Following on from last year's triumph, Codemasters returns once more with F1 2011 and it's exactly what we ordered. Well, almost. As we've always said when discussing the English maestros, they have a real talent when it comes to delivering quality racing games. F1 2010 proved that, DiRT 3 blew everyone away; and while F1 2011 doesn't match the brilliance of the aforementioned title, it's still incredibly good at bringing the most dazzling form of racing into your palms. But how do you improve upon what was already so good, especially when you're restricted to just one form of motorsport? You refine it, and that's exactly what Codemasters has done. They've made a top job of it too.
F1 2011 is much more professional in its presentation when compared with DiRT 3. The glitz and glamour aren't quite so 'in your face,' but everything is slick and streamlined as it nearly always is. Your career will take place in the back of a trailer, a fancy one with modern furniture and computers and almost everything you could possibly ask for on your journey into pole position. When your career begins in Melbourne, you had better get settled into the luxurious suite as it's a very handy navigational tool, and it also allows a space for technical analysis and customisation. The view of the the beautiful women outside isn't bad either.
But even with the pretty, scantily clad ladies prancing around outside your bedroom window, it's impossible to say that F1 2011 is a major graphical upgrade. And that has to be seen as a disappointment, especially when it's running on the same engine that made DiRT 3 look so unbelievably good. Of course, this matters little because Forza Motorsport 4 is preparing to dump a giant turd and place it firmly on top of every other game ever made. For the record, F1 2011 is pretty, it runs smoothly and you probably won't find anything to complain about in the visual department (although the graphical detail in the side mirrors is still bollocks).
The most important aspect of any racer, scrap that - any game, will always be the gameplay. F1 2011 is a considerable improvement over last year's iteration, and nearly every annoyance has been addressed. It feels significantly better balanced and more forgiving too. Hardcore fans, don't stress, you're all well catered for. It's an authentic experience of the highest order, compiling all of the official drivers, cars, licences, tracks and also integrating the new rule changes. Those changes, which seem to happen annually, are the introduction of KERS and DRS. The fans will know exactly what that means, nobody else really needs to worry about them. But if you must know, it now means that you can zoom off into the distance courtesy of a turbo boost, yay! Although you might want to think twice just in case the dynamic weather system has something nasty up its sleeve...
Time for a new approach, one that doesn't involve getting crushed against a barrier on the next bend.
It doesn't mean you can play this in the same way that you'd approach a more arcade-orientated racer, but it does mean that you can be far more aggressive in how you drive. Careful now, being aggressive doesn't give you permission to ram opponents into the barriers. What the improved gameplay allows for is some of the most competitive, tense and exhilarating contests on the market. That fear of spinning out as you attempt to corner a tricky chicane is no longer present, instead you'll be encouraged to push as far up the grid as possible. If that means cutting a few corners and getting told off for being naughty, then so be it. Totally worth it, we say. Even while confined to the rules and regulations of Formula One, the team at Codemasters has still managed to give everyone something enjoyable to sample. A grand prix can be completed in three laps, or it can be completed in fifty-three laps. You can pick up and play F1 2011 to suit your style, and that's crucial.
Really, the improvements that have been made to the handling, the fine tuning, the polishing, even the introduction of safety cars - these were all expected and predicted before the game was even announced. That's the minimum expectation if consumers are being asked to part with cash on a yearly basis. So it's sad to see that little has been done to F1 2011's audio and general presentation outside of the menus. Your engineers and fellow team members linger in the air like drones, occasionally shouting out words of advice but serving little or no purpose when all of the information you need is already displayed. An optional commentary track would have been nice, just as a way of complementing the other action on the course, but it's absent once again. The soundtrack is forgettable too, and it doesn't have an iconic theme like Ian Brown's 'F.E.A.R.' to give the atmosphere an extra kick. The vehicles though, boy do they sound good. Crank up the volume and let your neighbours know exactly where the fun house is. Oh and the interviews, a way of disguising difficulty selection, really don't feel necessary anymore. They're just a pain in the arse, a pain that can be mercifully skipped.
Much had been made of this year's online integration, and it's a definite improvement. Like the rest of F1 2011, it's more balanced than before and this is particularly noticable during quick sprints. Instead of one crash or one overpowered turn resulting in penalties, leaving you with no chance of winning, the improved mechanics now mean that spins in gravel occur less frequently (if at all), assuming you understand the basic rules and physics that are involved. The random nature of car selection also feels like less of a cheap gimmick this time around. And of course, you now have a full grid of racers which means that not only the chaos, but the excitement has been multiplied ten fold. Really, that's only the beginning, and that's only half of what F1 2011 provides you with. There's a new co-operative career to try out, and individual objectives for each race. A great package if ever we saw one.
Then you have the constant reminder that F1 2011 is simply an update, not a fully fledged sequel. Despite what we've been saying, despite all of the technical improvements - the game is only an essential purchase for elite racing fans and newcomers. The majority of the same content is already present in F1 2010, and visually it's almost identical, so the technical quality of this revised edition will only be fully appreciated by a very specific audience. It's a superb racer all-round, one of the best we've seen this year (not that there's been a whole lot of competition); so judging it on its own is a bit more straight forward - F1 2011 is bloody fantastic. Sure, it's still lacking in a few areas but they become distant memories when you can get hooked in so easily. A terrific companion for the racing season, and another job well done by Codemasters.