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Codemasters’ F1 2011 Review – Red Bull Gives You Wins 
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Nick de Bruyne
September 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm

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It’s been a year since Codemaster’s released the first installment of their new adrenaline-fueled Formula One franchise and with their goal of annual releases, we will start looking at it just like FIFA or Madden before too long.

So we already know then, that the formula behind the concept is to improve and refine rather than completely alter… so now we get to find out what the magicians at Codemasters have managed to conjure up in just one year.

Hit the jump for our full review of F1 2011.

Safety First

Codemasters want to give us a plethora of reasons to put down last years model and run out to buy this year’s instead, so lets take a look at what’s been added:

The main additional features for F1 2011 that set it apart from its predecessor begin with the sort of things that fans from last year, as well as the new official rule changes, have asked for.

KERS, DRS, Safety Car, new tracks on the roster as well as all the new car/driver configurations have all been included in this year’s new game. Of course, there have also been changes made to the core driving physics, modes and game engine to beef things up that bit more.

While a bit more effort has been made to get you into the vibe of being an F1 driver, Codemasters definitely seemed to have shied away from the “experience the life of an F1 driver” a little. Not so much that they have moved away from it a lot, but rather that they have put their focus in other areas instead. This becomes apparent with extra little cutscenes of you climbing in and out of the car in the pits (apparently I’m a very, very white guy with blue eyes) as well as celebrations after a race (no podium though and I was interviewed by my trailer rather than in a post-race press interview).

Paid To Not Hit Walls

Now just like before you are given the ability to partake in a career mode which spans over a few seasons and then you have your single player proving grounds mode as well as multiplayer. Multiplayer has been given some fantastic new modes which will be sure to get fans excited, two of the major additions being co-op career, where you and a friend race an entire career as teammates – and then local split-screen multiplayer. Online multiplayer now comes with an added feature of having up to 16 real players and then having the rest of the grid filled up with A.I drivers to maintain a smooth online race but still keep the race full. Nice idea, I thought.

Co-op is a fantastic way to go through the career mode, as you and a friend will work together to win the constructors championship but still be fiercely competitive with each other as you try and outdo each other to become the team’s number 1 driver (who gets all of the great upgrades first).

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The split-screen multiplayer really was a complete surprise. I tested it with someone who knows Formula One as well as they know quantum mathematics (not well) and within no time at all we managed to set up a race with different assist settings and a complete grid filled up by A.I drivers and off we went. It was a tussle between laughing while we crash and actually trying to do well, but I left very surprised with how much fun it was, which is also exactly what my race partner told me when he was done.

Put the Vettel to the Metal

The real fruits of Codemasters’ labour however, shines when you get around to the actual meat of the F1 2011… the driving.

When in career mode you will find yourself running through the same processes as before as you head out for practice sessions to learn the tracks and then gradually get better while also tinkering around with car settings so that you can put in a blistering qualifying lap and do well in the race.

During this period is when you will become very intimately connected with the new driving mechanics in F1 2011, as you will learn to love it so very much yet simultaneously loathe it in your very core. This is because Codemasters have upped their game and brought even more realistic handling to the table, which mostly translates to having a more authentic sense of mechanical grip. This update brings a much more realistic feeling to the tires under you as you exit a corner fast and actually feel the entire car lightly four-wheel drifting as it loses some traction. Sometimes, that’s a nice way of saying “send you into a wall at 200km/h”.

Formula Ones are tricky little beasts though, so taming them will take some time for anyone who isn’t already a long time driving fan. Effort has been made to also lessen the twitchy feel of the cars from last year, although its more geared towards people playing on a controller as the wheel always felt stable. We tested the game on both controller and wheel and the controls are about as good as they are gonna get.

Speaking of controls, you will need to get a better grip of the layout this time around because you have a little bit more to think about now, just like the real drivers with all their switches and dials on their wheels. DRS and KERS add a massive new dynamic to the game, especially in that qualifying becomes a whole different beast when you have the power of these “boosters” beneath your fingertips.

While DRS requires you to be behind a car in a race, in qualifying its active at all times, leaving it up to you to use whenever you want. This means that you will slowly learn where on the track to use it, as the open rear wing offers lots of speed but an immense loss in rear downforce. Use it in the wrong place and you will quickly find out as you flying off the track.

These new additions really get you into the game so much more as you activate the functions while coming out of corners to get the very best out of your car during qualifying and then race without them in a much more consistent and safe manner, giving the two different days very distinct characteristics.

I, Race Driver

The A.I has also been beefed up considerably, and while they seem to be more aware of their surroundings compared to last year, they still come across as quite twitchy and tend to do strange things like cause a massive traffic jam behind you when its obvious that a bunch of them could easily just blast past you when you make a mistake. That is a problem for another year, but at least for now they have seem major improvements and are also capable of running wide and doing silly thing, just like you.

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Everything Looks Newey

One of my gripes about F1 2010 was that, while the visuals looked great, the game suffered from a pretty inconsistent framerate that mostly sat below the ‘smooth as silk’ line. F1 2011 has thankfully seen a massive improvement in this department as the game looks mostly the same as last year’s for the most part but has actually been given some great new additions (it’s especially beautiful in wet weather).

The best part is that the game runs perfectly smooth all of the way without fault, especially when compared to last year where the game would get quite jerky in places and even had tracks like Monaco get incredibly bad whenever I drove past the pits or could see a lot of cars. I was even more surprised to see that when running in split-screen mode, each players split still looked fantastic and ran without a single hitch, definitely a massive tune-up on the Ego engine.

That’s not to say it’s all perfect though. The game has a lot less bugs than last year, but still has its fair share. At one point I had a massive accident that completely totaled my car… the problem being that I ran wide on a corner and apparently went headfirst into a completely invisible tank parked next to the track. I’ve also had many occasions where I’ve done something stupid and completely totaled an A.I drivers car, or had them slam into me, only to have my car be completely fine, or their car, or both cars. Speaking of which, the damage model has also seen some improvements, but beyond your basics of breaking nose cones and destroyed rear wings, you won’t see very much different.

Conclusion:

The Codemasters F1 franchise is going to become a lot like the EA sports games in that you will eventually have versions to buy and versions to pass on (with the die hard nuts buying every one). For now though, the huge upgrade of KERS, DRS, safety car, multiplayer modes, physics updates, graphics updates and more means that fans of last year have all the reason in the world to want to buy F1 2011.

Whether or not F1 2012 will have the same amount of reasons is a different story altogether, but for now if you want a Formula One experience without becoming a pro racing driver, this is definitely the best there has ever been.


Scoring:

Gameplay: 9.5/10

F1 almost couldn’t get any better than this. Almost.

Design & Presentation: 8.5

Great overall presentation and visuals that look good and run smoothly.

Value: 8.0

Lots to do, added career modes and proving grounds. Plenty of hours could be sunk into this driving gem.


Overall: 9/10

It’s F1 2010 with better handling, better graphics and more stuff to do. What more could an F1 fan want? Well, that’s Codemasters problem for 2012.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360 with a Logitech DriveFX wheel as well as standard controller. Also Available on PC and PS3.]