As someone who occasionally checks out Formula One highlights on Sportscentre, I'm usually looking for footage of a crazy wreck, because as the great George Carlin once said; "Where else am I going to see a 20 care pileup and not be involved in it?" What George didn't know however, is that now you can get involved in your own 20 car Formula One pile ups in the comfort of your own home. Okay, there's a bit of a racing aspect to the game as well.
Let's get this out of the way first. F1 2011 is only for the hardcore F1 fanbase. This is an insanely complex and technical racing experience that will be exasperating for anybody who's used to the jump in and play mentality of a Need for Speed or Mario Kart title. Even most of the casual bones tossed to gamers in extraordinary racing sims like Forza 4 and Gran Turismo is mostly absent here. If you want to hang with the big boys of F1, you've got to go all the way.
When you pop the game in, the game gives you deceptively few options, but each one contains hours of F1 entertainment. You can enter a Grand Prix, start a career, or play multiplayer. Grand Prix is just a single race or small combination of races, and is as close as the game lets you to just jump in and race.
The game also includes 12 F1 teams, 24 cars on the track, and all 19 tracks used in a real Formula One season.
The action on the track is super realistic. Even before you hit the track, you are placed in your car while your crew tweaks and tunes it to your liking. As you're sitting in the cockpit, you'll see the car setup screen at that start of races. This lets you tune things like balance, braking, aerodynamics, suspension, gearbox, engine, alignment, and load or save previous loadouts. You can also select from four different styles of tyres, (that's how the game spells it), which depend on the weather and the length of the race. Different tyres include option, prime, intermediate, and wet, each with their own unique characteristics and properties relating to grip, durability, and friction.
During certain races you'll have access to DRS (Drag Reduction Setting) and KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which can give you boosts in speed and acceleration if used wisely at the right time. Being a simulator, you can only use these boosts when the rules allow for it. It bears mentioning that all the rules of F1 are accounted for here.
You'll also be given the choice in the game between easy, medium, and hard handling. Easy will handle all the braking for you, meaning you can just hold the accelerator down for the whole race and never leave the track. Medium and hard have you controlling your own braking and acceleration, but the hard mode does away with the racing line and traction assist. I found medium to exactly that, a good middle ground.
When you jump into the career mode, you'll spend a lot of time in this area. Career mode doesn't allow you to skip over things like practice laps, the qualifying runs, and then the race itself. Your only option is the fast forward time from within the race. To get an idea of how time consuming it can be, I only completed two races at 20 per cent length in my first three hours with the game. You'll even have to do things like speak to the media, check your email, and the like in between races. When you start a career, you're being interviewed as a f1 rookie driver. You're given an office to a laptop with career and race info, including email, contract offers, press clippings, Standings, and track info screen to research the upcoming circuits.
Given that you start your career as a rookie with a second tier sponsor and a third tier car, you're not expected to win any of your initial races. In fact, that game will give you goals like "finish in the top 20 in qualifying" or "finish the race in the top 10" for pretty much all of your first season. If you're someone who needs to win every race in a game, this is not for you.
Fortunately though, the action on the track is rock solid, even if the amount of entertainment value you get out of it is completely dependent on your F1 fanaticism. Being a formula one simulation, the game doesn't look too fondly on things like crashing, ramming other cars, and cutting across grass to shorten corners. Personally I think Formula one could do with a little more excitement of this nature, but que sera I guess.
Aside from that, the game really gives you a feel for what it's like to try and control some of the fastest vehicles made by man. Cars have a tendency to understeer, but a handy race line that changes colours based on your speed gives newbies a fighting chance at success. There's also lots to keep track of beyond surviving the tight turns of the track. Tire damage, engine temperature, fuel consumption, all of these play a huge part of the action. Forget about even one for too long, and forget about finishing the race, let alone competing for top spot on the grid. Different camera angles also put you right in to the heart of the action, the best of which is the TV pod one that puts you right above the driver's head.
For multiplayer gamers, you can jump into 24 car online races with 16 humans and 8 AI racers to simulate the whole grid. The most multiplayer fun you can have with the game though, is the co-op championship mode, where you and a friend compete on the same team, creating a nearly perfect level of co-operation and competition.
The graphical presentation is simply outstanding. From the blades of grass that stick to your tires when you go off the track, to the realistic ways the cars break apart when each other on the track, to the frightening heavy rain weather effects, F1 is a gorgeous racing game, easily one of the best looking on the market, Forza 4 included.
Much like Madden, NHL, or any other hardcore simulation of a sport, F1 2011 is really meant for fans of the sport, and little else. More casual racers won't find what they're looking for here. If you're a hardcore Formula One fan, this is your holy grail.