Last year at PAX, I stood with a Time Warner representative, who handed me a controller while she told me about F1 2010, which would be the first official F1 release (to my knowledge) on the 360 and PS3. The last time I'd played an F1 game was back in 1997 for the PS1, and I didn't like it much back then, and to be honest, I didn't really like what I was playing that day either. After finding out the version in front of me was 95% complete (and not 30 or 40% as I'd suspected,) I decided to give F1 2010 a pass.
The game, however, was vastly successful, and Codemasters decided to bring the franchise back for another spin this year, incorporating all of the F1 rule changes. I don't have much more to add, so let's jump straight into the game.
The game (and the included achievements) spends a lot of time drawing attention to the new rule changes this year, and things they hadn't incorporated into the game before, like the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS.) KERS allows drivers to accelerate a bit better out of tight corners, of which you (naturally) see many when your racing speed exceeds more than 300 km/h. Pretty helpful in qualifying, but you cannot rely on it in races, since its use is limited.
Gameplay modes are simple and to the point - A season campaign, exhibition races, multi-player and leaderboard challenges. When you get into the game, you'll see many returning features - The realistic weather system is back, meaning your races and racing style will be dictated by whether the track is wet or dry, how much rain is falling, and how windy it is out there. The vehicles are back with a good amount of detail on them, down to customized steering wheels for each driver. Remember how decent the game looked last year? Neither did I once I threw this game in. The graphics in this game are just unfair compared to other racing games. Nobody should be throwing out picture perfect environment reflection, moving fins and rain PERFECTLY BOUNCING OFF TIRES at this point in the game. There's hardly a sophomore jinx here. If graphics made completely made a game, this would the best console racing game of all time.
The career mode is pretty intricate, though with very little cosmetic change from last year. You're given a bit more to do with your driver off the track, as you can gain and lose popularity from interviews in between races. You can be the unpopular, cocky new driver on the scene, or a humble, thankful young driver looking for an opportunity to shine. You have to meet a series of objectives to succeed in your craft and hope to catch the eye of the bigger teams, and drive better cars. Learning the mechanics of KERS, DRS and proper cornering are crucial to your qualifying, and learning not to abuse these features and when to use them are crucial in your real races.
I admit, you probably won't get a lot out of the exhibition mode by yourself. You may as well jump straight into career and play all of the races in order rather than flicking off a race here and there. It offers very little outside of learning the semantics of the new features. Outside of that, just skip straight to the career mode, or save your exhibition time for the co-op mode, which is pretty neat. You're able to race on the same team in co-op, and use your powers together for good (or evil.) You can choose to shake n' bake with your partner Talladega Nights style, or just get out there and race. Surprisingly, this is a first for F1 games, though a long needed addition. I look at some of the additions games like this make and wonder why companies just haven't thought about implementing them before. So simple, yet such a needed addition.
There's little else left I have to say. This is a fantastic racing game for the right audience, so obviously not for everybody. This game hits on all cylinders for simulation-style race enthusiasts, and is the quintessential racing experience out there (more than Forza, more than anything else) by far. It's just not for everybody.
Graphics: 9.5/10. The graphics in this game in one word? Amazing. There's so much extra here that the game delivers that you may miss it when you aren't looking for it. The grandstands and things trackside are pretty straight forward, but the scenary is stunning, and the amount of detail paid to the vehicles themselves are nothing short of amazing. Trackside foliage and effects coming by your car glisten and reflect off the body perfectly. Vehicle damage is so intricate it goes down to marks on the tires, and vehicle cockpits are perfectly altered and specified per team. The graphical enhancements in F1 2011 are game changing additions and have raised the bar for all racing games going forward.
Sounds: 8/10. The sounds in this game are a bit...harsh. The control system likes to make you feel like you're wrecking your drivetrain. "Floor" the right trigger button on 1st gear and it sounds like a piece of scrap metal caught in a blender. Outside of that, the sounds are fine, with my only complaint being against the pit crew. They're a bit hard to follow sometimes, and it's not the British accents. It's just a bit hard to hear their directions in amongst the rest of the noise.
Controls: 9/10. The controls in this game are pretty sophisticated once you get to the higher up levels, which is great to see. Acceleration is realistic - meaning if you jam the triggers and go, the vehicle will redline (or skid out if you brake too hard on a turn.) This takes a LOT of getting used to, and believe me, if you didn't spend time playing this game last year, it's going to be very frustrating. I wouldn't even recommend starting on easier controls, however, since it basically hand-holds you through changing gears and cornering. Just get out there and learn it the hard way. You won't be sorry you did for very long.
Gameplay: 7/10. This is a hard one to gauge. On one hand, this is probably everything an F1 fan wants. Difficult AI, a sophisticated control and navigation system, realistic weather elements and realistic qualifying and racing sessions. On the other, the gameplay engine is going to be almost too tough for regular gamers and racing novices to get into. There's a lot of disparity between the easy difficulty and hard, but it's to be expected. The game is going to be either the most perfect racing experience ever created, or the most exacerbating one. Take it for what it is - The best F1 game ever created, hands down. If you're the kind of guy that wakes up at 4 AM to watch Michael Schumacher crack his knuckles and roll through Monaco at 300 km/h, this game is for you. If you're the kind of guy who wakes up at 1 PM to watch Danica Patrick roll through the streets of Toronto slightly faster than the BMW that breezes by me on the highway every day, this game's probably not for you.
Moreso than Nascar 2011, this game is not a fun loving, arcade style racing game. There are really no modes where the casual gamer can feel like they can pick up and mess around. F1 Racing in a whole is a much more finessed style than, say, Nascar, and drivers seem to have to exhibit much more patience and technique. This game is exactly that. It hits a very specific demographic of gamers, and excels at doing so. I cannot see a single F1 Racing fan being disappointed with much. The game puts everything it can out there from a slick processing and weather engine, to the realism of disparity between the best teams, and the "just there" teams. This is probably the most realistic racing game out there once you factor in the secondary details off the track it brings into play.
That's where my recommendations to you the reader come in. If you like the mystique of F1, don't hesitate to go out and grab this game. If you're a fan of one racing style, but not F1, I'd still say give it a go. If you don't like auto racing at all, but want an over the top racing game to play in your spare time? This probably isn't it, unless you're into a highly precisioned, more realistic racing style. The F1 and Codemasters relationship is a great one - This is very detail oriented company putting forth the best game the F1 franchise has ever seen. It's a shame that I can't recommend it to everybody, however, because it's just too product specialized, though doing anything but changing what it already is would cheapen everything.