F1 2011 Preview

It’s that time of the year again. The F1 season is past its midpoint, meaning another game is on the verge of release. Codemasters claims a totally new experience more true to F1. I can’t test this claim just yet; instead this will be an early look into the features and changes in F1 2011. Most of these come from active information gathering and video analysis. Let’s start with the most important aspect: the handling.

Handling

F1 2010 was pretty flawed in terms of handling. Hitting the brake pedal would instantly recover a spin; the cars felt heavy overall; and dry tyres were still quickest in pouring conditions for some reason. Codemasters has announced that these faults are now a thing of the past. This is in no large part thanks to the new suspension system, which allows for a more predictable ride of the curbs. From video analysis it becomes clear that the cars steer much lighter this time round. Hopefully that means (better) control in oversteer or understeer situations.
Back in 2010 I visited gamescom to get a better understanding of the game mechanic. I still stand by my findings then, but the heavy-breathing Germans and unfamiliar steering wheel made it hard to conclude. For that reason – and personal reasons- I decided to let gamescom slip this year. From the videos it has to be said that 99% of the drivers can’t drive or use the poison-green racing line to annoy me further. Still the developers claim a much-improved handling and honestly – it can’t be worse.

Career

F1 2010 had an awful career mode to be honest. The pick the rival thing was implemented to prevent players from playing till the end, while the clear-cut reputation system felt out of place and not very immersive. They tried to compensate with interviews and press conferences, but it failed to deliver in any way. Props for the attempt but career mode is due for massive uppers.
Chief game designer Steve hood acknowledged this and has come up with a few key improvements this year. First are paper clippings, a rather static feature that could work if the questions are a little more daring and influential. The questions now have 5 possible answers, so that’s a good start. Second is an improved motor home, or menu, whatever floats your boot. Third is a host of fixes to prevent inhuman things from happening. Top teams will now offer you a new contract, even if your reputation isn’t quite up there. That’s a good thing because I was sacked from Ferrari in my second year despite winning both championships and outpacing Fernando Alonso. Imagine….
Still a little birdy tells me career is still not up there this year. I’d like more realistic contract offerings (just 2-4 teams per year), better negotiations, more press influence, newspapers reporting rumours and finally: more than 5 years. Yes, this year your retirement is due after 5 years of service, like the army.

Dynamic tracks

I’m a big advocate for this feature. Because F1 is European, Bernie keeps inventing ways to prevent us from having to come out of bed early. The Australian grand prix for example ends in twilight, while new race Abu Dhabi sports a full day-night transition. These things will be present in F1 2011 and adds to the idea that we’re part of a bigger world.
The idea of dynamic tracks is helped by the revamped weather system. Now the clouds will actually move in. Theoretically this means that only part of the track suffers from rain, like Silverstone this year. Also imagine what happens when clouds temporarily block the sun, how nice would that look? Whether the system is actually that advanced remains to be seen though.

Parc ferme & Celebrations

To get rid of the dull info screens and pointless camera zooms, Codemasters are set to introduce new cinematics, most noticeably parc ferme. These scenes show the drivers celebrating and shaking hands like they just came from a hillbilly farm in morale-ville. Nevertheless they look pretty good and the drivers look amazing. Just fear repeats even before first season’s end. On a more positive note, they’re available in multiplayer as well, so finally we podium finishers can have our moment in the limelight.

Improved graphics

The ego engine has improved a lot since its initial outing. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Grid; partly due to the sepia effect caused by ego 1.0. Since then Codies have gradually been removing the deficit – F1 2011 possibly their best attempt yet. Most striking is the improved colour balance. Everything is much lighter and vivid now. The trackside graphics is also improved, and all cars now feature original steering wheels. Judging from film the weird cockpit errors (Mercedes zoomed in, weird antennas) are also gone, adding tons to the feeling of immersion.

Damage

Codemasters added random failures to the gearbox, KERS, DRS and the engine. I loved this feature ever since it appeared in the first F1 game ever made. Jokes aside though, the Birmingham team have gone to great lengths in getting this right. Abusive driving will increase the likelihood of failures, which is an appreciated touch.
The visual damage in F1 2010 was fantastic in my opinion. For the first time in a commercial game, parts of wing and sidepods could break down. Hopefully diffuser damage is also part of the game this year. Codemasters claims improved sensitivity, which is enough to make me happy. Not planning any big crashes anyway.

New season

F1 2011 naturally adopts all changes this season has to offer. KERS and DRS are available and implemented in exactly the way I wanted it to be. DRS is user controlled and KERS is visible on the steering wheel or via the red battery icon. Unfortunately a lot of things are still TBT (to be determined). Is the KERS output equal over all teams, is the effect of DRS exaggerated and is the benefit of DRS static across the field? These questions and more will have to be answered post release, I’m rooting for dynamic differences among outfits.
The Pirelli tyres have reinserted a lot of tense racing this season. It’s always exciting to see who finishes behind Vettel. This year it’s also possible to see the actual wear on the tyres, debris and so forth. Unfortunately flat spotting isn’t possible, and I’m excited to see whether tyre wear is scaled in practise sessions.

Safety car, red flags

The pinnacle of autosport always delivers a few toys that can mix races up. The safety car and red flags are essential in this tactic. Both will be present in F1 2011 and this adds a new layer to the already growing tactical aspect of the game. For example will you stay out when the SC picks up the leader, or pick a lot of the draw in one of the lower teams. And what effect will red flags have on your qualifying? One thing Steve Hood already answered for us: the safety car will only stay out for one lap after the leader is picked up.
The implementation will be decisive between a big miss and the key differentiator this year. User control behind the safety car is something I hope to see, as are SC starts and red flags due to extreme weather conditions. Judgement day is due.

Multiplayer

According to Codemasters Birminghan, the focus lies on multiplayer this year. To back this claim up, F1 2011 will feature a “full-grid” online and splitscreen. Finally the ideal set-up can be made in a full co-op season with a friend either at home or on the Internet, the former involving two systems on a LAN basis. I’m not a big multiplayer guy myself. I love the occasional battle with mates or on the Internet with good company, but it’s utopia really. 9/10 races will end in the first corner, and the odds have just increased with up to 16 human multiplayer slots per race. Luckily the field can be filled up to support the 1-vs-1 battles most lonely guys will hope to be doing. On the flipside this isn’t Codemasters’ fault and they transferred all singleplayer features into the multiplayer action, nice one!

Initial thoughts

F1 2011 is set to crush its predecessor and this is both a good and a bad thing. The good news is that, on paper, this is set to be a fantastic formula racer. However it’s very much prone to over-expectations and little necks coming its way. For example it would be a shame to find that HRT is just 1-second behind Red Bull, or that much of the racing is scripted. The AI is also a big mystery still. The key for success is the implementation of the driving mechanic. If they can pull off proper tyre wear (also differing from team to team, AI included), then most of the long-term criteria are fulfilled. The printed features will help stimulate people to race, but ultimately the racing itself must work. I’m ecstatic to drive my first lap later this month, probably a Ferrari to see if I can get heat in my tyres on a cold afternoon. See you for the full review, once F1 2011 hits stores worldwide September 23rd.

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