F1 2011 Xbox 360 Review

Formula 1 is a sport that lends itself perfectly to the video game medium. Not that there’s anything wrong with the FIFA games of late, but even the most shut-in overweight virgin can wander blinking into the afternoon sun and start kicking a ball around. Formula 1 is a sport that us mere mortals will simply never get to truly experience, with any attempts to do so probably resulting in a particularly nasty car accident, death or at the very least severe disfigurement.

After several years in the wilderness the Formula One license ended up in the capable hands of Codemasters’ racing team, who had spent the past few years honing their art with the brilliant Dirt games and the underrated Race Driver: Grid. It was a perfect fit, with Codies’ knack for walking the line between realistic simulation and fun arcade gameplay being exactly what an F1 game required. It even simulated the high flying life of an F1 driver. Not all of them get billion dollar advertising deals and get to park up inside a Pussycat Doll. Hell, half of them don’t even finish races.

Predictably, it sold a boatload and with it being a sports title, we are here a year later with a new instalment.

Thing is, you can only simulate the various aspects of an actual sport and map all their intracacies to a set of buttons to a certain degree, with the technology you’re working on limiting you in the end. Codemaster’s Birmingham racing team absolutely smashed the convincing race day gameplay with their first attempt – there really isn’t any major gameplay changes they CAN do, outside of just plain changing the rules of the sport, which would be stupid.

So, the hard work has already been done. This IS a very similar game to last year, in the surface, at least. Complaining that a game is “still excellent” seems daft, however. Why reinvent the wheel?

They’ve implemented a few of the new rule changes. All cars are now equipped with DRS, some flap thing that makes the cars more maneuverable when overtaking on straights, and something called KERS, which is probably something scientific I don’t understand but it is essentially a recharging speed boost. Use it on straights to overtake a rival or perhaps to recover some time after a particularly terrible corner, it adds a further strategic element to the races, and one that lends itself to video games a lot more than picking the right time to make a pit stop.

Subtle tweaks to the A.I have made for a tougher but much more realistic and rewarding experience. No longer do the 24 cars fire around the track on almost set paths, occasionally bumping one another out of the way – something you simply don’t see in a real race. It used to be more Mario Kart than Monza. 2011 Edition has the A.I. drivers pushing for position, allowing others to pass and far more tactical overtaking.

Multiplayer racing has seen the biggest improvements. Online racing now features a full pack of 24 cars (with sixteen of them controlled by humans, A.I taking control of the remainder) and the inclusion of a career co-op mode is a masterstroke. As you work together to ensure the dominance of your team, there is still that very real fact that only one of you can be the ‘lead’ driver, leaving plenty of scope for a friendly (or unfriendly!) rivalry between the two of you.

Something truly commendable is how, despite all this insanely detailed realism, Codemasters don’t just leave the less-experienced gamer behind. Well aware that not every fan of the sport is going to have even bothered with many, if any, video games at all. Scaling the difficulty back adds a plethora of various assists to make for a less intimidating experience and one that pretty much anyone with hands can pick up and play within a few minutes. Purists may scoff at this ultra-simplified glorified Scalextrix, with their racing wheels and assist-free driving, but no harm can come from opening the doors to videogaming to fans of the sport. On the other hand, as someone who has little interest in F1, this mode allowed me to slowly learn the various things I needed to succeed, before upping the difficulty to truly challenge myself.

The changes to this years edition aren’t big enough to be able to look on F1 2011 as a gigantic leap forward, but then they didn’t need to be. Fans of the sport will no doubt find themselves questioning whether or not the new features and updated roster are worth their money, but it is undeniably an improved version of what was already a fantastic title.

Where Codemasters takes Formula One from here is anyone’s guess. I personally think they’re going to find it incredibly difficult to improve on what they have delivered in this edition. One thing they have done, between this, Dirt and Grid, is cemented their place as one of the best racing game developers on the planet. Whatever they do next, it is sure to be quality.

Editor’s Note: Check out some gameplay footage below:


9 out of 10
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