F1 2011 preview
Earlier this week Citizen Game attended the Codemasters’ preview event for their new racing title, F1 2011. We were able to analyse the game in great detail, as well as chat to some of the development team and Anthony Davidson, the Mercedes GP test driver who works with Codies on the game’s handling.
While F1 2010 was an enormous commercial success, it was lacking in some areas. In particular the handling was extremely stiff and twitchy, meaning that it was difficult to predict the car’s behaviour and you often wouldn’t realise that an accident was happening until it was already too late to correct the mistake. Bizarrely, Anthony Davidson told us that this was caused by a bug which occurred late in development and upset the suspension physics. Because of this, Codies went back to the drawing board for the handling in F1 2011. The resulting improvements are instantly noticeable and make for a very different driving experience.
The biggest difference in F1 2011 is that you can now feel the weight shifting around the car and the change in grip between each of the tyres. This gives you more confidence to correct the car mid-corner and the improved suspension physics allow you to attack kerbs without worrying about instantly spinning out, which was a huge issue in the 2010 game. Oversteer and understeer is represented more accurately as well, allowing you to anticipate the car’s behaviour in a corner and correct mistakes before an accident starts to happen. This also gives you a chance to “catch” spins without stamping on the brake pedal. Touching a gravel trap is no longer an instant spin either; cars now bounce over these run-off areas in a realistic manner. Wheel lock-ups have been improved too. Larger ones will produce a puff of smoke from the tyre and create a “flat spot” which spoils the handling and requires you to visit the pits for a new set of rubber. You need to be much more careful on the throttle now as well as cars will oversteer and powerslide out of slow corners if you are too aggressive. The car handling generally feels closer what you might expect from an F1 car after watching on-board TV footage. F1 2011 encourages careful car control far more than 2010 did, but also gives experienced players the confidence to be a lot more aggressive in the corners.
In addition to the core handling improvements you can also expect to be busier with the buttons on the steering wheel in F1 2011. KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) and DRS (Drag Reduction System) both make an appearance. KERS gives you an 80bhp boost at the touch of a button, but can only be used a finite amount each lap. DRS allows you to open a flap in the rear wing to reduce drag at a specified point on the circuit, but only if you are within one second of the car ahead. In the game they work exactly as in real-life and the player has full control over when to use them and how often. Once you understand the changes to the car handling, using these new tools will be the key to extracting those valuable tenths of a second from the car on the game’s harder difficulties and in multiplayer. As in 2010, you can adjust your engine mapping while driving and now your fuel mixture as well. Using a higher fuel mixture uses more fuel and will improve your speed, but at some points in the race you will need to use a lower mixture in order to save the precious liquid for a late attack in the last few laps. This should add some extra depth to race strategies in F1 2011 which die-hard fans of the sport will absolutely love. Michael Schumacher fans will also enjoy the new adjustable brake balance feature, giving you the chance to tweak the car’s behaviour between corners for maximum braking performance.
As well as the big improvements in handling and physics, F1 2011 is a major graphical leap from the previous game. We played the game running on Xbox 360 debug consoles and at times it looked even better than the PC version of last year’s title. The texture detail is significantly higher, from the cars and environments, to your garage and mechanics. The general level of fidelity is much better than last year and lighting has received a big overhaul. Gone is the desaturated look which spoiled F1 2010 and one member of the development team confirmed to me that this has made day-to-night transitions possible in the new game, meaning the Abu Dhabi race should be more authentic this time around. Colours are also vibrant and clear, but with a realistic tone, rather than the excessive shine and polish which has become common in other racing games. Damage is better too. Bodywork breaks in a more dynamic fashion and there are huge explosions of carbon fibre which leave tiny shards littered all over the circuit. The only major graphical issue was the framerate, which while silky smooth at times, isn’t yet consistent enough at this beta stage of development.
Die-hard F1 fans will appreciate the extra attention-to-detail which has gone into the game this year. Teams now have individually modelled steering wheels. Pit wall stands are filled by team bosses and engineers. There is more trackside detail, including animated marshals who can be seen waving flags. The paddock area is more detailed and more active, with mechanics moving parts between the trucks and garages. Tyre textures show degradation far more clearly and new cut-scenes have also been introduced. These show your driver getting into and out of the car between sessions, or the scenes of celebration in park ferme after the race with drivers congratulating each other and hugging their mechanics. The most intriguing aspect of this extra care and attention is the new “Race Director” option which appears on the pause screen in single player races. Selecting this brings up a data screen to help you make strategic decisions during the race. The information displayed here includes a full track map, with colour coded icons showing the locations of all of the drivers, a recreation of the official FIA live timing screen and a list of any penalties given out during the race. Having to pause the game to see this data takes you out of the action a little bit, but it should enable players to have greater tactical awareness during the race and it is backed up by a new race engineer voice over, which is much more informative than last year. All of this detail creates a deeper sense of immersion than was achieved in F1 2010 and will make F1 2011 one of the most exciting racing games available.
Circuit accuracy has been improved too. Anthony Davidson made it clear to us that he was disappointed by the modelling of the circuits in F1 2010, but he feels that massive improvements have been made in this area for the new game. This was especially clear in the Maggots, Beckets and Chapel section of the Silverstone circuit which was being shown at the event. In F1 2010 this sequence of corners was notorious for being ludicrously tight compared to the real circuit. In 2011 it is much closer to reality, allowing you to sweep through the turns at high speed. Davidson also pushed Codemasters to improve the cockpit cameras, asking for a slightly higher viewpoint and a better field of view. This has made the cockpit a more user-friendly experience and a more viable option for those who wish to drive in first-person.
Online, F1 2011 will support 16 players with the rest of the 24 car field filled with 8 AI cars. At the event this made for action packed races, with fights for position taking place throughout the field. There is also a new two player co-op championship which will create some fantastic tension as friends push to improve the team’s fortunes, while knowing that only one of them can hope to be world champion. Will you share car setups and strategy to benefit the team, or keep them to yourself to beat your teammate? This could be one of the most exciting and fascinating new modes in F1 2011. Split-screen has been added as well and offers a fun experience for casual multiplayer, with a slight dip in graphical detail.
All of these improvements will make F1 2011 a much better experience, though some features which fans have requested are now confirmed not to have made it into this year’s game. During the Q&A session at the event it was announced that formation laps will not be included and it is also extremely unlikely that the Safety Car will make an appearance. It seems that Codemasters have been experimenting with the Safety Car but are not yet happy with the way that it works in the game. Therefore they have decided that it probably won’t make it into the final product this year. Podium cut-scenes have not been shown either, though Codies have not said that they aren’t in the game. One developer also confirmed to us that there will not be an option to start Career Mode with any team of your choice. As in F1 2010 you will be limited to lower teams at the start of career, the best available team being Williams in the 3 year Career Mode. This might cause frustration for anyone who slogged through the midfield in 2010 to reach a top team and doesn’t want to start from the bottom all over again. However, there is a possibility that Codies might include a single season mode, allowing you to pick any team and still experience the Live the Life aspects of the game over the duration of one championship season.
F1 2011 is shaping up to be a major improvement over last year’s game. Codemasters have clearly been listening to the racing community and have made some noticeable steps forward in almost every area of the game. If everything comes together for the game’s September 23rd release date then this has the potential to be one of the most exciting and immersive racing games around.