The sport of Formula 1 racing is a baffling amalgam of precision engineering, huge financial investment and driving skill.
It’s something that requires intricate knowledge of the finer details to be completely au fait with the subject and I won’t pretend to have that knowledge. I fell out of love with the sport shortly after Ayrton Senna’s heartbreaking fatal accident robbed us of one of the greatest sporting icons of a generation. Since that time, my contact with the world of Formula 1 has been limited to occasional highlights of races, news reports about controversies and the odd spin around a track with one of the videogames.
Attention to Detail
Over recent years, those videogames seem to have become as intricately detailed as the sport they represent and while that’s generally a good thing for fans of the games, it makes writing a preview quite difficult. What I’ve played is unfinished code, lacking in plenty of the content that will be present in the final game but it did have enough to answer some questions you might have about the imminent update to Codemasters’ F1 racer.
The game begins by asking your experience level, name and nationality before thrusting you straight into the Young Driver Test tutorials. These can be quit through the start button menu if you just want to avoid the lengthier game modes and go racing immediately but there’s value in running through the lessons for the less experienced among us. You’ll be tasked with a series of tests and shown some instructional videos. They’re all framed as testing the car’s systems but really they’re teaching you about acceleration, breaking, racing line through turns, KERS and DRS and all the other tricks of the F1 driver’s trade.
As a newcomer (we should discount my youthful experience), these were incredibly helpful but I can imagine that it would be a case of preaching to the choir for those who are already well-versed in the intricacies of F1 racing. The “tests” become progressively more complex, building up your level of expertise and ability before you’re allowed on to the track to actually race.
Once the racing begins, cars are responsive and nimble – as you’d expect. I was initially taken aback by the amount of vibration and movement suffered due to the road surfaces but it wasn’t unmanageable and actually added a further degree of realism to the way the cars felt through that sensory disconnect between the images on the screen and my hands on the DualShock. If you’re using a standard controller, you’ll need to be gentle with the steering and acceleration. I found that a slight heavy-handedness with either as I exited a corner would leave me spinning out – not something I’d want on the highlights reel!
It’s unfinished code so I’m reticent to get your hopes up too much but it seems that the frame-rate issues widely reported in the current version of the game are completely absent from this version. It’s nice and smooth, perhaps not 60fps but there were definitely none of the sub-25fps moments for me that I’ve heard others complain about in the 2011 version of the game – at least not on the handful of tracks available.
Champions Mode is a new addition. It’s essentially a series of scenarios that task you with attaining a specific goal against one of six champions. Keep in front of Hamilton in the rain, catch and pass Kimi, set a fastest lap while beating Vettel and so on. It’s a nice little addition but unless there’s plenty more content to be added, I can’t imagine it taking up much of the average user’s game time. That time will doubtless be eaten up by the Season Challenge, which was unfortunately locked in this preview code.
With the lengthy career mode not available, there’s still a bit of mystery to a lot of the areas on this game that fans will be keen to hear about. The new additions, Young Driver Test and Champions Mode both add something but it won’t be anything that hardcore fans see after their first few days with the game. The most promising news from my time with the preview code is likely to be the absence of any frame-rate issues and the tight, realistic handling.
With the game set to easy, the car practically drives itself, taking care of most of the braking for you and allowing plenty of leeway during steering and acceleration. On higher difficulty settings, the handling feels very positive and reactive. I’m sure more experienced F1 fans will need plenty more time to pick over what Codemasters has done so far but to me it all seems rather positive.
Unfortunately, video capture wasn’t permitted from this build and the replay option was simply to watch with some camera control and no saving or exporting opportunity present. That’s a shame because it would probably mean so much more if I could show you how it looks, although it has probably saved me from some jokes about my driving ability!