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F1 2001 (Xbox) Review

Background Info


Americans are odd. The world's most popular sport (the other football) barely registers on the radar. Likewise, the most popular form of racing in terms of global audience is among the least respected activities in America. We Americans would rather watch Fords and Chevys do nothing but make left turns than to watch drivers with skill. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm talking about the incredible sport of Formula 1 racing. It's the racing circuit that features the best in technology and driving talent.

Even though it lacks the popularity of other sports, we have to thank console developers and publishers for bringing the sport to the gamer. F1 2001 from EA is yet another update of the F1 series, this time covering the 2001 racing season. The fully licensed game features all 17 international tracks and 22 drivers. Best of all, like Madden 2002, EA significantly improved last year's version of the game. In fact, the differences between last year's abysmal F1 2000 and the current version shows us that EA still has the ability to put out an effort.

Presentation/Graphics : 85
The most important graphical aspect to me with regards to racing games is the clarity of the circuit. I don't like racing games where upcoming turns are difficult to see. Fortunately F1 2001 utilizes the power of the Xbox to provide the gamer with a clear view of the circuit at every turn. Having watched the entire 2001 F1 season, I'm familiar with every course and the perspective from the car. F1 2001 faithfully recreates the views at each course. This means that you'll get a grand view as you go downhill at Spa or hit a blind corner due to elevation changes at San Marino. The elevation changes are definitely in there, and actually every track is mapped out in realistic detail. The only exception is the first set of turns at Monza. Changes are always occurring to tracks, and I seem to recall that this set of turns has a paved runoff. In F1 2001 the paved region is there, but a inpenetrable tire wall obstructs it. Despite this, the visuals of the tracks are great. Curbing is realistic looking, and the road surfaces are well done. Indy even has its strip of bricks across the finish line.

What is disappointing about the game is the general lack of detail in the cars. The cars do look good, but compared to the other EA racing title on the Xbox, NASCAR Thunder, the cars are flat. F1 cars aren't plastered with ads to the degree of Winston racers, but they nonetheless look better on television and in person than the do in the game. With Thunder, the cars were so detailed that it added to the realism. In F1 2001 I just don't get the same sensation. Even when looking down into the cockpit the steering wheel lacks the detail it deserves. The side mirrors, which are notoriously bad to use in an actual F1 car, are really bad in the game. They are completely useless. On the positive side, however, drivers' helmets mimic their actual designs. In addition, during a race and depending on the view, you can see their hands change gears on the paddle shifters or pull off a dirty layer from their visor. The views vary from a third-person shot to several viewpoints on the car. For purists there's the first-person cockpit view that limits the amount of television space for action. If you want to see the driver's head bob back and forth, a camera near the air intake is available. A bumper camera rounds out the camera angles.

Some of the best visuals come across in the rain. The track surface changes texture slightly to give the appearance of a wet surface and a wet spray is kicked up from the tires. In some view, the rain even lands on the virtual camera lens, and the droplets are incredibly lifelike. However, the rain causes some framerate problems. As soon as the rain hits you can expect the framerate to drop nearly in half.

A few other graphical nitpicks include the lack of a damage indicator for the car and a limited replay system. While you get constant communications regarding your car's health from the pits, I'd appreciate some visual indicator to let me know how my tires are performing. Whether it's a tire indicator or visible change of the actual treads, something is needed. The replay system needs some work as well as replays are only available during the race and only capture a short amount of the action.

Presentation/Audio : 90
As mentioned, your pit is in constant contact with you as you make your way around the circuit. They make announcements of what drivers are having mechanical troubles or have dropped out, significant position changes (particularly with respect to your teammate), and reminders of when to pit. The pit also does a decent job at letting you know if a car is in your left or right blind spot.

Tire squeals sound poor, but they do serve the purpose of letting you know if you're taking a turn too fast. The tires sound much better when riding over curbing or the bricks at Indy, where a rapid thumping is heard. Finally, the engine sounds are fairly realistic. As you quickly accelerate the engine revs top out and scream. As you shift the gearbox crunches and the revs start over. In top gear at max speed the engines often sputter a bit from slight bumps in the road. Overall the audio is limited, but it's appropriate for a racing game. The best aspect is clearly the audio of the pit crew.

Interface : 90
You know what to expect with the game modes for a typical seasonal racer - single races, championship seasons, and maybe even some driving tests. F1 2001 follows the modern recipe by offering all of the above. Single races can be performed in a grand prix or quick race format. The difference is that the quick race is limited to 4 laps of arcade style racing (that is, plenty of grip, forgiving physics, and no damage). In addition, tracks are unlocked as you score points. In the single race mode, you have wider customization of the race. You can select parameters such as weather, length, driving style (normal or simulation), damage, and tire wear. The same parameters are available when racing a full championship season or a custom season comprised of any number of the 17 F1 races. Another single player mode is the challenge mode, where you tackle a variety of driving tests. There are several levels encompassing braking, starting, cornering, and handling techniques. Your performance is assessed and you're awarded a bronze, silver, or gold medal. The final set of challenges is a complete lap on each circuit.

For multiplayer action, F1 2001 ships with several modes of play. Head-to-head racing can take place with a full field, though three and four player split screen modes have a reduced field. A goofy Tag Team mode requires teams to switch drivers on each lap. Last Man Standing removes the last place car from the field for subsequent races. Time Challenge races are nothing more than a competitive time trial, and the Advantage mode is the equivalent of golf's match play but for racing; a point is awarded for each lap led. Really F1 2001 is a single player game for the racing enthusiast.

Coming off of F1 2000 on the PS2, I was disappointed with the car setups. Only very basic tuning options existed in that game. EA has acquitted themselves nicely with F1 2001. The setup options are much deeper and include things like the adjustment of every gear ratio on the car, spring and ride height settings, tire selection and pressure, and wing adjustments. One oversight, however, is the inability to set the toe and camber. While it's not a full simulation yet, it's a big step in the right direction. The basic setups are effective for many situations, but for gamers who don't want to mess with setups, the normal racing mode is dumbed down.

Gameplay : 90
Another big area of improvement for the console versions of F1 2001 over F1 2000 is the driving model. F1 2000 was plagued with unbelievable mechanical and aerodynamic grip that resulted in blisteringly fast lap times. In the normal mode of racing in F1 2001 you can still peel off quick lap times, but not to the degree of previous versions. But the highlight of the game is the addition of a more realistic simulation mode of driving. This mode still isn't where I'd like to see it (give me an F1 game with attention to physics like F355), but it plays well.

The simulation model can best be described as forgiving while keeping you on your toes. You won't lose control on fresh tires in dry conditions by taking a turn too quick. There's plenty of understeer in the car. But if you get on the power too early off a tight turn you can certainly lose the back end. Also, if you get a few wheels in the grass or dirt with the others on the track, you can swap ends. As I was blazing through Variante Ascari at Monza my left side wheels got off. The car suddenly did four quick revolutions. The ferocity of the spin was incredible and accurate. In the wet, the game is slightly less forgiving, though I found I could pull off unrealistically quick lap times for rain conditions.

One area that still needs to be addressed is rapid deceleration without braking. The speed bleed-off model is the complete opposite of NASCAR Thunder. In that game the bluff-bodied Winston cars don't want to slow down and you have to press hard on the brakes. In F1 2001, you can slow down to turning speed at most corners by simply downshifting. When you do brake, you have to do it with a light finger as brake lockup is a common thing. Fortunately the analog triggers of the Xbox controller work wonderfully for the brakes and throttle.

The AI in F1 2001 is average in terms of realistic driving strengths and above average in track behavior. You won't find cars bashing into you. Instead they respect your position, yet won't get out of the way if you try to force your way through. The only time they get in the way is if you start back in the pack. The first couple of turns result in traffic jams just like real F1 racing. Where I take issue with the AI is the strength of the teams. It seems like there's no disparity between top teams like Ferrari, Williams, and McLaren and also-rans like Minardi or Prost. One of my favorite console F1 games, Monaco GP 2 on the Dreamcast, really emphasizes the horsepower inequities between the top and bottom tier teams. Also, in F1 2001 it seems poor Rubens Barrichello exited too many races with a blown engine. Come on EA, I think Ferrari was only out of one race all season due to engine problems. They were incredibly consistent all year. It would have also been a nice touch to see Heinz Harold Frentzen in Jordan (biggest scapegoat move of the 2001 season) colors for the majority of the season in the game. In F1 2001 he's shown only on Prost's team.

One big issue with the game centers around the implementation of yellow flags. After one race you'll want to turn off the FIA rules implementation. If you get a wheel off track a yellow flag comes out. If you overpass with the yellow out it's a 10-second stop-and-go penalty. I accidentally bumped an opponent from behind and sent him spinning. The yellow instantly came out and I overtook him. Penalty.

Replay Value : 90
F1 2001 is one of the better F1 games you'll find on a console. In an attempt to make the game better, the developers have achieved the same result as with NASCAR Thunder 2002. They've bettered the gameplay aspects in terms of simulation elements while making a fun and accessible game. Admittedly there are no other F1 games out currently for the Xbox. But I've played more than my share of F1 games on a variety of consoles, and this one definitely ranks in the upper half. The Challenge mode is, well, a challenge. The quest for gold medals will keep you busy for hours, and when you decide to turn your attention to racing against a balanced AI field there's plenty of action.

Overall : 89
The gameplay of F1 2001 is the best yet for the series on a console. The nagging issues of super grip and limited tuning options have been addressed and the game has rounded the corner on its way to becoming a potential sim lover's dream. There are just a few nagging issues with rules, team strength, speed bleed off, and setups that have to be addressed. The handling is a nice balance of arcade and sim elements.

By: James Smith 1/18/02

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