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Review

Review: F1 09 (PSP)

Codemasters' latest portable racer under the spotlight.

Despite the FIA and head honcho’s best efforts, Formula 1 seems to be going through a bit of resurgence of late. In 2007 and 2008, the championship went down to the wire, while new regulations and constant political wrangling meant never a dull moment in 2009. 2010 looks set to be an even better year as Alonso moves to Ferrari, Michael Schumacher returns with Mercedes-Benz and Britain’s latest world champions (Hamilton and Button) are in the same, British, team.

Yet, after Formula 1 Championship Edition on PS3 (which was based around the 2006 season), there hasn’t been a Formula 1 game. Sony didn’t renew its contract with Bernie and Codemasters picked up the licence to the sport. If Codemasters racing studio’s past games are anything to go buy (the Colin McRae Rally and ToCA series, latterly DiRT and GRiD), when the full-fat PS3 and 360 versions are released (hopefully sometime in 2010) there should finally be a great racing game fit for a sport of F1’s size and stature. But for the time being, we have F1 09, newly launched for the PSP on UMD or as a download from the PlayStation Store.

It may be published by Codemasters, but the development of the game has been left to Sumo Digital while Codemasters Racing team beaver away on the home console versions. Don’t let that put you off though, as F1 09 is a perfectly respectable portable racing game, suitable for racing game and F1 fans alike.

Let’s start with the basics. Does it perform well enough on the track? Well, generally speaking, yes it does. Your immediate impressions will be that the handling of the cars is way too twitchy. The vehicles are seemingly intent on going anywhere but a straight line and it is easy to turn into a corner too early. I also initially struggled to find a control layout that was effective. I was switching between using the analogue nub or the d-pad buttons for steering and not really getting anywhere with either. I also set the back buttons on my PSP Go to be used for accelerating and braking as opposed to X and Square. But after a race or two, you soon get used to the cars behaviour and it is easy to get in the zone and gel with the performance. Once acclimatised, the cars are very neutral in terms of balance and there is a fair amount of forgiveness if you make a slight error of judgement. As with all racing games these days, there is a full complement of visible racing lines and driving aids to help get you started if you are new to this F1 malarkey.

When starting a game, you have six game modes to choose from. These are Quick Race, Grand Prix Weekend, Championship, Time Trial, Challenge and Career. This is something that has been in many past iterations of F1 and in my opinion Race Weekend and Quick Race aren’t different enough to justify their existence, so perhaps they could be amalgamated into just one mode. Apart from the obvious options, Challenge tries to add something new to the typical Formula 1 game. There are 70 challenges in total, ranging from simply “win the race!” to checkpoint races to passing as many cars as you can. This is certainly a refreshing break from the standard game modes and reminds me of the challenges in the old Moto GP games from Konami. However, I would like to see the challenges incorporated in to the career mode somehow to liven things up a bit. As it is, they seem a bit left out in the cold.

The mode you will be spending most time with though is Career, which is spread across 3 seasons. In this, you are a rookie driver. After a couple of test sessions, you will then have to choose who you want to drive for in the coming season. In the first year you will only get the choice of two of the slower teams (I got Torro Rosso and BMW, plumping for BMW). You are then given a performance target for the coming season (for BMW I was required to score 30 points across the year).

While it is reasonable considering I was only in a BMW, I still managed to far exceed the target and finish 3rd overall in the championship. However, despite this, for the 2nd season I only got a job offer from Williams. No big teams came a calling until the 3rd year even after a stunning season. This knocks your motivation to win the title down and makes it seem like a trudge through the first two years until you get to the final season. Let’s be honest, if I win the title for Williams it takes the shine off things a little bit because it simply wouldn’t happen. Also, the pre-race reviews that you get sent as a driver are repetitive. But overall, the 3-season long career mode should last you a good 6-7 hours and includes all the practice and qualifying sessions you’ll ever need.

Of course, being an officially licensed product, all drivers, teams and tracks are present and correct (except any mid-season changes, so Piquet Jr. and Bourdais are there, while Fisichella stays at Force India and not Ferrari). The developers have done an admirable job in condensing all the circuits down into the PSP and each is recreated in perfect detail, including new tracks like Abu Dhabii. There is car damage to boot (albeit limited), the KERS system (a handy speed boost) is fitted to every car in the pursuit of fairness and you can play Ad-Hoc multiplayer. The AI can prove to be stern opposition, overtaking you if you run wide and slipstreaming down the straights. However, I found that the difference in rival difficulty varied a little between qualifying and the actual race. Sometimes it can be relatively easy to grab pole position, yet struggle to keep up with the rest of the pack during the race. There are some frame rate issues too, especially when the track is busy or on certain circuits (Monaco or the final 3rd of the lap around Istanbul), which can be a little disconcerting.

Pros:

  • All the drivers, teams and tracks are faithfully recreated.
  • Career mode and Challenges will keep you occupied for hours
  • After initial learning curve, the handling strikes a good balance

Cons:

  • Iffy frame rate at times
  • Does nothing really new or exciting
  • Even by PSP standards, the graphics are behind the competition

Verdict: Ultimately F1 09 is a solid racing game. It fails to inspire or innovate, but anyone looking for a decent racing game on PSP will find something here. Its biggest issue though, however, is that both Gran Turismo and MotorStorm Arctic Edge offer up a better standard racing game (whether you’re looking for realism or thrills and spills) on PSP. Unfortunately F1 09 occupies the awkward space in between the two and thus fails to stand out. There is a decent foundation to improve upon for the inevitable F1 2010 (or should that be F1 10?) but you have to be a fan of F1 to really appreciate it.

Score: 7/10

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