Blistering speed, deafening noise, fumes from a tightly balanced fuel mix and the acrid smell of overheated rubber. Formula 1 racing, like any competitive motor sport, is a sensory assault. It is possibly the most perfect sporting balance between driver, engineer and machine. 1,500lbs of polished carbon fibre, precision engineering and perfectly distributed ballast screeching down a smooth tarmac straight at 200mph and breaking hard into a tight corner is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, Codemaster’s F1 2011 on the PS Vita largely fails at synthesising this sensation.[drop2]There is a lot in this game to tempt the PlayStation Vita-owning F1 fan. It has plenty of race modes, from quick races that allow you to drop right into the action, through full race meetings and championship modes, right up to a fully fledged career mode. There are car tuning and setup options which allow you to eke out every ounce of performance from the car and edge ever-closer to that perfect lap time. All of the teams from last season and all of the tracks are present too, it’s a complete F1 experience on a portable console.
Unfortunately, it just doesn’t play as well as it promises. Steering with the tiny analogue stick is incredibly twitchy and although the sensitivity can be turned down, I was never able to find the sweet spot between instant swerving, which didn’t allow for any amount of precision, and input that felt quite dull and hampered with lag. This makes for a generally frustrating playing experience, even though it is probably true to the simulation.
The game simulates tyre heat and compounds reasonably well, with handling quite clearly changing to reflect what your situation is. If you’re playing the game on its easiest setting, you won’t care because the skill deficit handed to AI players and your boost in straight line speed makes it almost impossible to lose. For the tougher difficulties though, the simulation aspects of the game will make all the difference.
There are several control systems available if you dig through the menus. This enables you to switch away from the somewhat old fashioned setup with X and square as accelerate and brake to something that allows you to use the KERS and DRS (set to circle and triangle) without lifting off the go-faster button. The rear panel can be used to switch up and down gears, too, like wheel-mounted paddles. Unfortunately, that’s where the Vita’s special control schemes end. Everything else is fairly traditional, no tilt steering or touch screen menus here.
There is a decent sense of speed there too, something often difficult to replicate on a handheld device, but that’s let down by some very poor frame rates in the corners. It seems worse on some tracks than on others but it was a distraction no matter where it occurred. It’s difficult to tell if the game is having problems processing the scenery around the track as it renders onto the screen, or if there’s some problem with the physics but the juddering around certain corners was impossible to ignore.
- It’s a large scale F1 experience in your pocket.
- Multiplayer and plenty of single player longevity.
- Much more a simulation than an arcade racer, something unique at this time on Vita.
- Visually quite poor.
- Bad frame rate issues are distracting.
F1 2011 has a lot of potential. It’s unique in the Vita’s launch line up as a racing simulation rather than an arcade racer and it has a wealth of options, including local and online multiplayer, which might have really given it appeal for F1 fans.
What is difficult to forgive though, are the distracting drops in frame rate at key times which make the game frustrating to play. This might be an issue that can be patched out, but for now the natural rhythm of the game is disrupted by a slow down just at the point where the game needs to be accepting precise control inputs. This is an issue confounded by the over sensitive steering, which makes it even more difficult to find a decent balance. Adjusting the difficulty down makes the game much more forgiving but far less appealing as it simply becomes almost impossible to lose.