F1 2011 Preview (Xbox360)

Last year, Codemasters Birmingham’s F1 2010 raced onto the scene, garnering critical acclaim and commercial success. This year’s version, F1 2011, looks to build upon and refine what was already an excellently crafted Formula 1 experience.

The race tracks have been greatly improved in this game
Multiplayer has been a big development focus, with the game receiving several weighty improvements and additions. Sixteen players can now play simultaneously online, with the further option for up to eight computer-controlled racers. Two players can now take part in Championship mode working together for the same team, as well as playing on the same console via split screen.

An elaborate spectator mode has also been implemented to let those who have either crashed out or are waiting for next race starts can have something to do. This might sound like a fairly minor feature, but hardcore fans will appreciate the ability to control the view of the action.

The game’s presentation has also been given a lot of attention. F1 2010 wasn’t a bad looking title to begin with but several improvements have brought the experience even closer to photorealism. During the preview event we attended the developers made particular mention of how the game’s race tracks (all modelled on real world circuits such as Silverstone) now sport higher resolution textures, more realistic lighting effects, greater attention to detail and reflect the real world changes made to tracks themselves since the launch of last year’s game.

Cut scenes have now been added, showing your the drivers getting out of their cars and celebrating (or commiserating, presumably) depending on where they’ve finished in the race. Authentically designed steering wheels complete with buttons and logos have also been added, being just one of the many things implemented based on fan demand.

Having not played last year’s version I’m largely obliviously to the less obvious changes to the game. However, the developers and F1 2010 super fans have been trumpeting a myriad of subtle additions and tweaks that affect game play. The game’s A.I. has been improved to behave more like real F1 drivers. Cars now receive more realistic wear and damage over the course of a race, with additional visual effects like smoking tyres letting you know that you’re ready for a pit stop. KERS and DRS technologies have been reintroduced for Formula 1’s real 2011 season and, as a result, have also been added into the game. The introduction of selectable tyre types can now significantly change up the handling of your vehicle and are also more true to life than ever before.
I knew I should have brought an umbrella
How Codemasters are positioning the game is a little confusing. The member of staff who was showing me the preview build shied away from using the term “simulation”, much like the company’s PR had done months ago when promoting Operation Flashpoint: Red River.

However, when I spoke with developer Lee Mather he called the game a “pure simulation” and judging from my time with the game I tend to agree with him. It insists that you think and play as if you are a real F1 driver, with no cutting corners, no careless (or intentional) collisions with other cars and certainly no drifting.

I’m not going to lie; as someone who sticks primarily to arcade style racing games I had a very hard time picking this up. Even with all the novice assist functions like a driving line, automatic gear shifts and break assists activated I quickly became familiar with spinning out of control and quite often even had trouble staying lined up on the track.

The preview build we experienced was quite limited in terms of modes, only allowing us to play through standard races at Silverstone and one other circuit. Of course, this was only a small slice of what will feature in the final build. Hopefully it’ll have a robust tutorial and a shallow learning curve for the benefit of simulation and F1 novices such as myself.
Handling is key for tackling these corners. All we can say is, thank god for traction control...

From what I’ve been told by a few hardcore Formula 1 fans, many people consider last year’s version to be the ultimate high-definition F1 experience and the closest thing to experiencing the sport firsthand. This year’s edition looks to raise that high bar even further skyward thanks to its significant range of improvements. A lot of annual sports franchises claim that each new version is more than a mere roster update, but F1 2011 looks to be one of the few that can legitimately boast that.

Most Anticipated Feature: In an industry where online has slowly become the default way to experience multiplayer gaming it’s great to see two player local split screen implemented. Any developer trying to keep living room experience alive should be commended.

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