F1 2011 builds on the success of Codemasters' first F1 title by developing its most impressive features and fixing many of its flaws. The car handling and visual details are significantly better, and the new Co-op Championship mode presents an exciting new way for friends to experience the intense racing together. The complex driving physics and rules could become frustrating for motor-racing novices, but Formula One fans will enjoy this incredibly faithful depiction of the sport.
6335010NoneAn F1 2011 race in light rain.
The visual improvements over last year's game are striking from your very first lap. The desaturated lighting has been replaced with a realistic colour palette which better conveys the famous Grand Prix atmosphere, from the fans in the grandstands to the scarlet Ferrari and gleaming chrome McLaren. More attention has been given to the cars, too. Each team now has its own steering wheel design, complete with bespoke animations for gear changes and other steering wheel functions. Circuit marshals can be seen waving flags, and the LED caution lights dotted around each circuit work realistically. Bodywork reflects far more of the environment than in F1 2010, and damage to tyres can now be seen in the texture of the rubber on each wheel. Such is the attention to detail in the car models that you can even see the front wing flexing and bending as the cars bounce over bumps, just as during slow-motion footage from a real race. Impressively, Codemasters has achieved all of these visual additions alongside a remarkable improvement in the game's frame rate, which helps you to take in much more of the environment at high speed or on congested sections of a circuit.
Along with upgrading the graphics, the audio now more accurately mimics the real deal. Engine notes are now much more aggressive, as are the gear-change sound effects and the sound of the car hitting the rev limiter. You can even listen to the noise of the tyres on the road to predict the wheels locking up under heavy braking. The enhanced sound gives experienced players much more feedback with which to understand their car's behavior. Additional improvements have been made to the race engineer character who feeds advice to you over the car radio. In F1 2010, the advice was often irrelevant to your race, but in 2011 you are fed information specific to the cars closest to you on the track and given much clearer advice about how to best look after your fragile F1 car.
The graphics are much more realistic this year.
The fragility of the car is the most important change to the game this year and does a fantastic job of capturing the care needed to drive a racing car. You must find a careful balance between pushing hard and prolonging the life of your tyres. In real F1, the more damage you do to your rubber, the more often you must pit; the same is true in F1 2011. You must also control your fuel use so that you can safely make it to the finish of each race. If you use the "fast" fuel setting for too long, you will drain the fuel tank more quickly, forcing you to drive slowly later in the race to improve your fuel economy and make it to the finish. A new feature on the heads-up display tells you exactly how much fuel you have left by comparing the number of laps left in the tank with the number left to race. All of this attention to detail will be loved by F1 fans but may frustrate those less familiar with the sport. The race engineer does give advice about when to push and when to drive conservatively, but much of his advice assumes you have a high level of F1 knowledge, using terminology which can be confusing if you're not familiar with the real sport. However, fans will appreciate how similar the radio chatter is to real life.
Car handling in F1 2011 leans heavily towards simulation. You can choose from a variety of assists, such as traction control, braking help, and a dynamic racing line, but the series still doesn't have any tutorials to help novices feel comfortable with the incredible acceleration, braking, and cornering speed of an F1 car. However, the alterations to the vehicle physics make this one of the most authentic racing simulations around. The remodeled suspension system gives the car a more believable sense of weight so that you can now feel its mass moving during corners, allowing you to predict slides and correct them appropriately. Sudden spins caused by bumps and kerbs, a major problem in the last game, are a thing of the past. The different tyres are simulated impressively as well. Soft rubber creates great grip but wears out quickly and can be damaged easily, whereas harder rubber offers less grip but is much more durable. The new physics make driving with a standard gamepad a much larger challenge than before; a force feedback steering wheel creates a greater connection between you and the car. A wheel also makes the game much easier to master by allowing much more subtle steering inputs. These aren't always possible when driving F1 2011's twitchy cars with an analogue stick.
The twitchy handling is especially evident in wet weather, which is now far harder to cope with than in F1 2010. Should it begin to rain while you are using a car setup designed for dry conditions, the car will understeer horribly going into corners and oversteer aggressively on the exits, often even if you switch to the correct intermediate or extreme wet tire. If you have the correct wet car setup, you still need to be very careful, as a relatively minor mistake could cause a spin. Along with the tough handling in these situations, the visual effects for water spray are even more frightening in this year's game. Driving closely behind another car in heavy rain is akin to driving with your eyes shut. It demands extreme bravery and really captures the crazy conditions seen regularly in the real sport this season.
Wet weather driving takes extra skill and nerve.
Should you lose control of your car, you will quickly become familiar with F1 2011's detailed damage system. With a big enough impact you can knock off your front wing or lose a wheel, but the game also helps you understand that F1 cars are sensitive even to minor incidents. If you lose your entire front wing, you will notice a massive loss of grip, but you can also lose smaller pieces of your car through minor contact. You lose less aerodynamic grip from these incidents, but they still have a subtle negative impact on handling. Puncturing a tire is a much less random occurrence this year as well. If you run off the racing line you will find that your tyres pick up small amounts of dirt and debris; do this too often and a tire might deflate.
It is almost a shame that AI cars make very few mistakes in F1 2011, as it means you rarely get to see one of the game's most welcome new features: the safety car. In Formula One, following a major accident which leaves debris or even a stationary car blocking part of the track, the safety car is released from the pit lane to drive in front of the F1 cars for up to two laps while the track is cleared. In the game, you do not have full control behind the safety car. There's a speed limit, but you can weave from side to side to keep heat in the tyres and brakes. Once the track is clear, the safety car pulls back into the pits, and you can resume racing. It might sound like a dull prospect in a video game, but it has become an important part of modern Formula One and is believably implemented in the game. You can turn it off if you would rather not use this feature, but serious F1 fans will really enjoy the need to quickly consider changes to their race strategy since the slow speed behind the safety car removes any gaps between cars that were built up during the race.