Three letters determine this games fate for me. F.P.S. In full, that means frames per second. Often we hear of games tooting 50 or 60 and when you play racing games on a PC you see them over the 100 mark. Why is this important for a racing game? It’s because if the screen updates quickly then you get fluid motion, emersed in the cockpit and you feel better prepared in what’s going on up ahead. In short, it’s one of the key things that makes a racing game tick all the boxes for being an excellent success. I’m not sure what’s happened with F1 2011 but in the FPS department, this game is seriously lacking.
A racing game should never run at a rate that it struggles to keep up with itself. Last years entry struggled with the street circuits. This years struggles everywhere. Should you hit the tight section in Abu Dhabi, the midfield in Dehli (which is a great new track) or have rain at spa or all 24 cars in the screen, the game struggles to a stutter. It’s really noticeable and it’s really off-putting. Sometimes the game even freezes and it as frozen every single time I’ve left the pitlane to take to the track (although thankfully not in a pitstop). It’s such a fundamental flaw to the game that it’s clearly trying to run code it can’t handle, I’d rather take slightly reduced graphics and have it run a lot smoother.
It’s a shame that this problem leaves its mark everywhere in the game because elsewhere things have really come on leaps and bounds. The AI are more realistic, running you very closely but never ramming. They’re also much more aware of each other and I’ve had great fun watching them scrap among themselves as I try to hang onto their rear wings. The inclusion of DRS and to a lesser extent KERS really mean that you have your fingers and thumbs working overtime in the cockpit sometimes. Their implementation has been done perfectly with mappable buttons and as a result the racing is much closer. The handling has some really fun twists to it too. It’s much more predictable this time round and you can actually ride the curbs properly. You will often slip and slide if you power down too early but these slides are often saveable and result in heart stopping moments. The inclusion of the safety car works very well too as it regulates your speed once you’ve caught the pack up. The safety car only ever stays out for three laps though and runs very quickly. If you are on the wrong side of the track sometimes you’ve not even caught the queue behind it and its going back in again! Still its very much appreciated and always throws a spanner in the works.
The career mode is still where it’s at for single player and although the off track stuff is possibly worse than before (David Croft is so under used its unreal) its functional and inoffensive. There’s also a half-hearted time attack mode of six scenarios to complete for leaderboard places. Multiplayer split screen works well although graphics and frame rate is reduced understandably. The ability to run co-op for a championship is a great inclusion and is made easier to do by having a 3 lap option for the career and co-op modes. Online things have taken a change for the better too. Gone is excessive rank XP climbing of old, now it’s geared towards cleaner racing. You lose XP for each contact and penalty given and although some of the collisions you’re penalised for are blatantly not your fault, its good to see clean racing rewarded in what had become a real crashfest last season. With up to 16 players in a lobby too, you can organise some good championships with a lot of customisable rules.
~DRS, KERS and safety car are all great inclusions implemented well
~Handling is significantly better than last years installment
~Good online overhaul
~It’s still extremely fun racing at its core
~Frames per second drop offs are awful and off-putting
~Weather flicks from wet to dry within the space of a lap and suddenly the track as dry from… now
~Several game freezes that put me off even trying a 50% or 100% race distance
~Still no spectator mode despite it being confirmed as being in the game (a very personal negative I feel though)
~Qualifying is still simulated and does not represent what’s actually happening on the track
It’s a case of two steps forward and one back for F1 2011. It does feels significantly different to last years and is a general improvement. The problem is that its come at the expense of baseline stability and that doesn’t sit well with me as a console game. It feels like I need to go into the options screen and turn down the graphics menu and that’s frustrating. I feel I’ve moaned too greatly though. F1 2011 is still at its core a fun racing game that offers up hours of playability and great multiplayer sessions if you can find like-minded clean racers. What it isn’t is the step forward I was hoping for.