|Software developers often acquire the licenses to actual cars in
order to gain a greater sense of realism in their racing games. Video System has taken
realistic racers to a new level with F1 World Grand Prix, going to great lengths to
recreate the entire 1998 F1 World Championship season. The details really are astounding,
and for fans of sim-heavy racers, the pay-off will be there.
The first thing to strike me about F1 was the music. I have put out the money and the effort to piece together a home theater system of which I am very proud, and admittedly I get giddy when a game takes advantage of it. Every chord in F1s soundtrack resonates in your chest. But this isnt the typical techno-heavy thumping that we have come to expect with racing carts, it is more akin to the fluid mix you would find on a Moby CD. This music goes beyond being a good soundtrack and becomes atmosphere.
And isnt that an important part of any simatmosphere? This game does not merely boot up; it comes to life. It begins with the music, and continues with the cinematics. Levels do not open with a montage of squealing tires and grinding gears, but with an understated, almost serene first person tour of the course you are about to race. The camera glides over the pavement and around the corners of the track with confidence, the kind of confidence that comes with the knowledge that you are witnessing first hand the actual courses, cars, and conditions of the 98 season represented on a next generation game system.
But Video System did not stop there; they have recreated all of the events of the races as they actually happened. If you have the settings configured appropriately, the drivers work the courses, finish, and even wreck exactly as they did in 98. The weather also is accurate. If, for instance, it started to rain during the second leg of the Australian circuit, you can be sure the same will happen in the game. All of the rules and flags, gears, instruments, and variables of Formula 1 racing apply. Of course, all of these settings can be changed.
You control every conceivable detail of the game with a series of step by step options presented in a fairly easy to understand list of menus. It starts with the obligatory Championship, Single Race, Time Trial, or Match Race choices. These are all self-explanatory. The Match Race is limited to two players. From there the real choices begin. You can race under the real conditions of the 98 season, or set you own parameters. You can choose which car, which driver, how many laps, what kind of weather. Do you want to play by the flags? With pit stops? With safety cars? Then you customize your car, deciding how much fuel to carry, the angle of the wings, gear ratio, suspension, break sensitivity, etc. Youll want to know what downward force is, what over and understeering are, and how they will affect your car during a race (the manual is nice enough to explain such things to a novice like me). And much of this can be changed mid-race, if you like, when you pit-in.
Obviously, this kind of game play requires a real commitment on the part of the player(s). It is unlikely that you will configure the perfect car your first time out. Hell, it is unlikely that you will be able make it through your first lap without spinning off of the track, crashing, or getting lost. Not that the control is bad, in fact it is quite responsive. Like Sega Rally, F1 utilizes the right and left triggers as the accelerator and breaks, so that the amount of gas you give the car is related to the amount of pressure you put on the trigger. These cars just take a little getting used to. You are not cruising around in your moms Subaru Legacy after all, you are in the cockpit of a Formula 1 racer, and it acts accordingly.
The tracks on the other hand are quite confusing. This is not the fault of the graphics, mind you, which are good, though not revolutionary. I found no evidence of slow-down or background draw-in, and several points of view are available. It is the sheer amount of detail in every frame of game play. Some tracks are created within cities by blocking off roads and setting up barriers and then surrounding them with pit lanes and crowds and banners. This is all very realistic, I am sure, but despite the signs and corner icons, it is not always clear where you are supposed to be going or how to approach each curve. Going through the Course Practices and Qualifying Races is invaluable.
Vehicle damage factors in nicely. The tires get worn, suspension gets wobbly, and if you lose a tire you can stick it out and try to make it to a pit stop. The problem is that the damage is all mechanical and not cosmetic, meaning you can see your suspension give and feel the effects, but the body of the car remains pristine despite your most impressive crashes.
F1 also has the single best weather effects I have ever seen. The changes in driving conditions as it begins to rain are gradual and convincing, and when a full-blown storm is in progress hold on to your butt. The horizon is dark, the rain is thick, and your tires kick up a spray that obscures your view. Every corner threatens to send you hydroplaning into the mud. And it is fun as hell.
F1 World Grand Prix is an impressive racing sim. It is not hard to appreciate what went into making such a specific, detailed racing environment. But the question really comes down to whether you are a fan of racing sims or arcade racers. After all, the greatest accomplishment of one style will likely be the biggest flaw of the other. Arcade racers are flashy, adrenaline pumping John Woo action scenes on wheels; they require quick reflexes and little commitment. Racing sims are intricate, involving and require thought, preparation, and a great deal of free time to master. Sure, you can dumb down F1 by nixing the flags, the pit stops, and vehicle damage. You can engage the auto acceleration and breaking and ease around the track. But that defeats the purpose of the game, and isnt that thrilling because the game simply wasnt designed that way.
Chances are you already know what kind of game you like. F1 World Grand Prix offers gamers the chance to compete against the biggest names in the sport, under the same conditions they had to endure, and with most of the same variables to contend with. If this is your bag, rejoice; if all you want to do is run your buddy off the road and collect the prize money, beware.