Review: Formula 1 2011 (PSV)

Title: Formula 1 2011
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1354 MB) / Game Card
Release Date: February 22, 2012
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Sumo Digital
Original MSRP: $39.99 (US), £34.99 (EU) (PSN and Game Card)
ESRB Rating: E
Formula 1 2011 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC< Nintendo 3DS and iOS. The PlayStation Vita version was used for this review.

F1 2011, a game released in 2012 in time for the commencement of the 2012 season. Why it has 2011 in the title, I still can’t fathom. You’re not here to debate the intricacies of a title though. You’re here to see whether a Vita launch title can both present an accurate depiction of Formula 1, and play a pretty decent game too. Let’s find out…

Functional is probably the word that best describes F1’s gameplay. The controls work, the mode offerings work, the difficulty levels works, everything just works – but there’s nothing that really gets the pulses racing. I like the handling of F1 2011 because they seemed to have realised the limitations of the Vita‘s sticks and triggers. The game is not as brutally unforgiving as you would want it’s big brother console version to be, as they have added some leeway to overcome the lack of precision.

One common aspect of races I found a bit off-putting, was not so much ‘rubber-banding’, but almost a set position for each vehicle. For example, you’d be vying with one other racer for the win. Then 3rd would have no chance of reaching 2nd, 4th-8th would be even further adrift, and the rest of the field in their own little section that’s a considerable distance behind. It’s as if there is a certain length of tarmac that must always remain between these clusters of racers.

Just as in real life, sponsor logos are plastered all over the tracks.

Mode-wise, there’s a fair selection here; one-off races, challenges, seasons and more. The main chunk of your time on F1 2011 will be spent in the career mode where, you guessed it, you play through various seasons with your imaginary driver. Again, this is solid but unspectacular. You’ll have a bit of fun working your way towards a move to a better team at the end of each season, and also trying to break a few records along the way.

It does miss that hook however; there isn’t too much that entices you to keep going through endless years on the circuit. The primary incentive to keep plucking away is that to win a constructor’s championship, you will need an excellent teammate, which you won’t get with the weaker constructors. Once you do manage to earn a contract with someone like Ferrari or Red Bull and you win both titles in a season, there isn’t much left to do.

Steamrolling your way to a driver’s championship is a breeze, even in your first season. Attempting to win the constructor’s title is an entirely different prospect though.

Each grand prix has a full race weekend, including practice and qualifying sessions (which can be skipped but you’ll be last on the grid). In order to provide some sort of link between each event, there is a pointless e-mail system in place which has been included just to tick another box. If they were going to implement it, they should have put some thought into it and done it well, rather than get by with the bare minimum. All the little things like this suggest Sumo Digital were possibly under pressure to get this out quickly.

Celebratory cut-scenes are another glaring omission in F1 2011. They’ve nailed the basics, but bells and whistles are needed in order to make this a great experience. I would expect at least a video at the end of the season to commemorate your victory. After each grand prix, they should show the drivers spraying champagne on the podium with some congratulatory music. It wouldn’t have been difficult to include.

Continuing with the gripes, we now arrive at the use of the Vita’s features. I can understand if they don’t want to add gimmicks such as motion control; that’s fair enough. But an absence of fundamental touch screen inputs? Inexcusable. The menus are crying out for intuitive and natural use of the touch screen, yet it’s rendered useless with exception of changing your camera angle when driving. Selecting options, using the keyboard and dragging sliders are a few examples of where the d-pad is not entirely feasible on the new platform. Yet F1 continues to force it, meaning traveling through menus is a chore.

Night races provide a welcome change to the scenery.

For lack of a better term, F1’s collision system is ‘meh’. No significant damage appears on your vehicle and it doesn’t affect your driving in too negative a fashion. In terms of glitches or bugs, the game is very stable overall. I once encountered a negligible amount of slowdown at the end of a grand prix, but that was the extent of it. Certainly nothing that concerns.

Now, it may sound like there are big issues with this game, but it shouldn’t be understated that when you’re on the track it feels exactly like it should do. There are facets to the racing that I can’t pick any holes in, but aren’t particularly outstanding, so it’s difficult to put a finger on. It just works. The in-race gameplay is of a high standard, and there are certain nuances to F1 that will be appreciated by the hardcore – such as the ability to tune your cars to the hilt. The game doesn’t do much to aid longevity, or to provide any thrills. If a competent driving model and a moderately safe career mode are your thing though, F1 2011 will suffice.

This is probably one of the least aesthetically pleasing games I’ve played on the Vita. The cars, and some of the objects surrounding the track, look very blocky indeed – it’s more akin to a PS2 racer than PS3. Because of this, there isn’t too much detail on the car, with logos and other intricacies being quite blurry. In the cockpit view though, you can see each vehicle has its own distinguishable steering wheel, so some effort has been put into making a few differences. Sumo have also done an ok job of giving you that sense of speed when you’re blasting down the straights.

Driving in the wet is a particular highlight of the game.

The tracks seem to have been recreated well, and while most look a little samey, there are a few that present some nice views. Singapore looks brilliant all lit up at night, whilst a few of the races in the latter part of the season are also very scenic. The routes that are through a city (such as Monaco) rather than a traditional track (like Silverstone) are naturally more interesting.

Some of my favourite moments in the game occurred when there were adverse weather conditions.  Whilst races in the rain don’t necessarily add a dynamic and discernible difference to the gameplay, they sure do look fantastic. All in all though, the potential of the Vita’s gorgeous OLED screen has not completely been tapped into by F1. Hopefully next year’s version will correct the definite lack in sharpness that’s present.

This is a screen you’ll get used to very quickly, so a step up in difficulty is needed relatively soon after starting the game.

Overall, the audio in F1 2011 is pretty underwhelming. As you’d expect, Codemasters have decided to implement team radios. Whereas these are vaguely interesting in real life, they are completely futile in the game. The same two phrases (“position x” at the end of each lap and “great win” at the end of the race) are recycled over and over. They should at least have some variation, maybe some tips or advice, perhaps even different voices/accents for different teams.

The music is sombre, and like far too many games, pretty repetitive. On the track, things do get a little better as the vehicles sound good, though not quite as realistic as one would hope. As you’ll have noticed from the rest of this review, it follows the overarching theme of the game – slightly above average, but not overly amazing. My untrained ears didn’t notice any subtle difference between the various engines, so I think they’ve just used one set of sound effects for the entire field.

The pre-race load screens show off a birds-eye view of the track.

Unfortunately, the online scene for F1 is completely non-existent. On countless occasions over the past few weeks, I’ve tried morning, noon and night to find somebody to play online with, but no avail. Not a single session was found. For a game’s online modes to be dead after only a few weeks is extremely alarming, but I suppose with the Vita not exactly selling like hot cakes just yet, this dramatic drop off could be expected. Needless to say though, the online play would certainly not be a selling point.

Pit-stops aren’t really required unless you opt for an abnormally high number of laps.

It’s good. Nothing more, nothing less. There isn’t any aspect of this game that is overtly broken (except its ability to attract online gamers), but there also isn’t anything remotely close to being outstanding or exciting.

Codemasters decided to play it safe, which in my opinion is a mistake – it would have been better to take a few risks (as they have, in fairness, done with some of their recent console games, like Grid and Dirt) and at least try to innovate or enhance the experience. In many ways, this actually reminded me a lot of the first F1 title for the PSP. Apart from the expected graphical upgrade, I can’t really see what this one does differently from that 6 year-old game. It doesn’t come close to harnessing the full capability of the hardware.

Obviously if you are a big fan of the sport, you’ll already own this. But for those of you who feel that you already own enough bang average racing games, I’d recommend this one as a rent only. The crux of the matter is that F1 2011 is in the top 3 most expensive Vita games available, but it simply doesn’t live up to that billing.


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Written by Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Sub-Editor.

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