The little things:
In the end, it's the little details and moments that make F1 2011 better than last year's game. The 'marbles' of worn-off rubber that start to litter the track off the racing line are visible from the cockpit and stick to your hot tyres, tangibly affecting your grip for the next corner or two.
Above: The game stops short of making you drive through marbles on a slow-down lap. Shame
You can also change the fuel mix (like a turbo… kinda) if you think you've got enough left in the tank to allow it. I even ran out of fuel on the last corner of a particularly hot lap during Silverstone qualifying to miss out on Q2 by a few thousandths of a second. And being told over the radio that there's a problem with DRS cements the fact that the new failures system works, but I've got to ask - who the hell would want less downforce at Monaco anyway?!
Finally, the new post-race cut-scenes are a really nice touch, showing you the same celebrations from different perspectives, based on where you finished. And the 'fail' cut-scene where the mechanic puts his hand over the camera is awesome.
Above: Move along, nothing to see here. Just an epic failure and probably some tears too
However, the presentation overall is still slightly lacking. This whole 'live the life' idea is still missing a podium scene, presumably because driver likenesses haven't been put into the game properly. Everyone keeps their helmets on in the post-race Parc Ferme celebrations, which is pretty telling. And, while the press interviews are slightly improved, Codies still can't do convincing humans. At least zombie girl is gone from your trailer – she was awful last year.
Oh dear, Oh dear!
So are there any major bad points? The difficulty balancing comes to mind. I spent so much of my time driving defensively on Hard, I was a Senna-esque expert on making my car as wide as possible come the midway point in the season. It does start to grate, especially when the Professional handling mode is so damn thrilling. I do want to be fighting the car this much, but while on someone's gearbox at the same time. Playing with the assists on just isn't the same. You'll find a balance eventually, but expect it to take time.
Also, the damage system doesn't actually seem to be significantly ramped up over last year's game. Cars still seem a little more robust than they should be, although back wings do break more easily now.
Above: Hard to imagine this being 'understated', but look at how undamaged Hamilton's McLaren is
Even losing your front wing on the back of another car is less frequent thanks to some forgiving low-level knocks, which couples with the new penalty system. This gives you more leeway and fairness in minor scuffles, but harsher punishment for being a twat.
Like its stablemate DiRT 3, F1 2011's off-track presentation is a little lacking. But unlike DiRT 3, the on-track atmosphere is never dreary. In fact, wet-weather races are some of the most spectacular in the game, with gorgeously reflective wet tarmac and sensational spray effects... at least when the camera lens is clear enough to see them.
Above: We can see this much and the next turn is Eau Rouge? Who's idea was it to do this?
F1 2011 is an absolute triumph on the track. The new KERS and DRS systems give you welcome extra tactical ammunition and the new improved handling is beautifully weighted. Every corner feels like a challenge to be won, and with 19 tracks to race on, that makes for an almighty swathe of quality content. Get it, love it – and give each track the time and attention it deserves. It'll love you right back.
Is it better than:
F1 2010? Yes. The weather system is better, the graphics are better, the damage is (slightly) better, the cars have suspension and therefore better handling. The 2010 version is still brilliant, though, and the lack of KERS and DRS doesn't hurt it dramatically. So if you already own it or see it for much less than the new version, you'll probably enjoy it just as much. But really, you should be playing the new one.
DiRT 3? Yes. The EGO engine is looking just as impressive here, especially when it's throwing around 24 cars and all of Monaco's buildings at 30fps, but despite F1 2011's slightly disappointing presentation, it still feels like more of a big event come race day. DiRT 3's a bit more graphically spectacular, but it has less to do.
Gran Turismo 5? Yes. Notice how nobody's talking about Gran Turismo 5 any more? That's cos it's not as good as other modern racing games. I would say I told you so, but, well, I told you so. Simulation-wise, I suppose the driving in Gran Turismo runs at more frames per second so is technically more precise, but it's incredibly dull. F1 2011 is not.
Just for you, Metacritic!
Every major issue in F1 2010 has been addressed, making an already great game even better. We'd still like to 'live the life' a bit more off the track, but in terms of racing, it's just an absolute blast, whichever skill level you approach it from.
16 Sep, 2011