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F1 2011 Review

Date: September 28, 2011
Author(s): Rob Williams

The winner of the current F1 season is almost a sure-thing, but is Codemasters’ latest F1 sim as well? With the introduction of DRS and KERS, improved driving physics, more realistic AI, a new collection of tracks, an improved focus on multi-player and the greatest racing challenge to date – it just might be.



Introduction

When Codemasters gained the exclusive rights to publish Formula 1 games in 2009, fans had good reason to remain cautious. After all, F1 is a sport that many take seriously. It’s not a NASCAR, and it’s sure not a Dirt 2. With F1 2010 however, I think most would agree that the developer did a commendable job. The track design was spot-on, the cars looked great and there was a lot included that helped make you feel like you were in the F1.

F1 2011 can be likened to a FIFA or Madden where annual updates are released, rather than full overhauls. Things like graphics can be improved over time along with other game mechanics, but for the most part, an upgrade from F1 2010 to F1 2011 won’t feel like a major change as going from FIFA 12 to Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 would.

As far as I’ve been able to tell, there have been no notable graphics or audio updates implemented, as the game feels quite like F1 2010. The biggest changes have to do with the driver line-up, available tracks, driving physics, commentator, R&D, KERS, DRS, the return of Pirelli tires and the safety car, and a renewed emphasis on multi-player racing.


(Change to 720p/1080p, then go full-screen for best viewing.)

In addition to the in-depth career mode, spanning five seasons across the 19 official 2011 tracks, there’s a Grand Prix mode made for custom track rotation, co-op championships that can see you and a friend complete a full season together, time trials, time attacks which see you complete six super-difficult scenarios, and of course, standard online racing.

The career mode is about as customizable as a career mode can get. In addition to altering the difficulty, you’re able to change variables for each race as needed. At the default setting, 3 lap races are chosen with Intermediate AI. Don’t expect an easier difficulty to be that much “easier”, though. Team requirements become more difficult the better you do, so the game always remains challenging.

F1 2011 (PC)

Adding to the “realism” factor, F1 2011 helps you live the life of an F1 star by making you deal with inane press questions, read likewise inane e-mails from managers and charm up the pit girls. Wait, I think that last one was a dream…

After most races, you’ll be asked a couple of questions by BBC Radio’s F1 commentator David Croft. Such questions deal with your thoughts on your team, your teammate, how you think you will do the rest of the season and so on. I am unsure of the consequences of answering these questions, though bad-talking your team might not be the best of ideas (I’m too kind to attempt it).

F1 2011 (PC)

Each race consists of a practice, qualifier and the actual race, although the first two can be skipped. This is not recommended, however, as R&D upgrades are tied to the practices, and the qualifier has it’s own obvious benefits. Like almost every game on the planet, F1 2011 has a leveling system where you can earn XP if team conditions are met. This is another game mechanic that doesn’t seem too important, unless you value yourself by such things.

As before, you’re able to choose between preset car setups prior to each race or dig in and alter everything you can manually, from suspension to brakes to balance to aerodynamics and so forth. To help improve the car’s abilities, R&D challenges need to be completed. After entering a new track, you’ll have an option after accessing the engineer to do such a run, and if your requirements are met, you’ll gain that R&D improvement on a following track.

F1 2011 (PC)

This is one game mechanic that hasn’t been implemented too well, and due to me overlooking the details (which have to be self-taught or learned on the Internet), I ended up having to scrap an eight-race season due to having no R&D work done up to that point. In order for R&D successes to count, you cannot skip to the qualifier afterward. Rather, you have to “Return to Paddock”, and then go back into the garage to continue through to the qualifier. Whether this be just odd design or a bug, it should be fixed.

As mentioned before, races are adjustable to be quick or long, with full races able to be well over 50 laps depending on the track, or in actual time, about 4-100 minutes per race. More serious racers will want to adhere to official F1 race rules, while those who might not want a career to span across 100+ hours can alter their settings accordingly.

Gameplay; Final Thoughts

Helping to make each race as exciting as possible, dynamic weather has made a return here and can make or brake (pun intended) how your race could go. Prior to racing at a new location, your manager will send you an e-mail noting the weather to expect during all three race sessions. This ranges from clear to light cloud to overcast to light rain to torrential downpour. Err, “heavy rain”.

Living up to its “dynamic” name, the weather can change over the course of lengthier races, moving from dry to wet or vice versa. This is one aspect of the game that made a fool of me more than once. Imagine scoring an unbeatable lap in the qualifier in the heavy rain and then skipping to the race – only to wind up in 18th place because it became sunny before the qualifier was over. Yes, it can happen.

Speaking of rain, there’s just no forgiveness from the Gods in this game. If a practice or qualifier winds up being held on a heavy rain day, you are going to be in for one heck of a challenge. Light rain days can be managed depending on the track, but Nürburgring on a day where you are hit by the volume of your car in rain every ten seconds? That’s challenging.

F1 2011 (PC)

Driving on what seems like ice isn’t the best part, though. That’s slipstreaming another driver, or being near another one at all. This is where it pays to know each and every track very well, because there will be points during a race where you will have so much water splashing up at you that it’s impossible in the truest sense of the word to see up ahead.

Speaking of challenging, in the real F1 2011 season both KERS and DRS rule changes have had an interesting effect on some races, and for the most part it seems most are in favor of retaining both for the future. In the F1 2011 game, you can expect both to add another element of strategy, as either of them, or both used in strategic conjunction, can help make you a winner when you thought all was lost.

KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) in the simplest terms helps recover the kinetic energy found in the waste heat generated while breaking. This is then converted to power and stored to a battery, and when required, the power is passed back to the engine giving the car a temporary ~80BHP boost. As per official rules, KERS can be used at any point during a race.

F1 2011 (PC)

In the 2011 F1 season, DRS (Drag Reduction System) refers to the opening of a rear wing that will help reduce drag. Unlike KERS, the rules of DRS are strict and take a while to nail down. In practice and qualifier races, DRS is unrestricted, but in an actual race, it can only be used at pre-defined points during a track and then only if you are within 1 second of the person in front of you. Out of a successful slipstream, DRS can increase your car’s speed up to 10KM/h.

Mastering both KERS and DRS is challenging, and could take an entire season in the game to understand the best times to use either. KERS is recommended off the gate to help you get to the front of the pack as quick as possible (and perhaps avoid blocking penalties), but since it decreases a lap time by a mere 0.3s, another good use is corner overtaking.

F1 2011 (PC)

Overall, the game’s mechanics are quite good. This is helped by the fact that Codemasters had far greater access to the F1 teams this time around, which in turn increases realism and also difficulty. At the best of times, F1 2011 is a challenging game, and at the worst of times – well, when is the last time you threw a controller at the wall?

Graphics-wise, it’s not often when a racing game underwhelms. As long as the cars and tracks look good, all is kosher. Well, that’s for someone who’s not fussy, at least. Given that we just moved from F1 2010 to F1 2011, I expected more improvements to the graphics than what we saw.

The game uses the same engine as Dirt 3, EGO Engine 2.0, and for the most part suffers the same sort of “console-esque” issues. The crowd in F1 2011 isn’t often seen up close, but when you do see them, most people look similar and have flat-textured faces. In the distance, like from the pit, you’ll see people’s arms look like elongated triangles – an obvious shortcut made by the developer. Members of the press and the mechanics are often seen up close as well though, and neither of those look that impressive. As seen in the video the image below, the models are not that detailed; and in fact they look like the sort of models you would expect from a much older game.

F1 2011 (PC)

Those niggles aside, the cars and tracks look great, so that’s a major plus. The same can be said about the audio. Your pit manager sounds great and often provides useful information, and the cars sound like chainsaws just as they should. The audio stuck me during heavy rain races, because it helped make it feel like I was really racing in such uncomfortable weather.

F1 2011 can’t be called a “major” update to the series, but there’s enough substance here that would warrant an upgrade – or, in the case of an F1 enthusiast who hasn’t picked up a game in a while, it’s a no-brainer. All of the included tracks are exciting to race on, just like in the real F1, and with the introduction of KERS and DRS, an entirely new dynamic is brought to the races. The game is just as challenging as ever, if not more so, and given the career mode can span 100 hours or more, there’s a lot of value wrapped in here.

F1 2011 (PC)
F1 2011 (PC)

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Extra Screenshots

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

F1 2011 (PC)

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