The 3DS version
First things first – the handling in the 3DS game is better than that of the PSP version of F1 2009. That game featured a strange quirk, where simply turning the car would significantly slow it down. That's been fixed now, although the basic feel of the car as it navigates corners is undeniably similar. 3DS' analogue slider is better suited to turning a car than the PSP Go's tiny nub, so controlling the car is easier, though still a handful trying to avoid the walls at Monaco.
Codemasters has stipulated that the front end should be consistent across all versions of the game. So the red and black-themed menu screens are in, offering here Quick Race as the first option. There are also challenges, as introduced in the PSP version of F1 2009, which are designed to suit short bursts of play, although there is a career mode too.
Handheld play has definitely been at the forefront of the designers' minds. In fact, you won't even find full-length grand prix events here. The most basic reason is that 3DS' poor battery life would likely struggle to deliver a two-hour GP complete with practise and qualifying (sad but true), so the game has been scaled back a little to deliver short, fun bursts of racing action.
That's not to say that it's an arcade game. This is still rooted in simulation, and the team has spent a lot of time on the AI coding, to make sure even the first corner of the game is smooth and realistic. The game's producer, Dean Scott, told me that F1 games are totally different to the likes of Ridge Racer, which has rolling starts and never all the cars on-screen at once. Mind you, Ridge on 3DS isn't the smoothest game around, so he hasn't got much to worry about.
Above: Sorry, this isn't a 3DS screenshot. There aren't any yet. But... erm... doesn't the 360 version look lovely?
I raced at Monaco, Silverstone and Albert Park during my hands-on. The scenery is excellent, although the 3DS' screen resolution and low-angled cameras do make middle-distance track and kerbs very jaggy. Games like the old DS version of Ridge Racer could get away with the low resolution DS screen because the graphics were so jittery anyway. Now the engine can be more solid, screen resolution does affect the experience.
Likewise, the 3D effect is tricky. Dean explained that with the open tracks and near-view car and cockpit views, too much 3D can be a bad thing. He agreed with my point that objects in the near foreground can look totally out of place within a 3D scene if the depth is set too high, so it's been carefully weighted to maximise its usefulness without appearing odd.
The TV Pod cam above the driver's head looks superb in 3D, with the car stretching away before you, although I found (as with most 3DS games) I had more fun with the effect turned off. It's personal preference, sure, but becoming a theme for me.
The game plays well, but it's clearly running on inferior tech compared to the Vita version...