to contact with barriers and other cars. The way they shed parts like wheels, wings and suspension elements on impact is rather unconvincing.
At other times the game goes out of its way to keep you from crashing – ‘vanishing’ your car if you drive into the path of a competitor.
Of the criticism that was levelled at the previous game, the most deserved was that concerning the bugs that affected it. Many of these were fixed in a subsequent patch and I observed none of the previous pit lane problems when playing F1 2011.
However I did see more than one instance of two cars occupying the same space on the track and merging into each other, suggesting Codemasters haven’t quite nailed it yet.
The drivers’ artificial intelligence is occasionally very impressive, making opportunistic passes and defending its position. But it does go wrong sometimes – on two occasions I saw drivers stopping after minor collisions.
And while I’m having a whinge, why are Renault called ‘Lotus-Renault’, when none of the other teams’ title sponsors are mentioned?
The penalties system has been improved and interferes with the racing far less in the easier modes.
You will find it places much greater demands on your self-control as you crank up the dificulty levels, which is exactly as it should be. However it does tend to dish out needless penalties for ‘blocking’ when the car in question has crashed.
Codemasters have also expanded and improved the multiplayer offering. You can now race against a rival on the same machine using split-screen more. Online races can now feature 16 human players plus eight computer-controlled cars giving a full grid.
Codemasters haven’t tampered with one of the strongest features of the previous game – the weather. The rain effects and clouds still look great, and the frequency with which they appear suggest Codemasters are keen to show them off.
What has been changed in this respect is how dry-weather tyres perform on a wet track. Put on a set of slicks and join a wet track and you’ll find your car spinning its wheels on the exit of corners, unable to stop in braking zones and unwilling to change direction at all.
And many will be glad to learn the in-game timing now shows your split times during qualifying and the gaps to the other cars around you during the race, which is more more intuitive.
The latest iteration of Codemasters’ F1 franchise offers a lot to tempt back players who bought last year’s title, particularly those who enjoy online gaming.
But it seems many of its shortcomings seem to stem from the restrictions and complexities of the F1 game licence. That’s why there’s no support series or other cars to race in, no tracks beyond the 19 on the F1 calendar, and no classic cars from seasons past.
You can’t even connect it up to last year’s game and carry on your career from the end of 2010 into 2011.
Codemasters have produced an entertaining title and continue to refine and expand their simulation of F1 racing. But for several reasons, some not of their making, there’s still a way to go to transform this very good game into a truly great one.
F1 2011 goes on sale in the UK on Friday and is already available in some other regions.
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