by Al Warwick
reviewed on PSP
First things first, I'm a huge F1 fan, and have been for as long as I've been a gamer. My first console/gaming machine was an Amiga 1200 (yes, at six I recognise that I was a late convert to the world of geekdom) and one of the first games fell in love with was Nigel Mansell's Grand Prix Challenge. Back then, the presentation – particularly the cracking menu music, the official license which allowed the correct names and stats and lastly the really thrilling racing proved too irresistible for my young mind. Despite owning such bona fide classics as Flashback, Another World and Alladin, it was old Nige that I would visit most often.
Over the years, such staple elements have been repeated in console F1 games. Psygnosis' 1996 effort simply titled Formula 1 had it all: realistic graphics, superb presentation and soundtrack yet again, licenses and that addictive gameplay. It was a joy, and rightfully praised. Their follow-up a year later managed to improve on every aspect; indeed Formula 1 '97 is still regarded today by many (including this reviewer) as the most accurate, impressive and thrilling F1 packages on any console.
Geoff Crammond masterpieces, are of course excluded from such a debate.
Since then, twelve years have passed and to be frank, there has been precious little that managed to replicate such a rich combination of all the elements that make an F1 game great. Psygnosis' later efforts for the PSX were steps backward. When EA took over the end product was a fast racer with a full license and plenty of modes to play in. But it was somewhat sparse with un-involving designs and tracks. Not too mention a hopelessly slow feeling car once the camera angle was taken to the 'behind the car' view. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but if, like most racers, you enjoy the classic far away camera angle, and the action seems pedestrian. The F1 factor – the pinnacle of speed – is lost completely.
The wait for an up to date F1 game has also been agonising. For the PSP in particular, the last instalment still had the Alonso/ Fisichella dream team at Renault in those trademark blue and yellow liveries. Schumacher was still around and Hamilton was nowhere to be found – yep that old. So hopes were high and excitement fully justified when promises of a title featuring the 2009 season's tracks, teams, car models, drivers and new technological regulations were made.
Codemasters too, are an old school name with tons of experience and a fine pedigree in the genre. Developers Sumo Digital know their way around a racing title too especially for this platform. Enter Formula One 2009.
Being something of a 'bad news first' kind of guy, we will start of with the game's foibles, which I'm happy to report are heavily outweighed by the plus points. The main gripe is immediate; the presentation of this game is very lazy. A faceless menu design is matched by an equally bland and meaningless theme tune which fails to resonate any sort of emotion like the dad rock riffs of the aforementioned Playstation classics. The kind of music you hear when camping in a field in Hungary or Germany on an actual race weekend.
The game lacks polish within its menu screens. Shoddy and blurry photos of the drivers and a real lack of stats and figures when delivering a player's profile resume. Preferred drivers and teams are not mentioned, the game doesn't even honour your lap records with any sort of display – they are for you alone to remember. The opening FMV sequence also feels rushed and even by slightly replicating the BBC's pre-race graphics could have been so much more.
Of course, such elements are hardly what make up the core of any game – let alone a racer. But there are niggles with the mechanics of the gameplay too unfortunately. The handling feels fiddly; neither the tiny thumbstick nor the D-pad can cut it when dealing with a driving title with such speed. Another major niggle, and one that I admit will probably ease with time and familiarity, is the PSP's screen size limitations. The speed and amount of action going on at any one time makes the experience feel cramped and too much hard work. My best performances by far came when I was enjoying the luxury of playing the game through my television via a component connection – a luxury that not every psp owner can enjoy of course.
However, it is fair to say that although I would rate myself fairly adept at racing games – such control issues are mainly down to the teething period of any gamer when faced with a new title. I'm sure my skills will improve and the game will become as natural and instinctive to drive as the fabled psygnosis sequel of 97.
Authentic engines and professional sounding pit crew radio.
Bland design and truly awful driver photos.