Unfortunately, their quality is often fairly patchy. Formula 1 games need to be rushed out, because they get out of date pretty quickly. I remember back in the late 1990s, the days of the PSone, you had to wait until September or October to get your mitts on the Formula 1 game. But by that time the season is practically over. That was when Psygnosis had the Formula 1 console market all to themselves.
Then EA Sports came along and in a bold move they actually released their first attempt, F1 2000 in March. Since then, we’ve not had to wait until winter to pretend we are world champions, and now that Sony (ie. Studio Liverpool) have the license all to themselves again we seem to have settled on a regular summer release.
I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand I like Formula 1 games to be a bit like a souvenir of the season, so the performances of the cars in the game roughly match the performances of the equivalent cars in real life, and so that substitute drivers are also included in the game.
Nowadays you don’t get that. I think the last time you could choose to drive as a substitute driver was in Formula One 99. But this year the driver lineup changed in each of the first five races, and there have been other changes since then. This kind of sums up the feeling that Formula 1 games are kind of half-arsed. All Formula 1 video game fans have lists *this big* of things that they’d like to see in the game. The Safety Car is one that’s quite high up on my list.
Mind you, you wouldn’t want the games to be too realistic because obviously if I could realistically drive a Formula 1 car I would be driving an actual Formula 1 car and not playing video games. Also, you’d end up having just six cars at the United States Grand Prix. So instead of carrying on whingeing about what’s not there, let’s look at what they’ve actually put in.
And I can tell you that Formula One 05 is quite an impressive game! I even saw one person say, “At last, I can say there is a true sequel to Formula 1 97.”
First things first — the Career mode is vastly improved. Right at the very start of the game you are asked to create your profile — fill in your name, your nationality and all the rest of it. But if you’ve got an Eye Toy you can have your head in the game. Creating your head is very fiddly — I had to have about three different attempts, and it took about twenty minutes. But it’s very cool to actually be in the game, to stand there being interviewed by a journalist on the grid; to spray the champagne on the podium.
In Formula One 04, Career mode was not very customisable. But now you can change everything from race length to rules, so you can now play Career mode like you would a normal World Championship. A very good move indeed! Test sessions are more varied, with particular pressure heaped on when you have to beat your team-mate’s time!
Step into the car and it’ll make your jaw drop. My brother initially complained about it having “a million needless graphical effects,” but even he now says that it doesn’t annoy him. The car judders and vibrates uneasily as it booms down a bumpy straight, just as the real life on-board cameras portray. Motion blur — and we’re not talking a silly cartoony streak here — makes it difficult to view the scenery on the periphery, making it look like you’re travelling at 180 miles per hour.
Haul the car round a corner and you can really feel the tyres being dragged across with the Dual Shock controller. As for setting the car up, for once this is a game that actually penalises you for have an oversteering car — spin ahoy! So you have to be more conservative with your set up now. The circuits are also looking absolutely fantastic, although you still get the corners which you just know you shouldn’t be able to take flat, but you can. Watching the grand prix this weekend after playing the game on the same circuit easily confirmed this.
It’s not all geeky though. There are plenty of driving aids to help the rookie along. I still keep my ABS on for instance. Studio Liverpool seem to have made a real effort to help the novice get to grips with the game. Whether this has worked or not, I can’t say.
Despite the game having a very simulation sort of feel, the rules of Formula 1 have been adapted for the video gaming experience. Drive-through penalties do not exist in this game. Instead, if you cut a corner, you are shown the black and white diagonal flag which, in this game, means that your revs will be limited for an appropriate amount of time. It certainly puts you off cutting the corner, but it doesn’t always work. It’s easy enough to just park the car on the apex of the corner to hold everybody else up. It’s very good for an arcade-style video game, but I think there should at least have been the option to switch this off, and include drive-through penalties, with stop-go penalties for serious corner-cutting (and of course, ultimately, the black flag, which only seems to exist in this game for going around the circuit backwards).
Also, yellow flag zones last for an entire sector, not just a corner — annoying if you want to overtake somebody! It’s not all bad news on the flag front though. The slippery track flag makes an appearance in this game! If somebody’s engine blows up, they leave a visible trail of oil on the track. Step on the oil and you’ll slide off the track. Nice! The black-and-orange-circle flag is also in this game, although it’s kind of redundant because of another addition to this game — a diagram showing you how damaged your car is. Of course, most driving games from the past ten years have included these, which only goes to prove how half-arsed Formula 1 games often are. But I can’t complain that it has been included for this game — it is a very welcome addition.
Speaking of damage, that’s another thing. It’s not harsh enough. You can crash into somebody and you’ll see some generic debris fly off — but your car will emerge unscathed. Tap the wall, and your front wing will still remain in tact. Slam the wall and your front wing might start vibrating. This isn’t realistic enough I’m afraid. I know a lot of people hate it in an F1 game when you end up in a gravel trap and can’t get back out. But a damage leniency option (better than just plain on / off) wouldn’t go amiss. Tyre wear isn’t significant either. I’ve felt myself almost slide off once or twice (okay, well I actually have slid off more than once), but I really thought I’d feel it more, what with the one-tyre rule and everything.
And that brings me on to pit-stops, and this is cool. Now you’ve actually got something to do! When your car pulls into its ‘made-of-men’ garage you’re given a reaction-based mini game. You have to hit the buttons that flash on the screen. If you’ve got damage or you need to change tyres, you’re given a more complicated array of buttons to press. If your respond too slowly your pitstop will also be slow. But quick reaction times can result in a slick four second-long stop!
There is now an incentive to do Time Attacks — or Timed Test Sessions, as they’re known in Formula One 05. There are bronze, silver and gold times that you have to aim for. Setting fast enough times allows you to unlock some classic Formula 1 cars, including a 1960s-style ‘cigar-shaped’ Lotus, and a John Player Special Lotus from the 1970s. I’m currently trying to set gold times to unlock a bonus circuit. In Career mode you also unlock helmets as you score more points (which is kind of weird in my opinion, but never mind).
As for other modes, they have taken away the great fun Hot Seat multiplayer game, leaving us with basic races and head-to-heads only. There is no arcade mode either, which is a wee bit of a shame because a good arcade mode can set an F1 game apart. But I’m not too upset because in recent years arcade modes have been really bad (amounting to some cartoon-like damage and a highly irritating over-the-top American commentator).
The old aggregate qualifying session is in this game; they didn’t have time to change it to the new one lap style. You can let them off; it’s only a few races old. However, having a variety of different qualifying formats as ‘mini games’ would be a nice addition, I think.
This game is a joy to play, but I’m afraid to say that I find it too easy. This is especially disappointing as the one and only professional review of Formula One 05 which I read prior to buying the game complained about it being too difficult. To illustrate how easy it is, I had it set to the hardest difficulty level available. In my Career game I got a drive for Red Bull, and I have only ever failed one test. I won my first race, and I came second in my second race. Then I realised a sure-fire way to win every single race — have a one-stop strategy. All of the AI cars have two-stop strategies, which aren’t the fastest for a 50%-length race (I would do 100% race but, believe it or not, I have a little smidgen of a life. Sometimes. Full-length races are too tiring anyway).
The AI cars are really fast during practice aswell. Michael Schumacher set a 1:23 lap time at Monza, so I learned how to drive the circuit that quickly. When qualifying came around nobody was fasted than 1:25, and none of the AI cars seemed to come close to 1:23 during the race. So where does all the pace go, eh?
There are still things I can do to make it harder. Amongst the suggestions I’ve heard are to use the cockpit view, switch ABS off (yes, but I’d still like to be able to drive the bloody thing (this does look like the most viable option though)), switch traction control off (but even real F1 drivers use traction control!), deliberately set the car up badly (but finding a good set up is an important aspect of being a racing driver), or to go a Minardi (really, I should be able to drive a Red Bull without winning). I would like the AI to challenge my lap times anyway though. Don’t get me wrong, the AI is good. They really have a go at you sometimes and will capitalise on your mistakes. But they are simply too slow even on the hardest difficulty level.
Another problem I have is that in Career mode you are the only one who ever replaces any drivers during the season. How about adding real-life third and test drivers to the game for next year and have them substitute for their team mates for a one-off race — like they do in real life, for whatever reason — at random. Also, if I become Red Bull’s first driver I will replace David Coulthard, and Christian Klien will remain as my team mate — but surely in real life it would be Klien who’d get his marching orders?
Thankfully, this game doesn’t suffer from any of the major bugs that Formula One 04 had. Last year’s game had some truly awful bugs in it, including one where sometimes half of the cars would be stuck in the pitlane at the start of the race, and there was nothing you could do about it except for reseting the console.
This time around the worst bug is the fact that there’s no commentary, or even any pit radio in career mode. What a stinker of a bug it is! How was this not noticed during testing?! Unbelievable. Thankfully all necessary information is still conveyed to you on the screen, but that is a serious stinker. I have experienced no other major bugs; certainly not ones that badly affect gameplay.
Commentary itself is another wee problem. It is probably an improvement on previous PS2 versions, but this isn’t saying much. Mind you, with James Allen in the commentary box the crappy commentary is actually quite realistic!
Despite the niggles, though, I have to say that this is a major step up for Formula 1 games. Ever since the honking Formula 1 98, Sony’s Formula 1 games have been reasonable, but never fully satisfactory. But Formula One 05 changes that. Once again, good features of past games have been taken away for no apparent reason. But I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the 2006 version of the game.
Update: I just unlocked the bonus track. It must have taken me about seventy or eighty attempts to nail Japan (I don’t know why; I got most of the others in under ten), but it was worth it in the end. Very cool!
Looks like it could be Long Beach. That’s what my brother thinks anyway.