I feel for Codemasters. Last year, they delivered what was perhaps the best Formula One game ever made, and at the first time of asking too. This year, they have the seemingly impossible task of topping that effort by creating a new game based on essentially the same formula. Sure, there are some rule changes, and some new drivers, constructors and tracks this season, but Formula One, from a casual spectator’s point of view, doesn’t change much from one year to the next. So how then can Codemasters manage to make F1 2011 feel like a new and different game than its predecessor?

Eat my dust

Eat my dust

Well, they don’t. For most part, F1 2011 doesn’t feel like a completely new game, and that’s more a reflection of the brilliance of F1 2010 than a lack of effort on the developer’s part. Last year, Codies went the all-out simulation route, choosing to target the sport’s hardcore, jargon-spouting fans. While that’s still the case this time, there’s also a focus on making the game more accessible, so there’s a bit more balance to the gameplay. The driving assists are pretty much the same from last year – driving line, traction control, ABS, stability management, braking assist, tyre simulation, etc – but tweaking these now has a more telling impact on gameplay. So while the hardcore fans will still find the same challenge with assists turned off, newcomers will have a much easier time with them enabled.

In my preview, I had mentioned how cars were nearly impossible to control and keep on track with the PS3 controller. Thankfully, that has been rectified in the final version, and not only is the game playable with the controller, but it’s also quite enjoyable. Having said that, any simulation racing game is best played with a good racing wheel, and that goes double for F1 2011. The wheel gives you the sort of real-time feedback from the tyres and track surface that a controller can never manage, and in a sport where a thousandth of a second can make all the difference, that feedback is priceless.

Slippery when wet

Slippery when wet

The preview build also had a few framerate issues, particularly when in the garage and pit lane, but sadly that remains the case in the final game, at least in the PS3 version. Thankfully, the action is quite smooth once you’re out on the track. Codemasters’ signature ‘piss’ filter is surprisingly missing in F1 2011, and while I’m glad that is the case, the game doesn’t quite match the bar set by Codies’ own Dirt 3 as far as visuals are concerned. This is a clear case of performance over eye candy. Driving in the rain is still an edge-of-the-seat experience as you slide around and are forced to drive blind when behind another car. Engine sounds are great as always and the menu and design music is quite relaxing, as we’ve come to expect from Codies.

The only disappointing aspect of F1 2010 was its lackluster career mode, and that was the one area I was really hoping for a big improvement this year. Sadly, Codemasters have once again delivered an insipid career experience that lacks the excitement you would associate with the world’s most glamorous sport. It is still just a case of hopping from one race to the next, broken up by bland media interactions and email updates from your team and others from the F1 fraternity. The post-race press conferences have been done away with, replaced by just a celebratory cutscene after a podium finish. The purists will still enjoy the no-nonsense approach to the career, but for me, it came across as bland and sterile.

Spinning me round and round

Spinning me round and round

This year, you can also play through a season with a friend in co-op championship, whereby each of you takes up a seat in the same team. It’s a great concept, but sadly I couldn’t find anyone on my PSN friend’s list whom I could co-op it with. The other multi-player modes make it over from last year’s game, and the game handles itself well online, with minimum lag on the PS3.

You’ll find many of the new additions to the current F1 season replicated within the game, including the introduction of DRS, the reinstatement of KERS, and all the new teams and drivers. The big new addition for us in India is the inclusion of the Buddh International Circuit in Noida, which plays host to the inaugural Indian Grand Prix later this month. It’s a great track, with its mix of high speed stretches and slow, technical corners, and it’s great to be able to see and play it within the game.

Slippery when wet

Wet wet wet

And that’s really what F1 2011 is all about. At its core, it’s pretty much the same game as last year’s, albeit with a few gameplay refinements and visual changes. The only significant changes come in the form of the new rules, regulations, tracks and drivers, and perhaps that’s a sign of how this franchise will progress. It’s a fantastic game and continues the great work Codies started last year, but it’s hard to recommend F1 2011 to anyone but the seriously hardcore Formula One fan.

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