When I played the PS Vita version of F1 2011 back in the summer, it didn't feel right. Not as bad as the 3DS version (which turned out to be a bit of a stinker at review ), but far from the highs of the 9/10 console offering. However, things have changed big-time since I last played it and now, as I sit down with the latest build, I'm very pleased to discover it's getting really close to the 360/PS3 versions. Squee!
Above: You can still tell the difference between this and the 'big' version, but it's getting close
Perhaps the reason it didn't feel right when I played it first was because it was running on the old slide-top Vita design (which never got beyond development stage as it overheated, apparently). Its buttons were modeled on a PSP Go so it felt... well, like a PSP Go. Not ideally suited to driving with precision at 200mph. Now it's on a real Vita, it feels way better thanks to the analogue stick - and controlling the car is much more intuitive, even when using the default 'X to accelerate' button layout.
The 3DS version had a go at emulating the presentation style throughout its menu screens, but you can tell it's a different game underneath the shared aesthetics. The Vita version's menus feel like you're navigating features of a full-fat F1 game. Instead of choosing Quick Race, I selected Grand Prix, at which point I was presented with the same set-up options as the big version. All the practice and qualifying sessions are in, as well as weather, damage and the usual assists.
At present, the damage isn't as pronounced as the 360 version (which itself leaves something to be desired), although I was able to snap my front wing off, which is immediately one better than the 3DS' effort. However, the 3DS version made the damage model stand out even more by having awful AI that seemed to do everything it could to get in your way.
Not so here. Races look and feel much more organic. I raced around Monaco in the dry and Sao Paulo in the wet and the AI was mostly very good. I say 'mostly' as I was handed the machine set to 'easy' and the cars were going much slower than they should around the Monte Carlo street circuit, allowing me to win from a 16th position grid slot (yes, I skipped qualifying 2 & 3 - good spot). That said, at least they weren't crashing into the walls all the time like they do on 3DS. Bonus.
Above: At present, the AI does leave a lot more tyre smoke than you'd expect, but it's still being tweaked
Looks-wise, it's come on leaps and bounds. Everything looks much higher resolution now and there's an abundance of bloom lighting. Sure, you could say that was an over-used trick at the start of the current generation, but it makes F1 look gorgeous. Any slight jaggedness thanks to the screen's non-HD resolution is masked by the effect, making the game very pleasing on the eye.
What's even better is the sheer size of the Vita's screen. I can't quite understand how pictures of the device next to an old-style PSP look so similar in size. Vita feels physically larger and the screen looks MUCH bigger. And I mean that in the best possible way. This huge, gorgeous display is throwing Monaco around with Xbox360-grade graphics at a smooth frame-rate.
Above: Obviously this is Spa, but you'd rather see new screens than old, right?
In fact, there's very little I'd complain about at this stage. Perhaps there needs to be some balancing in wet weather conditions as the assists make it too easy to stay on the track and beat the AI drivers under braking (even on expert), but to be honest anyone playing with assists is going to want an easy ride anyway. Also, the rain effect itself needs some work as the track isn't reflective at this stage and the rain animation over the screen needs some attention.
But it's still months away from its proposed release in the UK – it's on track (excuse the pun) to release with Vita. Even this brief hands-on time has reaffirmed my faith in Sumo and, from a personal viewpoint (which is surely the greatest recommendation of all), it looks like my record of buying an F1 game with every Sony console I've ever owned is going to remain intact. This is looking very promising.