F1 2011 marks only the second ‘proper’ multiple-format outing for the Formula 1 license under Codemasters’ current steady stewardship, following several years of games exclusive to Sony and 2009’s surprisingly fun Codemasters/Sumo Digital collaboration, the Wii release F1 2009 (the titles of Formula 1 games leave a lot to be desired). F1 2011 comes at an opportune moment, with the sport enjoying something of a mainstream renaissance over the last few seasons following several changes in rules, car requirements and the awarding of points. Vettel on paper may have dominated this year’s pack, but that doesn’t tell the full story of what has been another intriguing season in the world’s most glamorous sport.
Codemasters were always the obvious choice to inherit the Formula 1 videogaming license, their track record in the racing genre, in terms of the breadth and consistency of their work unsurpassed in the last decade. What they did with last year’s Playstation 3/Xbox 360 debut F1 2010 was bring their strengths to a world in which the emphasis on racing models and minute details (two of Codemasters’ key strengths) is second to none. In this context F1 2010 was a great, albeit somewhat unsurprisingly great, debut HD excursion into the field. As well as being rather good it also sold extremely well, proving the appetite for F1 amongst gamers, and paving the way for this year’s entry.
It’s again unsurprising to report that little has drastically changed with F1 2011. The overall framework of the game remains pleasingly intact, with the customisable career mode once again the central focus. Your route to stardom begins in one of the lower-ranked teams, and it’s through grinding out results and slowly feeling your way into the car, much as you would in real life, that you eventually start being courted by the big names. More than many other racing games, F1 2011’s career mode rewards a large investment of time. This is best demonstrated by playing career races using the settings for a full race weekend, with practice and qualifying sessions; by the time you’re on the grid for the actual race not only do you have a better understanding of the track, but there’s also a palpable tension in the awareness that all your preparation comes down to these next 50-odd laps. After all that hard work how frustrating must it be for a crash on the first lap to send you straight back to the paddock? Well, F1 2011 does an extremely effective job of answering this question. The actual between-race exposition isn’t as successful however, with odd-looking character models and limited interview segments undermining the on-track atmosphere.
The handling model is geared towards simulation, as any discerning F1 fan would have hoped, and depends a lot on the type of tyre used (there’s a very good reason the tyre choice has its own central menu option). It takes some getting used to, and feels slightly more refined than in last year’s outing, especially when combined with the realistically dynamic weather system. Again, like the example of the involving career mode earlier, the strengths that mark out F1 2011 as different from the rest of the racing pack are as a result of the format of the sport itself. It’s to the credit of Codemasters that they’ve harnessed these and made an excellent videogame out of the ingredients.
Elsewhere there’s an online mode that allows for full races, albeit with eight of the 24 cars computer-controlled, and a new Time Attack mode that is a substantial diversion from the main single-player. A few faults do hold back F1 2011, such as with the approach to your between race career progression and visuals that are a little muted, but if Codemasters are intending to establish the franchise annually then we’re confident that the series can only get even better. For now though this is the definitive Forumla 1 videogame, and pretty damn essential for fans of the sport.
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