As the 2012 Formula 1 season kicked off in Melborne last weekend, we take a virtual spin through 2011 on VITA.
Emulating Formula 1 on any console is no easy task. The sport is as much about the car and the team who put it together, as it is about the driver. So when you play as a driver, you are only experiencing a tiny part of the sport.
Over the last decade, the F1 games – like the FIFA series – have strived to offer up a more realistic experience year on year. On the PS3 and Xbox F1 2011 was by far the best yet. Not only did it feature great graphics, replicating every inch of track, but also a far more realistic feel to the car handling.
This of course brings up more problems. If F1 cars were easy to drive, then everybody and their mother would be out on track. To counter this, the game adds in levels of assisted driving, from breaking assists to steering assists, and even a ‘racing-line’ guide.
So, with all these features you’d expect a portable version of the game to be scaled back, right? Well, with the iOS version that is the case, but that version only costs £1.99 ($2.99). But, the PS VITA, with its premium price of £32.99 ($39.96) offers up a full console experience.
Created by Sumo Digital for Codemasters, F1 2011 for VITA offers up a bevy of game options. The usual quick race and time trial options are here, as is Grand Prix – allowing you to take on any one track with the full set of Practice, Qualifying and Race sessions as any one of the 2011 driver and team line-up. Championship gives you a full season, allowing you to plough through all 20 tracks (Bahrain is present even though it was cancelled) as any one of the 24 drivers and 12 teams.
If you thought that mode wasn’t big enough, there is also Career mode. This mode sees you starting out as a rookie driver (and so not one of the 24 2011 drivers). The mode gives you a virtual laptop in which to check emails containing offers for testing, drives and eventually joining teams. From there you then access your calendar to enter each session and take part in full seasons.
Also included is an online and local multiplayer mode. Unfortunately it’s for quick races only, and has a maximum capacity for 4 players. Hardly recreating the feel of a real race.
So, as you can see, from a mode point of view, Sumo does not shy away from offering up a full plate of F1 goodness. Having said that, I can’t see many gamers – particularly hardcore fans of F1 – taking the time to make use of all the game has to offer on a portable device, and instead will no doubt take part in quick races while on the go, or some of the mini-game-like challenges. The full experience would more likely be undertaken on the Xbox/PS3/PC with a dedicated racing wheel.
Speaking of racing wheels. I was disappointed to find that F1 2011 does not utilise the VITA’s accelerometer and gyroscope for tilt controls. This is a pretty massive oversight in my opinion. Like accelerometer/tilt controls or not, it’s odd not to include it, particularly when the VITA is similar in size to a real F1 steering wheel! Even the iOS version features tilt!
In fact many of the VITA features are absent here, and instead it’s treated just like a mini console. Touch screen implementation is low, with no use at all for navigating menus (one of the best things about a touch screen). Instead only the back touchscreen is used for gear shifting in one of the alternative control setups. It’s a good idea, but without tilt it’s poorly executed.
Your best option really then is to stick to more a traditional console-like control setup of the analogue stick (or d-pad) for steering, and face or shoulder buttons. These are responsive and work well, but using the digital buttons and shoulder buttons for acceleration and braking lacks any realistic feel. It’s either full on, or full off.
Beyond the controls though, there is no doubt that F1 2011 is an accomplished racing game. When on track and surrounded by the other 23 cars, things do genuinely get exciting. It has a great sense of speed, and with all the assists turned off you can get an idea of that on-the-edge feel that real F1 racers will experience.
But perhaps that is also the game’s biggest flaw. As I said in the opening to this review, F1 is as much about the team as it is about the driver (perhaps more so). Unfortunately, the game is pretty much told through the eyes of the driver only.
While I didn’t expect a full on mechanic/engineering section in the game, I was surprised that there was no pit-stop section to it. Yes you do enter the pits, but from there you’ll simply get a canned animation of the action. With all the added inputs on the VITA, Sumo could have easily implemented a near tactile mini-game, based on tyre changes.
Visually, Sumo have done a good job replicating the look and feel of the 2011 season. All the tracks are accurately rendered to every twist and turn, and the cars themselves look good to – particularly the ultra reflective McLarens.
I’m not sure the VITA is really pushed fully though. Compared to WipEout it looks a little dated. The intro video teased with the promise of PS3 looks, but alas it was simply a video showing elements of the console edition. On the other hand, it’s light years away from the look of the iOS edition, which looks positively PS2 in comparison.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the presentation is the lack of the little elements that make F1 what it is. Where are the celebratory podium finishes? The excitement of the grid pre-race? The champagne?
While these would only be cut scenes, they would add to the excitement of both the build up and end of a race. Unfortunately, the best you get from a win is an un-emitional voice-over from your engineer saying “you finished in position 1″, Sheesh!
By crafting such a technical reproduction of the sport, Sumo Digital have missed the most essential ingredient to F1… the passion! Like a German Mercedes, it’s vey well made. But, it’s missing all the flair and passion of an Italian Ferrari.