Every once in a while, a racing game comes along that is so intense, so precise, and so damn addictive that it takes you completely by surprise. What's even more surprising is that this particular game doesn't start with the word "Gran" and end with the word "Turismo". No, it's actually Formula One. And you'd never guess just by looking at the screenshots, or even playing the demo, that this is one well-crafted racing game. If you're a fan with things on wheels, Formula One welcomes you. Developed by the talented folks over at Liverpool Studios, Formula One was one of the first PS3 games showcased at E3 2005 as a tech-demo. Originally believed to be an over exaggerated mock-up of the final product, one glance at Formula One on your TV is all you'll need to realize how absolutely wrong that assumption was.
Visually, there's little that Formula One doesn't do right. It's a 1st party title, so we all expected it to look good, but I didn't think it'd look this good. For starters, forget everything you saw in the game's demo; the visual caliber of the final product absolutely massacres that of the demo. The graphics of the final game exhibit enhanced textures, superb lighting effects, additional objects in the scenery and a lock-tight framerate. Formula One is the very definition of what a next-generation racing game should look like. When you've got a game that's displaying over 20 vehicles on the screen, complete with jaw-dropping lighting effects, and even boasting realistic rain effects, you know you're looking at something special.
Formula One's graphics engine runs at a silky smooth 30 frames per second, but with a sense of speed that is unlike any racing game I've ever played before. 100MPH feels precisely as it should, and 220MPH feels downright frightening. When you're tensing up and you begin to clench your controller at every turn, that's when you know a racing game's visuals and visual presentation has gotten to you. Formula One does such a wonderful job at convening the feeling of speed, that it almost becomes half of the game's fun.
Additionally, the job done with the lighting is so eerily beautiful and natural. Rays of sunlight will beam down from the skies; as halos and reflections also cast accordingly. Likewise, swaying trees will cast realistic swaying shadows, complete with little rays of sunlight shining through the branches and leaves onto the ground. On top of that, the lighting is completely dynamic. Meaning, if you stop in front of a group of swaying trees, the shadows from them will be cast on your vehicle – complete with the swaying and rays shining through. The lighting helps make the already splendid looking environments look that much better. On that note, it must be said that the track detail is well done. While most of the stages don't offer anything extraordinary to look at in the background, the ones that do look terrific.
There's another thing that Formula One does exceptionally well, and that's the rain effects. When rain pours, droplets will collect all over your screen. Each droplet of rain has its own property and actually reacts to the speed and G-forces that you're vehicle is performing at. So if you take a hard right turn, expect the droplets of water to slide to the left, and so on. The faster you turn, the faster they'll slide. The effect is truly something to behold in person, it's by far one of the best weather effects I've seen in a game to date.
There are a few issues with the graphics, though. Textures off track aren't spectacular, and you'll notice this quite a bit in the replays. Further more, the replays themselves look poor. The camera is so far removed from the asphalt that it makes the track look flat, when it's actually quite nice. Moreover, the camera positioning is pretty limited, and you can't select a standard gameplay perspective to view a replay with. The replay offers a whole bunch of car mounted perspectives, but none of them will display the road ahead of you. Replays are nothing like those found in Gran Turismo, as the camera never bothers to zoom in on a chosen vehicle, instead it just sits high above the track, and pans left or right. Boring. Onto the gameplay…
Formula One not only engrosses you with its visuals, but also its feel. The game's tire-model (the connection between the gamer and the vehicle) is sensational. The F1 racer feels perfectly planted on the asphalt, and that the control is in your hands. This connection acts as yet another fine facet that F1 displays, and it demonstrates just how superb the physics engine is. Of course, just like any other simulation game, you have the option of driving with aids (braking, steering, visual, traction, etc.) – but believe me, you won't want to. Half of the fun behind Formula One is making those mistakes and learning the game's curve, and in turn you're awarded with an experience that really shows what it is to be a next-generation racing game. The physics are sensational, and the game offers you a Gran Turismo-load of customization options to tinker with. You can adjust components of the suspension such as rear downforce, front downforce, tire PSI, shock rebound rate, ride height, toe, camber, anti-roll, and so forth.
Also, feel free to tinker with transmission specs, brakes, traction, and much more. The degree of customization comes down to a percentage, as there are no pre-made pre-sets to choose from — you have complete control over every minute intricacy of your chosen vehicle. You can adjust the handling of your car to be perfectly balanced, or to induce oversteer, or even understeer. You can actually adjust the car's behavior on the fly, by using the Live Dynamics feature that Formula One has. Live Dynamics will allow you to switch between three traction pre-sets and three brake-bias pre-sets as you race. These are pre-sets that you can configure before you start a race, and then take them on the road with you. To adjust them while you're racing, you use the D-pad during a straight road. Awesome feature.
If you're at all car savvy, then you'll know what properties to dial-in to have the car behave a certain way. For instance, to induce oversteer: it's as simple as tweaking some suspension components, raising PSI pressure in rear tires, using hard tires, turning off anti-lock brakes, setting traction to 0%, turning off the stability control, toying around with spring rates, that kind of stuff. Of course, if you wish to keep things simple, then leave your settings alone, dial in some traction, and maybe turn on a visual aid that'll tell you where to brake and where to accelerate. Formula One isn't only for the hardcore, as it'll allow newcomers to play without damage, without rules, with lots of traction…basically an arcade-like experience, if that's you're kind of thing. The game is as diverse as you want it to be, the sky really is the limit here.
Infinite physics customization aside, the other critical mechanic that Formula One does well is the artificial intelligence. The A.I. will brake, swerve around you, overtake you when they can, and give you the challenge you desire. Liverpool Studios did a stupendous job crafting A.I. racers that are beyond what I was expecting. But there's still some room for improvement, such as having the A.I racers avoid minor collisions, or backing off from your tail during sharp turns. As splendid as the A.I. already is, wiggle room for slightly more human racers does exist. But it is nice to see that the A.I. is imperfect, in that they'll often cause accidents with one another and in turn disqualify themselves from a race.
Moving on to features…Formula One: CE includes the entire 2006 F1 season with every official team, car, driver, and track present. You can compete in a Weekend Grand Prix, Career, or Championship mode — all of which that'll run across the game's 18 tracks, and featuring the 12 teams. Moreover, the more you play and the more you win: you'll begin unlocking classic vehicles! The classics include such venerable cars like a 60s Cooper Climax roadster, Lotus 72E, Renault RS01, Lotus 49C and many more that I've yet to unlock. Then of course we have the multiplayer gameplay, which will allow 11 others to join you. If you're racing a full grid, 12 cars will be human controlled, while the other 12 will be computer controlled. Online is definitely something that'll eat up a lot of your time, simply because of the game's accessible nature. There are also community features, rankings, and statistics.
It's hard to say anything bad about Formula One, really. Perhaps some may argue that it is a little tough, even at the easier difficulties. But learning the courses and knowing when to brake in and accelerate out will really solve your issues. There is a curve, but give it some practice and you'll instantly find yourself climbing the ranks. It should also be said that the option of using a PSP as a wing-mirror via Remote Play option has been pulled from the US version, for whatever reason. As mentioned before, the A.I. is pretty solid, but it can still be improved to feel more life-like.
There isn't too much to be said about the sound. There's a bit of commentary present during the races, and the only soundtrack is one performed by the engines. But the engine effects sound wonderful, though. By all means, if you've got a decent set of speakers running from your TV, crank them up and enjoy the aural bliss that Formula One presents. You'll also hear the wind noise as you gain speed, in addition to bumps, scrapes, screeches and so on. An optional soundtrack, or hell, a custom soundtrack feature would've been nice, though.
At the end of it all, I found Formula One: Championship Edition to be a superb racing game. Enthusiasts of the motorsport will eat this up and ask for more. Everything about this game is a quality product, from the visuals to the gameplay. Formula One is whatever you make of it; play it like an arcade game, play it like a simulation, or something in between — the choice is yours. And choices are exactly what the game offers to the gamer: a whole bunch of customization options that'll appease to the needs of any F1 perfectionist, a good number of gameplay modes, 12 player online matches, and unlockable classics. In addition, Formula One is also one of the most visually impressive next-generation titles out right now. And it's one of the first PS3 games to exceed the look of its initial tech-demo. Fans of not just the sport, but also the genre, should really consider picking up a copy of the game. Formula One is a superb racer.