Solid, but not for everyone
Thanks to Sony declining to renew their deal, and FOM taking years to sign a new one with Codemasters, there has not been a new Formula 1 game since F1: Championship Edition released way back in 2007 - almost 3 years ago. Even then, that game was based on the 2006 season, so it was outdated, a mere upgrade of the already available F1 2006. This has left F1 fans starved of their video game fix. F1 2009 is the first attempt from Codemasters to satiate that hunger.
The cars meanwhile are rendered very poorly. The geometry of the cars is fine, and they are all very accurate in terms of colours and so on. However, the developers seem to have had to seriously compromise on the textures, which often appear to be very dirty, blurry and/or full of artifacts. On the BMW, I could distinctly see a white box around the car's number - quite a feat considering that number is rendered on a white area of the car.
The steering wheels at least are nicely rendered, and your onscreen driver handles the wheel in a realistic, well animated manner. Unfortunately, if you can see that, you can also see the wing mirrors. I call them mirrors, because that is what they are on F1 cars. In F1 2009 - a Wii (A console more than 1.5 times as powerful as the GameCube, the most powerful console of the generation before) game developed in 2009 - the wing mirrors do not function. They show the same grey/blue blur at all times. F1 1999 - a game developed some 10 years prior on the PlayStation, a system which was considerably less powerful than even that GameCube the Wii trounces - had functional wing mirrors.
Unimpressive Codemasters, unimpressive. Luckily, they had the foresight to include a glance back button, because had they not one so, you'd have no way to know if you were about to get passed.
Not that that is a particularly likely scenario, because this game is super easy. To even begin to feel that the difficulty was realistic, I had to crank the AI all the way to Hard. On medium, I was consistently well in excess of 4 seconds a lap faster than the Brawns and the Red Bulls in the BMW - that's just absurd. Once you do crank the difficulty up though, it balances out as a reasonably accurate game so it's not a massive isue, just something to be aware of.
One of the game's better areas is control and handling. Yes, I know many of you serious sim racing gamers won't like the default controls using the bundled Wii F1 Wheel (A MadCatz Product - do they just make all game-branded peripherals now?). I, being a slightly more arcade-focused racing gamer, however, love it. It's intuitive, and allows for plenty of subtlety once it's mastered (For the record: I have invested dozens of hours in Wii racing games always steering in this method, so you may take longer to adjust than me). If you don't like this control method at all, alternatives are available. These include a proper racing Wheel, Wii Remote & Nunchuk support and the Classic Controller.
That being said, whilst the game's controls are decent and the handling solid, I often came to the conclusion that the driving model and the physics model had never so much as met eachother (Odd considering they are essentially intertwined). The EGO Physics engine occasionally struggles to cope with the lightning fast inputs coming from an F1 steering wheel. I also found it remarkably easy to get the car airborne or onto 2 wheels, so bear that in mind.
In terms of modes, it's a solid release. The standard single race, race weekend & championship modes are all here, as well as a serviceable Career mode (Which is better put together than Sony's career modes, though cripplingly short at just 3 seasons) and a decent Challenges mode which features tings like checkpoint races as well as some interesting scenarios, such as survive the final 3 laps at Spa-Francorchamps on slicks in the pouring rain. As added incentives to keep playing the game also includes an Achievements-like Award System which gives accolades in the Records area for completing certain tasks which vary in difficult and type (Win your first race, beat the real world best lap time on a circuit, win more World Championships than Schumacher).
One thing that stands out as missing is a replay mode - you can't even immediately replay an overtaking move should you pull off a particularly good one and want to check it out from another angle. This is forgivable, but it seems odd considering Codemasters has recently made a habit of including robust replay modes in their racing titles.
Overall then, this game is fairly standard fare. It's not the best game ever made, nor is it especially bad. It exists purely to tide F1 fans over until the release of the PLAYSTATION 3, PC & Xbox 360 title "F1 2010" around June next year. Viewed on its own, in a vacuum, it's passable but nothing special, a solid 3 Stars. And if your interest in F1 is only passing, that's probably still the score. But considered as the first new F1 game since the 2006 season, and for big F1 and racing game fans, it gets another Star, hence I give it 4 - though once again that would probably drop to 3 if you want a sim-style F1 game. This is not that. F1 2010 just might be.
So if you like Formula 1 and you don't mid a somewhat arcade-y game, F1 2009 is a great buy. Otherwise, I'd advise picking up something else to pass the time before F1 2010 comes out.