Posted by John on September 23, 2011

F1 2011 (PS3) Review

Due to the resemblances to F1 2010, it would have been easy to copy the review from last year here and just relabel it “F1 2011“, with no one the wiser. In fact, the differences between the two are so minimal, you may not notice them at all, at least until you get out past practice and into your first race. Not a year can go by without the F1 board mucking up the rules, though, so true to the simulation experience, F1 2011 puts some new ones into effect.

The first major addition worth mentioning is the Drag Reduction System or DRS for short. The basic idea is to allow for more overtaking on straights. However, this new rule comes with a boatload of other rules. You can not deploy the system in the rain, but rather, only on a predetermined position on the track, and only if you are less than a second behind the person in front of you. In order to deploy the system you must push the triangle button at the right time when the DRS indication is surrounded by a green tint, though it will automatically deploy in easy mode.  It’s overly complicated, so much so I’m sure the real F1 drivers are having difficulties as well.

The second major addition is the use of the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS). Not a first for the sport (as it was introduced in 2009), but definitely a first for the series. This allows you to use short bursts of energy captured from your braking system to give you an 80BHP boost for up to 6.67 seconds. Again, there are more stipulations that go along with this feature: no refueling is allowed under a KERS system, and there’s a fixed amount of usage per lap.

There are a couple of minor changes as well. F-ducts are no longer allowed in the races, and the tyres (proper F1 spelling) are all provided by Pirelli after Bridgestone announced its exit from sponsoring F1 — ending over a decade of support. There’s even two new tracks in the 2011 season of F1. All of these changes are faithfully captured, immerse you in the cockpit of a Formula 1 car proper.

Other than those few rule changes, very little else seemed to have been improved. The graphics look a bit more polished, but there is still some minor pop-in in the distance. This is especially noticeable in the clouds and stands, but who really has time to admire the sights when you’re screaming by at 200 mph?

Oh No He Didn’t

Oh yes I did! I happen to have two PS3’s hooked up to HDTVs set-up in my living room, and a copy of F1 2010. I went ahead and performed a side-by-side comparison between the two to determine if the 2011 update is deserving of a $60 price tag. Since my memory isn’t the best, I wanted to confirm or deny my suspicions about the lack of overall improvements. After I got everything powered up and running, I began to notice some subtle differences.

The load times in both versions can be a bit long. A pre-load feature would have helped to rectify this. Unfortunately many gamers complained quite a bit about this when developers started to rely heavily on it in the past; I’m starting to notice a trend in shying away from this feature. While I’m definitely against a forced pre-load (especially when they are in the 5 GB range), having the option is always nice.

At the Paddock, you will find the reporters there to question you after every race. In your trailer you still have the same silly helmet design options and they are still useless. The traveling agent who assisted you in F1 2010 is no longer in your trailer — something I don’t mind at all. Your laptop contains e-mails from various teammates and possible offers from other teams as well. You’ll even get a sneak peak at the track conditions for your next race.

In the garage you will find pretty much the same thing you did in 2010. The animations of the engineer and mechanics are the same — even your hand motions while sitting in the cockpit waiting aren’t any different. While not really an issue, it’s worth pointing out for those of you hoping for a completely different experience. 

On the track you have the same five views to choose from, but the similarities between the two end there. The display has changed to support the new KERS and DRS indications. This can be a hindrance for the cockpit view, as they sit right over the right mirror making it useless for spotting drivers coming up from behind.

I also found the engineer to be less helpful. Crashing in the 2010 version has the engineer piping in and requesting you to bring the car back to the garage to make some adjustments, while the 2011 version was rather silent. I tried many times to queue the engineer’s suggestions, but it never happened.

One addition to the updated game I was pleased to see is the option to run as little as three laps. This is very helpful for those of us who can’t dedicate huge chunks of time to the races. In reality a “short weekend race” still takes an hour and a half to fully complete, whereas in F1 2010 it would take nearly two full hours. You could always skip practices and qualifiers, but it behooves you to dial in your car settings prior to the big race.

The single player game modes mainly stayed the same with Career and Grand Prix. However, the time trials have now been joined with time attack and integrated into the Proving Grounds, which allow you to test your skills against players around the world and even your friends to beat set times. Each trial has its own challenges due to weather and/or tyre restrictions.

With Friends Like These….

What I really wanted to know was how the multiplayer changed. If you recall in my F1 2010 review I found quite a few asses online willing to screw up other people’s experience. While I did find a few of those this time around as well, the majority of issues stemmed from a wonky connection to the servers. The insanely long load times trying to get into an online match was unsettling as I would wait nearly five minutes, only to be disconnected at the last second.

It was difficult to tell whether the hosts were closing down the sessions prematurely or not, but it took me nearly two hours the first night to get into a match. I suspect more people will be on in the following weeks. While the loading times definitely hindered my experience, what I was able to witness was excellent. The new addition of a Co-op Championship really adds a unique experience for those willing to find a dedicated online partner to tough out a full season with.

I did notice a glitch with the online multiplayer portion I will mention for fun — trophy hunters make note. During one of the online races, I had zipped past the three cars in front of me to take the lead. I had chosen the option tyres, and was very familiar with the track. I believe the original person who began the match found that a bit offensive and quit the session. When he/she left, the game removed all of the other drivers as well which left me alone to my own devices. Rather than stopping me, I was able to complete a full lap where I was declared the winner and awarded three online trophies for winning, running a clean race, and having the fastest lap.

The big winner for multiplayer in F1 2011 though is split-screen co-op. As much as I love online gaming, nothing really beats having a friend over for a few cold beers and some head-to-head F1 racing. If you enjoy having co-op game nights, this feature alone is well worth the update from F1 2010.

Wrap it up already

After doing the side-by-side comparison I tried to make a difficult decision — which would I prefer to keep on my shelf? The answer isn’t as clear as I would have liked it to be. While some of the updates are nice, they don’t really change the overall experience. The DRS and KERS system are definitely not my favorite features, but I can’t ding the game for staying true to the F1 season rules. After all, this is an F1 simulator experience right?

In the end, the new split-screen co-op helped nudge F1 2011 slightly ahead in my decision. It’s clear Codemasters were listening last year and did an overhaul on the multiplayer experience without sacrificing the core elements which made it fun to begin with. Unfortunately the rest of the changes really seemed too minimal to justify a full release, which happens to be the case with most yearly update releases (see Madden or any other sports game series).

Last year F1 2010 made a lasting impression, while this year F1 2011 is starting to feel like old hat. It’s an excellent game, but the lack of substantial changes in basic gameplay leaves it coming up a bit short. Fans of Formula 1 racing will enjoy Codemasters’ faithful representation, while others will see it as a minor upgrade to last year’s release. There’s still a few things holding this title back, but Codemasters have proven they listen to fans and are ready to take the helm — let’s just hope it doesn’t have to include DRS.

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