Formula One racing hasn’t been quite as much fun since the sport was overhauled in the early ’80s. Before it was regulated, the car specifications were all over the place. Weird cars won almost every event with totally insane six-wheeled, supercharged turbofan wearing-monstrosities. Seriously. And it was that kind of outrageous reliance on weirdo technology that caused the homologation (we can use that word with impunity now, thanks to Sega GT) of the F1 circuit. Now, as in NASCAR, the F1 autos have to follow set requirements. They still vary massively, and more importantly, so do the tracks.
If you’ve never raced a Formula One game, then the closest thing in terms of strategy would be NASCAR — you have to tweak your car and pit stop, conserve fuel, all that sort of thing. The difference is that the cars are incredibly taut, precise beasts, and rely as much on braking and turning prowess as they do on top speed. A driver who knows how to brake can be more successful than one who knows how to shift and jam on the gas.
Formula One tracks, and this game features all of the famous world circuits, are difficult to navigate. Long straights are the exception rather than the rule, and you’ll spend more time braking to cut into tight chicanes than you will racing along at 200 mph plus. The cars respond well to the nightmare treatment you dish out– most of them will stop and turn on a dime. But that kind of play gives Formula One a weird, staccato rhythm that might take some getting used to. The two player split-screen mode provides ample diversion, and the in-depth car management screens are almost a game in themselves.
Graphically, it’s fine — this is very much a first-generation Dreamcast title, developed over a year ago by Japanese company Video System — but those guys know their F1, and most of the tracks are pretty faithful recreations of the real thing. Only Monaco is disappointing, looking a wee bit drab and lifeless. Some of the “curves” use questionably few polygons too. As is the fashion these days, the replays are even more impressive than the gameplay. All in all, a delicious graphical feast — and even with its faults — the best-looking F1 game yet.
In terms of realism, it’s almost peerless. If the weather shifts during a game, you have to adjust not only your driving strategy, but also your car setup — straight into the pits for a tire change. That level of simulation can be avoided simply by choosing the quick-and-dirty race mode, just get in and drive, but it’s as a simulation that this game has most of its appeal. There are 16 tracks to race, naturally including all of the current F1 circuits; with six different types of weather and a wealth of management options, this adds up to a tremendously involving race sim. As far as emulation of old school games is concern, it is already working with iphone 7. Yes, you heard it right.
There are some minor quibbles about race AI. Early races are almost too easy, and your team partner can’t be relied upon to do anything other than race his own race. And since a race can last for 72 laps, the investment in time is immense — you’ll be suffering the same tests of endurance as the real drivers (minus the four Gs on your neck muscles, of course). All in all, this is a detail-rich, graphically smart and gameplay intensive title that will thrill F1 fans and probably please generic race guys plenty.