Formula One Championship Edition Review

Racing titles such as Burnout and Need for Speed have allowed players to experience both speed and sensational smash ups to varying degrees from the safety of their home with arcade experiences that deliver plenty of excitement. For other racing fans, titles such as Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and those based on NASCAR bring another degree of competitive flavor with a greater emphasis on real world racing. Feeding part of that hunger for a realistic racing experience is Studio Liverpool's Formula One series. I wasn't sure what to expect from their latest title, as the simulation mentality can be intimidating to newcomers whose closest experience with an F1 car might be as an unlockable in Burnout, but plenty of options to help the player made it a relatively painless session in F1 driver's ed. Still, while F1 can be a fun game, it's not for everyone even when it finally comes together.

F1 Championship Edition for PlayStation 3 is based on the 2006 season of the sport which can be rewritten by the player as they start up a career of their own. For the fans, the official racers, their cars, and the tracks that will take them from Indianapolis to Shanghai are all there adding a remarkable degree of authenticity to the title. Outside of career mode, fans can race as any of their favorites in a quick race, time trial, or a Grand Prix event. But in creating a profile for the game and in building their own avatar for the career mode, they'll be able to participate in a full season of racing as they take part in the try outs, picking a team to join if they make the cut, and in racing against seasoned veterans.

At first, F1 might seem to be a difficult game for newcomers to grasp, although there are plenty of options to help out the newbie player with how an F1 car handles and what to expect on the track. Racing options such as Time Trials, Quick Race, and the Grand Prix Weekend offer plenty of opportunities to accidentally smash up a car or end up in last without taking the additional risks that Career Mode will offer. Fortunately, there are some learning aids--training wheels in the form of automatic braking, the option to toggle off damage modeling, and removing penalties are among the game's settings. Much of this works exactly as advertised and with the help I soon managed to put up a respectable showing in eighth place. As the player grows in experience, these aids can be discarded, switching to a fullly manual transmission mode, turning off the steering assistance, or removing the virtual race line that shows the best path along a track. By default, all of these options are enabled so veterans may want to dive into the options right away to change these if they already know what to expect. In fact, I suggest turning the steering assistance off regardless, simply because it can cause you to have to fight the steering wheel, creating bad situations where the control is to blame.

F1 CE can be driven with either the d-pad or the analog stick on the Sixaxis. It can also be configured as a wireless wheel. While the car handling wasn't bad with the traditional solution, using it as a motion-based substitution for a wheel was not as exciting. It will mainly serve to give rumble fans ammunition for their argument that Sony should have included the rumble feature in its PS3, and will likely urge others to invest in Logitech's supported steering wheel and pedal setup to get a more authentic feel. Some more tactile feedback while watching my car rub dangerously close to another F1 racer, or in hanging onto a hairpin turn while skirting a gravel embankment, would have added to the experience. While Monster Games' Excite Truck (Wii) worked just fine with its take on wireless action, it is an arcade racer in which arm twisting fits in with the offbeat fun of its gameplay. In trying to weave in and out of traffic in F1 with the Sixaxis, working with the light, tiny controller in alongside the conservative action onscreen felt awkward.

After the initial learning curve, there are plenty of other technical options to experience and the game will guide the player through each of them. These include the ability to tweak many of the details of your car, from deciding what tires to use on the track after checking the weather to adjusting how much fuel you want to put in to stay light and fast. Many factors, such as weight and traction, will play key roles in how the car performs, and the player is able to influence them all. Hardcore racers who seek the perfect racing machine should go right straight into the garage, which is filled with carspeak covering many of the available options. These range from adjusting the PSI in the tires to setting the 'toes' that adjust how quickly the tires warm up during the race for better grip.

Newbies will want to stick to using Car Evolution as they get the hang of things. Available only before the player starts a Grand Prix event, Evolution works by automatically adjusting several key propertites, allowing the player to run with certain settings to see how they feel. By running laps with the recommended settings, the car can be modified and set up for the upcoming qualifiers and, eventually, the Grand Prix race itself. Although it is time consuming, it is actually quite helpful in several ways, not the least of which is in getting a car adjusted to your play style along with free practice on the track on which you will compete next. This is particularly useful during Career mode.

Career mode is where the player's custom racer will be taking his chance against the best that the world has to offer. During Career mode, the player will watch the season and the development of his or her racer through a PDA that tracks news as it happens, along with any accomplishments that the player has achieved. Before the player's career can actually start, however, he or she will need to try out for a team and see if they can make it into a starting spot. I was able to place high enough to be considered a second racer, which at least put me on the track to participate in races. Performing less well might land you as a test driver, which is somewhat less exciting. The recruitment tryouts also vary in their requirements, although the same three teams are always looking for a driver. The recruitment tryouts vary in their requirements. One team might ask for the best lap time in three laps around the track, while another might want to see the best time in a single loop, and they mix up these requirements with every new career started. Fortunately, the player can always repeat the race and try for a better time, or quit and start a new career if they don't like the kind of runs that the three teams are asking them to perform.

Turn the page for more on Formula One Championship Edition.

_PAGE_BREAK_ Once becoming an official racer, the player will experience much of what a Formula One racer goes through--aside from the physical training--in preparing for an upcoming Grand Prix event. There are qualifying races, test runs, and the Car Evolution tuning option. Performing well in qualifying races will result in being able to start ahead of the pack in pole position for an early advantage. Plenty of in-game commentary adds flavor to the race, not only from your pit crew but from the announcer as he dynamically keeps up with what is going on, almost as if there were someone actually calling the shots. The tracks are well represented, with plenty of local flavor from the desert air of Bahrain to the twisting turns of Japan's Suzuka track, although they're not much for superfluous detail. This is a pure racing sim right down to the asphalt, with few flashy effects.

In line with keeping things low key, much of the interface is fairly sparse, with text options filling in where graphics and showplace backdrops are used in other racing games. This leaves much of the experience outside of the racetrack feeling rather empty. For example, the game contains an F1 section complete with a glossary and overview of the sport; it is filled with text, introducing new players to what the sport is about while presenting it with as much enthusiasm as a form letter. If you've come off of Burnout, don't expect any exciting videos, footage, or anything else to dress it up.

But, when it comes to the areas of presentation F1 does best, the cars and the weather effects look fantastic. Rain will streak across your virtual visor and wil wreak havoc on the track as the road becomes slick. On a sunny day, the sun can truly be blinding--but at least the track will be nice and dry. When crash effects are enabled, pieces of cars can go flying and disabled vehicles can become dangerous obstacles, raising the yellow caution flag. Several camera views are available--a standard chase camera behind the car, the cockpit view where you can actually see the control panel's LED readouts on the steering wheel, and a view right down at the nose cone to watch the grained surface of the track whiz by immediatey beneath you. The high whine of F1 engines fills the air and lets the player know when someone is trying to pass, while the crowd cheers as you buzz by. Players will have mixed feelings about the lack of music to interfere with your pit crew's advice.

While the cars and drivers look great from any camera angle, the game's small text assumes that the player has an HDTV. That's right, the same problem that afflicted Capcom's Dead Rising (X360) is back, ready to put the hurt on anyone that has a standard set. While the informational text in the Extras portion of F1, much of the text used in the loading screen stills will strain a few eyeballs. The worst offender is within the PDA section of the game that manages your racer's career. News, e-mails, and anything that requires you to read things through the PDA will test your vision, prompting you to wonder whether you need glasses or just a better television. Fortunately, this doesn't impact the gameplay, but it is a issue of which to take note if you have a standard definition TV. It is especially unfortunate after the much publicized brouhaha surrounding Capcom's attempts to remedy the solution for Lost Planet, which actually received a fix in between the beta and retail release.

F1 also has a few problems in racing that may not be so easy to overlook. Getting spun around on the track and then ending up in a barrier with the damage modeling turned off will usually get you stuck. The game, if the proper setting is enabled, will try to spin you around to point in the right direction, but if you happens to collide into a wall off that is off to the side, you'll usually have to try and 'force' your way out by revving the engine and turning the wheel to slide along it--there is no reverse gear in F1. Or you can simply quit the race and start over, which the PS3 manages well as there is no load time associated with starting again on the same track. Getting your wheels locked with another driver can be another danger when damage is turned off, as you and the AI fight to get loose. This does not happen too often, but it can ruin a good run when you least expect it.

One element that may surprise players who have their fingers set for serious racing is what happens when your car pits for maintenance during a race. A series of buttons appears on the screen, and the more quickly they are inputted the faster the pit crew performs. The sequence is the same nearly every time this happens, so soon you will find that your car is always readied as quickly as it possibly can be. While it adds an interesting element to the pit, the mechanic feels like an unnecessary chore and seems out of place in a game focused as it is so solely on racing.

Multiplayer functionality expands on the gameplay by allowing players to create and join races either through a LAN or by joining a game 'universe' for online action. Up to eleven players can race each other in F1 CE, and extra slots can be filled by AI drivers to keep things exciting. When creating a game, players have many options available, such as picking from any of the eighteen tracks around the world, determining how many laps should be raced, or deciding what kind of weather conditions will make things easier or more treacherous. Racing plays much like it does in the single player mode, with the added benefit that there are living people on the other end who can make the same mistakes as you. For players who love to human competition, there are plenty of venues available.

Despite its moments of exciting fun, if you aren't a fan of the sport, F1 CE won't make a follower out of you. F1 CE is a pure racer that simply races--while throwing newcomers a bone so that they don't get lost in the minutiae of detail--and speaks a language catering to F1 racing enthusiasts with its spartan presentation and utilitarian design. For veterans of the series and F1 fans, the official teams and racers along with a wealth of car tweaking options and online play make it clearly worth a look. For everyone else, Formula One Championship Edition is a competent, if not revolutionary, racer for the current generation.