ashleychittock's F1 2011 (Xbox 360) review

Codemasters proving their consistent brilliance yet again

Formula 1 is my favourite sport, and I don't know why any redblooded male wouldn't like it. It has everything an overexcited young man could want - fast cars, loud noises, inspiring displays of sportsmanship and skill... and women with big knockers holding up signs. F1 2011 gets all of these right (except the women, but I haven't finished it yet, maybe that's a bonus level).

While a fun racing game, Codemasters F1 2010 was a bit of a disappointment for many fans. Advertised as an F1 simulation, it was instead spoiled by rubbish AI, glitches aplenty and fake qualifying times. It was also missing many touches of realism that hardcore fans want - the safety car, for example. Codemasters took good note of all the criticism directed at F1 2010 and as a result have produced a far better game this year.

F1 2010 was a critically acclaimed game. It sold two million copies and won a BAFTA, so it could have been easy for Codies to simply reskin the cars, add a boost button to simulate KERS and sent it to the publishers. However Codemasters have instead almost built a new game from the ground up. Handling the cars in 2011 feels far more satisfying. It is still incredibly easy to put a car into a spin with traction control even on 'medium', but this year it's far easier to save yourself if you feel it going early enough. You'll quickly learn which driver assists you need, and which you are willing to turn off for added challenge. Only masochists and professional racers will want to turn all driver aids off.

There are only two new tracks in the 2011 season, but the deja vu this brings is countered by the new rules brought in this season in real life, and accordingly replicated in the game. The new Pirelli tyres wear out far quicker than their 2010 counterparts, and the effects of heavily used tyres is incredibly more noticable. You'll get nine or ten excellent laps on a fresh set of tyres before you notice any change. It won't be much at first, just a little understeer in fast corners or longer braking zones. But continue to wear them down and you'll soon find them unbearable as you skid wildly across the track, devoid of grip.

Cars this year have been revamped, too. Unlike in 2010, in which all of the cars seemed to be set at a level pace, 2011's are much more realistic. Pick a Lotus on a decent difficulty setting and you will struggle to make 18th as the rest of the teams power past you, two seconds a lap quicker. Race in a HRT for a few races, then pick the MacLaren, and the difference in straight line speed is immediately evident. You will no longer be able to qualify on pole with a lead of two seconds in a Lotus on legend difficulty. This was something that really shattered the illusion of realism last year, and is a welcome fix.

The other updates are handled well, too. DRS, a system that allows the driver to open his rear wing when making certain overtakes, allowing him to go faster, is easy to use, and doesn't just feel like a "turbo button". As with real life, opening the wing reduces downforce, and if you activate DRS on a corner you will almost certainly lose control of the car. KERS is a recharging power boost system that can be used anywhere on the track. It's tactical applications are more flexible than DRS's, as you only get a set charge per lap. Do you blow your whole charge to perform one overtake, or stagger it, to try and maintain a gap?

The AI is vastly improved on last year. Cars are now much more intelligent, moving out of your way when you rush up behind them on a hot lap in qualifying, and slyly peeking round the inside of your car on a corner, as if judging whether to go for an overtake. The fake AI and pit stop glitches appear to have been fixed, although I have encountered a couple of annoyances. The first is that being released from the pit lane is often jarring, as the game has a tendency to give you control of the car too near to an apex for comfort. The second is that the 'quickstart' option i.e. the flying lap, is very precocious. Choose the flying lap option in qualifying when the track is busy and the game will simply spawn you where it chooses, regardless of whether there is another car there. I had one incident where I chose flying lap, only to be spawned inches from the back of a dawdling Lotus Renault, meaning I suffered an unavoidable crash, setting me back valuable time.

These, however, are the only minor problems I have with F1 2011. It's a game that demands you take time with it. This isn't a racing game where you will want to do short race weekends with three lap races. This is a game that wants you to pick a rubbish team in career mode, turn a few assists off, and struggle through 50% or even full-length races until you've worked your way up to the podium. People looking for immediate, arcade action will probably be better served buying DiRT 3 or one of the Project Gotham games. Anyone that takes their motorsport seriously, however, needs this game.

Written by Ashley Chittock. Read more http://ashleychittock.blogspot.co.uk

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