Formula One Championship Edition Review

In the US, many fans of NASCAR enjoy what some have jokingly described as a sport of continual left turns. But around the world, another racing competition rules supreme: Formula One, or F1 racing. Just as baseball fans in America can rattle off statistics about their favorite teams or players, so it is with fans of F1 racing — they know the names of every race circuit, the point standings and names of the best drivers and which teams they race for. F1 Championship Edition is a serious racing game for hardcore racing fans, but the question we’ll explore is whether a game that is so close to its real world alter ego can be fun for non-fans rather than become a tedious affair. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines because we’re going to take some serious laps with this game to find out if it breaks down or crosses the finish line.

So what exactly is Formula One? It’s an international racing event competition in which international drivers compete in matches called Grands Prix. These races happen on specialized tracks or closed circuit courses in the streets of designated cities from all over the world. The "formula" in Formula One racing refers to the strict set of guidelines, rules and parameters that car builders and drivers must meet in order to qualify for these high-end events. Points are earned during the racing season by drivers and a final World Championship is held at the conclusion of the competition. The events are watched by millions of people on television in over 200 countries. For diehard fans of F1, they’ll be glad to see all their favorite drivers represented in this game, plus all of the 2006 season race tracks.

What kind of game is Formula One Championship Edition? F1CE is a very straightforward racing game with no frills or extras. There are two modes: single player and multiplayer. In the first mode, a submenu offers Quick Race, Time Trial, Grand Prix Weekend, World Championship and Career. (The second mode is multiplayer, and at the time of this writing, the server for the online racing feature was not yet working, so that leaves a big segment of the game hanging in the air.)

In Quick Race mode, as it is in many of the F1 racers previous to this title, I was placed way back in the pack at 22nd position (the last ranking) and struggled to make my way through the densely populated racetrack. You can pick your favorite driver, race track, difficulty level and length of the race before the match starts. The green lights appeared, the race started, and the English accented announcer screamed "We…are…RACING!" I floored the accelerator and maneuvered past the competition going into turn one…where I unceremoniously spun out and caused a yellow caution flag to appear. I had "T-boned" another driver and caused a commotion on the track by blocking traffic. Sorry about that, chief. But I found out one thing about this game early on — you’d better be precise in your driving skills and how you take turns if you hope to make any headway in the field.

My fatal error was in approaching this game as if it were an arcade style game where the laws of physics take a holiday and you can make hairpin turns at 200 miles an hour. In contrast, F1CE demands your full attention in being very conscious of the fact that you not only have to enter turns and straight-aways at the proper speeds, but you also have to account for various factors such as entry and exit angles, tire wear, fuel capacity, drafting behind cars, blocking, braking, racing strategy and other factors. Sloppy driving is not tolerated and this turns this title from just a mere racing game to a game of skill and proper timing.

The physics of gameplay are right on the money, and the way the cars steer and handle is very realistic. I had some real white knuckle experiences as I came closer to the finish lines in some of the career and championship tournaments. The competition behind me was constantly breathing down my neck to overtake me — one false move or spin out, and I could kiss finishing in a respectable position goodbye. If this is only a fraction of the pressure real F1 race drivers have to deal with, they must have ice water or antifreeze running through their veins.

One of the most challenging things to do in this game isn’t the actual racing, but coming in for a pit stop. It isn’t always apparent where the entrances to the pit crews are located, and several laps during the practice sessions are mandatory to figure out where these locations are. If you wear down your tires without coming in for a change, or run out of gas during the race, you’ll finish dead last. The game offers an interesting way to do pit stops. As you take the exit to your pit crew, the game takes over and rolls your car into the proper location. When you stop, a timer begins and you have to press the appropriate controller buttons to enact the different services for your vehicle. Miss the proper button presses and you’ll fall behind in time. After awhile, I could enter and exit for a pit stop in around 9 seconds.

There are 18 tracks to choose from, and depending on which game mode you select, that will predetermine which courses you race on, or allow you to personally select which tracks you want to play. In the Career, Grand Prix Weekend or World Championship modes, you have the option of going to the qualification rounds or practice sessions. During this segment of the game, you have a specified amount of time to get familiar with the course in addition to tweaking your car for the best performance. F1CE takes a novel approach to tuning your car. If you don’t know a camber setting from a suspension setting to everything else in between, the game has a feature called Race Car Evolution. Essentially, what this does is to semi-automate each of your car settings in order to dial-in the optimum numbers.

Your "crew" will ask you to make a few clean laps around the course as they monitor your driving style and car handling. From these readings, they make the appropriate changes related to suspension, balance, tow and many other items. This tuning routine can take quite a bit of time and may be too long of a process for some. But in the long run, it’s to your benefit to use this feature because each track has its own demands as to how a car should handle, and Race Car Evolution adjusts your car for the best performance.

The controls for F1CE allow hardcore racing fans to use some of Logitech’s steering wheel controllers. If you go the standard controller joystick/button route, it’s pretty easy to use, and the game offers several configuration schemes. What caught my attention was the motion sensing mode for the SixAxis controller. I selected this feature and was surprised to find that holding the Sony controller in my hands like a steering wheel was pretty effective for driving. Making hard turns or keeping the car straight and true offered a good sense of the driving experience. But this also served to remind me that an essential feature of the controller was missing — the rumble feedback. As I was playing the game, the graphics on the screen shook with appropriate realism as I took corners too sharply or went barreling down the straightaway at 190 mph. The camera showed my hands shaking on the steering wheel from the vibration, but without the DualShock, it demonstrated just how much this feature is missed and how it adds realism to the overall gaming experience. (Sony, you’ve got to try harder in reintroducing this aspect of the controller, seriously.)

Graphics are a mixture of good and odd. The animation of this racer is as steady as the rock of Gibraltar; framerates never lag or jitter. The race courses are true to their real counterparts, the road flashes by you in a blur and the camera angles for replay are really great. But there are some things that weren’t as spectacular with the presentation. The game’s overall look suffers because all the graphics look a bit unrealistic and fake. The shading, lighting effects and even the driver’s cockpit and hands look a little sub par. The tires look cartoony and the overall feeling of the graphics of this game screams "the art could have been better." Don’t get me wrong on this, the graphics are HD, but it’s the rendering style of the artwork that bothers me. Instead of ramping up the framerate to a more realistic look of 60 fps, the game seems to hover at a rock solid 30 fps. Not bad, but this is a next gen title after all. What happened to the promise of spectacular graphics? Someone walked in while I was playing F1CE, and from afar they actually thought it was a high-end PS2 game.

Another thing bothering me occurs during the Time Trial modes. Apparently, somebody on the art team loves the early look of dawn and the resulting lens flare and stark contrast of light and dark on the race track. Aesthetically speaking, it looks fine, but in the practical sense it makes it very difficult to see through the all the glare and makes it difficult to see where you’re going. Good idea for art, but bad idea for racing.

Load times are a little bit on the slow side, and you’ll wind up waiting 20 to 30 seconds as you wait for your courses to load up. Not a huge deal, but it’s a little thing that starts to get on your nerves. After all, the game is about speed, is it not? With the power of the PS3, it’s odd having to wait half a minute to load a race.

I don’t know what it is about F1 racing titles past and present, but the word "music" does not seem to exist in the game developer’s vocabulary. There is music during menu navigation, but all you’ll hear during actual races is the high whine of the cars on the track and the very sparse commentary and directions from your pit crew boss. I understand that purists will argue that music in a F1 racer is blasphemy, but the option of offering some music tracks would have been just fine with me and could have broken the almost mesmerizing drone of the car engine.

F1 Champion Edition is a good racer for fans of the sport. There is everything you could want from the F1 universe — from authentic looking race courses and cars to the real feeling of being on the track. It isn’t an arcade style racing game, and this may put off gamers who want that kind of action. But the skill level needed to complete all the courses and finish at the top should provide a great deal of entertainment and challenge for those who play it. There are production issues which detract from the game, but if you can overlook these flaws F1 Champion Edition is a title that should be in any PS3 racing fan’s library.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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