F1 2009 Review

24 11 2009

by xeroxeroxero

The first F1 racer in recent years with any buzz around it is also the first F1 game by Codemasters and virtual motor sport darlings Sumo Digital. It’s also the first in quite some time to not be a Playstation exclusive, being available for the Nintendo Wii, as well as the version we played on PSP. Does it have what it takes to win the chequered flag, or is it just a Coulthard?

What must be a given by now on any ‘how to design an F1 game’ checklist, the visuals do not disappoint, even on what is relatively underpowered hardware by today’s home console standards. There’s no ‘bump mapping’ or extravagant particle physics, but what can be found is a good draw distance, accurate looking cars and tracks, and a simple but well designed menu system. Playing to the strengths of the franchise they have, i.e. the almost sterile aesthetics F1 provides, the look is clean and clear, never for a second obscuring the action or slowing the framerate, essential in a game where two tenths of a second can make all the difference in achieving pole position. No surprises here then, and there shouldn’t be, as the game runs on the same graphics engine as the beautiful ‘Dirt 2’.

On paper, F1 2009 should be one of this years best racing games, as structurally the game is rock solid. Quick play, time trial, full race day, and in-depth career modes are all available, giving a lot of choice in how you want to approach the title. Got a few hours to sink in? Opt to play a career that spans over five seasons, giving you full access to detailed tuning systems, practice days, qualifying rounds and the ability to work towards driving for bigger and better teams. Ten minute bus journey? No problem, crack into quick play, which after a brief menu or two chucks you into a Grand Prix over a couple of laps. Best perhaps is the challenge mode, which requires literally minutes of time at your disposal, providing certain criteria that need to be met in order to be ranked, and unlock more challenges. Sumo have wisely stepped away from anything particularly zany in this mode, as opposed to their OutRun Online Arcade effort and instead treat the motoring morsels as subtle training areas, teaching you the, sometimes very demanding, mechanics of racing with fun, bite sized moments of play. The AI is good, but unremarkable, making few rash decisions throughout races, which F1 fans will find accurate, but everyone else may find the opponents a little stale. On the other end of the spectrum casual players will appreciate the driving aids provided (especially the racing line), but enthusiasts may baulk at the notion of automatic gears selected as a default setting.

In fact, the game is very difficult to criticise in general, but the title still has one major drawback. The console on which it is presented simply does not have precise enough controls for this type of racer, and as such significantly marrs the experience. The trouble lies with the PSP’s analogue nub, which is neither placed nor designed in the right way to allow for smooth gradients with turns, and after a full distance race my left hand was in agony from having to stretch and almost constantly correct the direction of my car, even on a straight. The PSP simply doesn’t have the precision required for the hardcore F1 looking for an accurate, but portable sim, the title is too demanding for a casual audience, and as F1 is experiencing a low in popularity right now, the regular gaming core simply won’t have any interest in playing. Because of this, it’s difficult to recommend, it neither fills a casual gap, or a dedicated niche, so who exactly has this been designed for?

F1 2009 proves once more that Sumo Digital are producing perhaps the most exciting racing titles of this generation, but the title never quite escapes the confines of its host platform’s input methods, and consequently scuppers any chance of true greatness. Next year Codemasters are set to release F1 2010 for the PS3 and 360, and if they can utilise the increase in precision those consoles controllers provide, they just might have a real hit on their hands!

MLG Rating: 6 / 10




One response

14 01 2010

Good review. I rated the PSP version about the same as you (C+, which I suppose would average to around 6/10). I really wish that I had a Wii so that I could try the Wii version of the game. I’ve heard good things about it, and I find myself wondering if those good things were lost in the transition to the PSP.

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