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Quick Review: F1 2011

After playing Dirt 3, possibly one of the best racers I’ve ever played, I decided that I was going to support Codemasters’ racing efforts from here on out. I knew then that that would mean taking on F1 2011 when the opportunity presented itself and, sure enough, a package wound up on my doorstep a few weeks ago with Codemasters’ second Formula 1 effort in as many years. I know next to nothing about Formula 1, so I approached it with a bit of trepidation and excitement. I knew what I was in store for after reading Thunderbolt’s review of last year’s game – a racer that demands perfection from players but rewards with an excellent, immersive experience.

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F1 2011 is certainly the most difficult racing game I’ve ever tried to crack. The first trophy I earned was “Have you tried DiRT 3?”, mocking how much time I spent off the tarmac. I’m completely unfamiliar with the sport and F1 2011 is for people who are completely familiar with the sport. There are no tutorials and though driving assists are abundant, turning on the majority of them emasculates. My failure was particularly difficult to swallow because I’m the type of racer that always has to get gold. With F1 2011, I had to accept that coming in 17th in my first career event was an accomplishment.

I honed my limited skills through AI emulation. Instead of trying to win races, I just tried to figure out how the AI vehicles moved through the track and understand the principles of the racing. And I did start to get better, which is a testament to how skilled the AI is in the game. It’s certainly a more difficult way to learn than a proper tutorial, but I understand why Codemasters’ didn’t include a more robust training mode. I’m probably one of the few non-fans picking up this package, and wasting development time to support training someone like me seems like a poor use of resources. So instead, I spent hours and hours tailing my opponents, watching how they weaved through the tracks, merely keeping pace and trying not to slam into their rear bumpers. The judges still waved a number of penalty and warning flags in my direction, but I eventually did feel like I was getting better at the game.

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What I’ve learned from F1 2011 is that, even though it’s a sport that is blisteringly fast, things start slowly. As I worked my way through the races, following the other drivers as they warmed up to the track, I studied how they handled the track. They moved slowly at first, but after a few laps, they amped up the speed and I followed. Without any proper tutorials, I spent a lot of time parked on the side of difficult curves, watching. There are substantial driving assists that can control nearly everything that you do, but they’re so controlling that I felt like I wasn’t learning, as if I was eight again and my dad was doing my math homework instead of correcting it and explaining what I was doing wrong.

But, as I said, I did get better, even if it was a hard road to get there. The first time I earned pole position was amazing, and when I finally earned a first place finish, I was ecstatic. Normally, I wouldn’t put up with a game that was so punishing on me for so long, but F1 2011 does truly deserve it. The driving mechanics in the game are impeccable. The same driving engine that powered Dirt 3 is also on display here, and what I praised there, momentum, is truly perfected here. Driving is a struggle because the cars realistically pull against you as your work your way through corners. A driving engine that so accurately represents the resistance of the vehicle as it across the track is essential in a sport where every millisecond counts. It takes barely half a second to completely lose control of a vehicle, but when you hold it and shoot through an opening in the grid, it’s a rush as great as any headshot.

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There are a number of game modes to sink your teeth into, and in particular, a robust multiplayer suite that offers 16 player online races. The season mode is where I spent most of my time, progressing through the F1 ranks as I took on the game’s nineteen circuits. F1 2011 should keep fans busy for a while as they work up the ranks both online and off, competing to become one of the greatest racers of all time. If you’re not a fan of the sport, you’ll find as I did that the game is nearly impossible to break into. I don’t feel completely comfortable giving the game a score considering how bad I am at it, but I can tell from my experience with racing games that this is an excellent product, just very difficult to break into. However, if you are a fan of the sport, you’ll find an authentic simulator that delivers a wealth of content to keep you busy. F1 2011 is a tough nut to crack, but fans should find it worth the effort.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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