DRS, KERS & PS VITA
F1 2010 was last year's surprise racing hit. Codemasters' breakthrough title was the fastest-selling Formula One racing game of all time, the first UK number one for a Formula 1 title, won the BAFTA for Best Sports Game and was critically rated as highly as Gran Turismo 5... all of which is seriously impressive since F1 2010 started at the very back of the grid as a rank newcomer. A year on, however, Codemasters have to switch gears from the new kid in town to an established, polished racing presence.
Once we'd sat down with Senior Producer Paul Geal and designer Stephen Hood, they explained that F1 2011 would be more than just an update and that it would "overshadow" its predecessor in every conceivable way. Racing has changed massively over the last twelve months, and naturally F1 2011 will need to implement a number of important new features as well as improving the experence in terms of graphics and handling. We're going to have to get fairly technical for a while, so if you're not a huge fan of the sport, you'll be better off looking at the pretty pictures.
In terms of raw features, F1 2011 will feature 19 tracks returning from the original game, as well as the Buddh International Circuit (situatied in Delhi, India) and the ever-popular Nürburgring. You can also expect the entire set of liveries and rosters to be updated. However, everything else is about to change drastically. The switch to Pirelli tyres this season will greatly affect your strategy and haldling, with an enormous difference between the tyre compounds. Will you aggressively start with Options or rack up some laps with Primes? Of course, the addition of DRS and KERS is going to shape up the formula yet further. In case you don't know, the adjustible rear wings allow racers to create a burst of speed to aid in overtaking, which acts much like a turbo boost straight out of Mario Kart. KERS gives you an extra 6.6 seconds of turbo boost per lap, and will let players get much more aggressive.
In fact, this aggressive new focus is now a core tenet of the game itself. F1 2010 allowed players to "Be The Driver" and "Live The Life"... but F1 2011 now adds the important mantra of "Go Compete." As well as being able to engage in 24-player online races (16 humans padded out with 8 AI drivers), players will be able team up for online championships with a friend. Both players are on the same racing team, and cooperate throughout an entire season for the coveted Constructors championship while trying to gain the best overall points total. Splitscreen has also been introduced, which wasn't possible last year due to restrictions of the GUI.
F1 2011 is going to be aggressive, sure, but you'll need to ensure that you still treat your car with the respect that a multi-million pound work of art deserves. An enhanced damage system means that your car's individual systems can fail independently - such as shredded gearboxes and KERS failures. On the flip side, though, several handling enhancements (and impressively subtle rumble implementation) lets players feel the weight transfer of the car as it overtakes and attacks the curves. Codemasters believe that the cars are actually easier to drive with the increased realism, and after trying it out with a force feedback wheel, I was inclined to agree.
F1 2011 is vastly superior to its predecessor in terms of visuals. A new lighting engine has given the artists a lot more memory to work with, but the artistic team has absolutely gone to town on nailing the details and creating living, bustling environments. Tyres gradually wear down through seamless wear states, and collect light dustings of grass and grit if players spin off. Showrooms have now been remodelled into brightly-lit hives of activity, and your trailer view lets you watch the frenzied. Track fidelity has naturally been significantly improved.
And, as a plus, the steering wheels will be 100% accurate this time around. Now quit your whining.
Finally, I was able to play around with an alpha version of the PS Vita port, which will be arriving a few months after F1 2011 launches on consoles. It was running on one of the original sliding Dev Kits (based around the PSP Go's design), and personally, I actually found the sliding prototype to be more comfortable to use than the final model. Codemasters are taking the high road by focusing on the core experience rather than using the Vita's bewildering array of input methods, but win the prize for Best Use Of Rear Touch Pad by turning it into a virtual 'flappy paddle' gear shift. The Vita version is graphically gorgeous and handles beautifully, and is set to be a strong contender for the fledgling handleld.
So, F1 is back. Codemasters still believe that they're a new contender with something to prove, but from what I played, F1 2011 feels like a veteran heavyweight back for another round. It's set for release on September 25th, and we'll keep you posted.