There is a certain element of excitement one feels, as a fan of formula 1, when the formation lap is over, and those cars are all sat neatly in there positions, as the red lights start to light up, the deafening, yet beautiful sound of those engines revving up in anticipation of those lights finally going out, watching in awe as these magnificent machines squeeze their way through turn one, on the odd occasion marvelling at how the drivers manged to get through that first corner without so much as a nudge.
Transferring that feeling to a game is not the easiest task, and the guys at codemasters have certainly given it a pretty great first crack of the whip. Throughout production, they have stressed that this game was not designed to be a hardcore Sim, with years of practice needed just to start enjoying the experience, nor was it designed to be an arcade game that a bunch of kids would play just to see how many crashes they can cause in one lap.
I now can fully appreciate what they were trying to achieve, and for the most part, they have succeeded. I got the game yesterday, and managed to to find time last night to do a few time trials and then start my career.
The game starts with a press interview which is designed so you can choose your career details, such as your name and difficulty in a slightly more inventive way. Now I started with Virgin Racing as my team, as depending on what difficulty you choose during your setup will determine how many teams are willing to sign you up. The harder the fewer basically. After having a brief chat with the strange looking lady acting as my career agent, I hit the track at Bahrain.
For those who are worried about this game becoming monotonous as is the general feeling amongst non F1 fans about the sport itself, fear not. Even though I only managed a pathetic 22ND place finish in my first grand prix, it was more exiting a race than I care to remember playing. My Virgin car was clearly slower than everyone except my team mate, and after finding my rhythm towards the end of the race, running in 23rd, I managed to get close enough to the lotus of Kovalainen to out break him into turn 3 of the last lap. And that feeling alone, made me feel like I had won the race. That was of course until my engineer sourly pointed out that I had in fact finished 22ND. The point that I'm trying to make, is that in this game, every position counts, you no longer have the urge to restart a race just because you know you can't win it, and that to me is one way it catches the essence of formula 1. Beating your teammate is key, as he is the only one in the same car as you, beat a lotus, and you'll feel like Sir Richard Branson will be inviting you to his island as a thank you.
The most important aspect for most of course is the handling. This game would have scored a massive fail had the handling not been up to scratch, and thankfully, it is brilliant. It really does feel like you are taming a monster every time you throw it into a corner, and the knowledge that breakin too late will send you into the sandpit (or in the case of Monaco, a wall) or getting on the throttle too early will send you into a spin. The game keeps you on your toes every step of the way because any dip in concentration will result in a rather annoying off circuit journey. And where 100ths of seconds count in formula 1, this is a trip not worth taking. Thankfully for those of you who don't want this to be a nerve shredding, vain popping, hair losing experience, the multiple driving assists and the Rewinds available if you so choose put paid to any fears of throwing your controller (or wheel) out the window.
Something deserving of a mention is the Dynamic Weather system employed in this game, it is just superb. Where in most other games, the sight of rain hitting the track was enough to make want to switch off and read a book... you find yourself hoping to experience rain at some point in the game. You really do appreciate the skill and nerves of F1 drivers when you are slip streaming the car in front at 200mph and you literally cannot see a thing.
There are a few minus points that I must share that slightly reduce the overall experience, the omission of various elements so prominent in the real world of F1, such as the safety car, podium, formation lap, lap of honour, all of which, I believe are to be included in future installments of the game. Other problems or bugs if you will are as follows. The lollipop man in the pits can be slightly over cautious when allowing you to leave and can sometimes let many a car whiz past before releasing you (this problem is more obvious in the shorter races where the pit windows are smaller). During practice and qualifying, the live timing screen doesn't seem to show your third sector time, and the engineer always seems to think that the car in front of you is going to pit, even though he has done already, so you never quite trust him, thus making it difficult to adapt you race strategy to what is going on.
There are so many positives to take from this first installment of F1 by Codemasters that those negatives are no more than just a nuisance, a nuisance, much like a wasp at a picnic, that most people will deal with, but some may find a little too frustrating.
I would score this a 9/10 on first look, it is without doubt, the most fun i've had on a racing game, and it is something that even those who are not into F1 could really enjoy.