Codemasters has a rich heritage in racing games and over the last 20 years has produced cracking examples of virtual car racing from just about every discipline. Whether it be off-road and rally in its Colin McRae and DiRT series, more track-based events in TOCA and GRID or even the art of pitting minuscule vehicles against one another across kitchen worktops in Micro Machines, Codemasters has tried its hand at them all and rarely faltered. However, it was only recently that it managed to secure the illustrious Formula 1 licence — an event that many thought would go hand in hand with Codemasters’ dedication to the simulation of anything on four wheels — and expectations were understandably high.
F1 2011 marks the series’ first outing on the 3DS, with the development reins being handed over to Sumo Digital. This is the team behind the Wii’s F1 2009 and the surprisingly great Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, and thus F1 2011 seemed to be in safe hands. But while Sumo indeed earned its stripes twice over in the development of two vastly different types of racing game, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong here. This really is a crying shame: Sumo clearly intended F1 2011 to provide a genuine handheld alternative to the home console versions of the game, and that ambition certainly shines through in the sheer wealth of driving options available.
In the same vein as Turn 10 Studios’ Forza Motorsport series, F1 2011 presents players with a number of driving aids that can be tinkered with, letting you mould the game’s difficulty to your liking. Less skilled players can opt to take advantage of things like predictive breaking, anti-skid, steering assist and a racing line, which shows players the optimum line through corners and changes from green to red when you need to lower your speed.
Of course, accomplished drivers can choose to ignore these assists as well as activate options, like car damage and on-track elements such as penalties, for a more simulative affair. Serious racers will find the game further bolstered by the ability to tweak your car’s performance by adjusting its aerodynamics, along with the pressure and compound of its tyres before each race, so seasoned F1 game veterans will have all the tools necessary to fully optimise their car’s performance for each and every circuit.
Once you’ve found the right combination of assists and tailored the handling of the cars to your tastes, F1 2011 can be pretty fun; the game has a palpable sense of speed coupled with a steady frame rate and is really quite exhilarating at times, especially if you switch to the in-car view. Unfortunately, everything comes to a halt faster than Gerhard Berger in 1989 once you add AI-controlled opponents into the mix. This unpredictable lot boasts artificial intelligence so utterly random that they make racing around F1 2011’s nineteen circuits an absolute nightmare. AI fluctuates wildly between displaying why-bother-to-turn-on-corners levels of stupidity and the kind of aggression that would have all but the most road rage-prone drivers slamming their foot down in a bid to escape. Very rarely is a clean overtake ever shown any consideration; rather, your fellow drivers are frequently quite content to ram into you from behind, clip your back wheels so that you spin out or even sandwich you in between themselves and another driver.
When F1 drivers are careening around Silverstone at over 200mph, manoeuvres such as those mentioned above would prove to be tantamount to their success. Have you ever seen what can happen when a F1 car is clipped even slightly at those kinds of speeds? It never ends well and it’s never pretty. The sporadic AI on display in F1 2011 demolishes any chance it had of even coming close to providing an authentic F1 experience. Doing your utmost to stick to the racing line, postponing overtaking until a safe opportunity presents itself and exhibiting any kind of driving aptitude only to find yourself subjected to an army of brain-dead morons who shunt you around the track like a pinball isn’t entertaining in the slightest. It’s frustrating and it completely undermines the nature of the sport.
Should you be able to overlook this major flaw, F1 2011 at least has a lot to keep you occupied. You can partake in quick races, Grand Prix events composed of qualifying and practice sessions followed by the race itself, or you can play through an entire season’s Championship or — for the truly self-loathing among you — Career tasks you with plodding through three whole seasons’ worth of races, accepting new contracts and such as you progress from a nobody to the next big face of F1. In truth, none of these options provide much entertainment due to the terrible artificial intelligence clipping you at any opportunity.
Luckily, Time Trials exist to give you a bittersweet taste of what might have been as you blast around your choice of circuit without the danger of being pounced upon by the cast of Wacky Races. Additionally, Challenges — checkpoint runs, slalom races, etc — can also be quite enjoyable as well, provided they’re not being ruined by such poor design decisions as moving checkpoints and massive triangular signs in the place of cones.
F1 2011 is, to top off its laundry list of failings, an unsightly beast of a game, with barely textured environments and cars that resemble something your dad would bodge together for the under-tens pedal-kart championship. Matters worsen when you switch on the 3D effect and the aforementioned steady frame rate starts going up and down like a yo-yo, especially when there are too many cars on-screen. The game’s one saving grace is multiplayer, which is available both locally and online and helps it provide at least some semblance of a decent depiction of F1 racing, provided you’re going up against like-minded players. Although, we wish you the very best of luck finding anyone to race with online — for three days we tried on numerous occasions to access the game’s online multiplayer but no matter what time of day we tried, we just couldn’t find anyone else actually playing it.
While the 3DS already has arcade racing fans catered for with the likable Ridge Racer 3D and the utterly sublime Mario Kart 7, the handheld is yet to see a title that racing simulation enthusiasts can really get excited about. While its ambition should surely be commended and the time trials and multiplayer admittedly soften the blow somewhat, F1 2011 is, unfortunately, not the game to remedy matters. Unless you’re a fan of frustrating ugly racers with brutally unrealistic and aggressive opponent AI, we advise that you steer well clear of it. Maybe next year, Codemasters will release the game that F1 fans deserve.