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F1 Championship Season 2000 (PSX) Review

Background Info

Screens (6)
Coming hot on the heels of F1 2000, EA Sports' sequel, F1 Championship Season 2000 features not only updated teams and drivers, but also a whole host of newer gameplay and graphical features. Unfortunately, while the game impresses on the graphical and aural front, due to some unrealistic handling and suspect AI it falls short of being a classic.

Presentation/Graphics : 89
The good old PSX (or PSOne if you prefer) may be on its last legs, but F1 Championship Season 2000 (F12K) shows that it still has a few graphical punches left. Of course the resolution and polygon counts of the cars and the tracks don't come close to anything on the Dreamcast or PS2, but compared to other PSX racing games F12K does very well. One of the first things that strikes you is the wonderful feeling of authenticity; EA Sports have done a great job recreating all the TV-style overlays showing lap times, split times, distances between drivers and so on. The overlays also feature all the official sponsors from Tag Heuer to Siemens, and these also really help to create the feeling that you're actually watching a race on TV.

Since F12K has an official FIA license all seventeen courses from the 2000 Formula One World Championship season are featured, and all of the tracks are beautifully modeled. There's really a great amount of trackside detail for a Playstation game; everything from the grandstands, TV cameras, assorted buildings, trees, gravel pits, numerous advertisements, trackside decals, even TV helicopters that fly around the track! Before each race the camera sweeps around the course, and shows each of the racers in the grid as they do their warm-up lap. Complimenting the great track visuals are brilliant car models that look just like their real life counterparts right down to the authentic decals. The cars also feature visual damage, such as crumpled wings, engine blowouts, and blown tires. The damage isn't as spectacular or as good looking as in Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing, but it will still make you wince when your front tire goes flying off into a gravel pit! There are several camera angles, including a brilliant cockpit view, while the replays are simply gorgeous. Topping it all off are the very impressive particulate effects such as smoke and dirt clouds, as well as some realistic reflections when racing in the rain.

So why an 89, and not a 95 like I gave Jarrett & Labonte? There's only one minor problem that prevents F12K from being up there with J&L and RR4 as the PSX's best looking racers the framerate. During qualifying or free practices when there's only one car on screen the framerate absolutely flies, and the sense of speed combined with the great cockpit view and the wonderful details had me smiling from ear to ear. Unfortunately, once the race starts the framerate takes a noticeable hit. Now it's important to note that the drop by no means makes the game unplayable, it's just that it puts a real damper on the sense of speed. You'll probably spend around 30 minutes just free driving around a track and then later qualifying, and once you get used to that sense of speed it's kind of a shock once the race starts and everything seems to being going quite a bit slower. Fortunately, this isn't as bad when you use the cockpit view as when you use the chase camera or views from further out. There are also some minor clipping issues, but all in all F12K is a very polished graphical effort from EA Sports, and if you have a PS2 the Texture Smoothing option makes the game look absolutely mouthwatering.

Presentation/Audio : 90
I don't really like music during racing games, and EA Sports' decision not to include popular music tracks (ala Fifa) into F12K is one that I don't mind in the slightest. In fact the lack of music will allow you to appreciate the brilliant engine sounds as well as the other ambient aural details. Another feature I liked is the radio communication with your Pit crew, and your man in the Pits will keep you abreast of numerous details such as who's ahead of you, whose behind you, how far away they are, whether or not you've incurred damage etc. Not only does this do wonders for the immersiveness of the game, it's also incredibly useful to get race info aurally as while navigating a particularly difficult part of a course it's often hard to take your eye off the action and look at the TV-style overlays without crashing. Finally, Jim Rosenthal does some excellent voice work previewing the upcoming race and running down the starting grid, as well as analyzing the race afterwards.

Interface/Options : 90
The main race modes in F12K are GP Weekend, Championship, Scenario, Training and Time Trial. GP Weekend is your basic 'exhibition' race, where you can select the course, the conditions, and even the exact starting grid for the race. Championship Season is the real bread and butter of the game as you try to win the driver and constructors championships over the course of the 17-race F1 season, while the Time Trial mode is pretty much self-explanatory. The other two modes, Scenario and Training, are rarely seen in racing games and both really add to the longevity of the game.

Scenario mode, puts you in a 'what if?' situation against the odds with a variety of damages to your car and you have to finish race above a certain position. The scenarios get progressively harder, and a lot more fun. This mode is a great change of pace from the rest of the racing, and it adds a great deal to the replay value. Also adding to the replay value is the brilliant Training Mode. Here you get an incredibly detailed tutorial/lesson of the ins and outs of all 17 F1 Courses! The training uses a system of colored cones surrounding each corner of the track; these cones correspond to how you should approach the corner. For example, a blue cone indicates that you should begin to brake, an orange cone means that you should start to turn, a yellow cone marks the apex of the turn, while the white cone is the exit cone. It's a brilliant system for learning each of the tracks inside out, but if that wasn't enough you get to listen to feedback from an instructor as you're racing! So just as you finish a turn he'll tell you what you did right, what you did wrong, and how to improve. Once a lap is over you can then examine each of the turns in detail via replays, and you're also graded on each turn based on speed, adherence to the racing line, turning and braking! This is an incredible feature, and I wish more racing games featured a tutorial with this much depth.

As mentioned before F12K features all 17 tracks in the F1 Championship circuit, and all are authentically modeled. Also present is the full roster of F1 drivers and teams for the 2000 season.

The game also features four difficulty levels from 'Easy' to 'Expert,' and you can customize the length of races, the weather, as well as toggle on or off fuel usage, flags, tire wear, mechanical failures and damage. The menu screens are practically perfect, logically layed out and gorgeous; for example when selecting courses a small video of the particular course plays in the background.

Gameplay : 79
I'm usually more of a simulation fan when it comes to racing games, but at the same time I like arcade racers when they're done right, like Ridge Racer 4. What I don't really like, however, are games that try to sit on the fence between being a simulation or an arcade game. However, there are some exceptions such Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing. Codemasters' masterpiece sacrificed a small degree of realism in the physics department, while at the same time featured incredible feisty AI, tight control and that magnificent damage model. With F12K, EA Sports have tried to do the same, but ultimately they fail to get the mix quite right; the control and physics are far more lax than J&L's, while the AI isn't all that great either. As such, F12K suffers from an identity crisis, on one hand it wants so much to be the Grand Prix 3 of Playstation games, but on the other it wants to compete with Ridge Racer 4. In the end the game leans towards a shallow, short-lived, arcade-style experience which is an incredible shame considering the degree of presentation is far more deserving of a simulation game engine.

As with so many racing games the root of all evil is the physics engine and the handling. With F12K there are two major problems: tire grip and braking. I don't know what brand of tires are used on the cars in F12K but my word, they're incredible! So incredible in fact, that I can be approaching a turn at close to 200mph, slam on the insanely powerful brakes within 50 yards of the turn, and I won't skid in the slightest! Even in the rain, you need only another 20 or so yards of braking space and time to prevent skidding. Drive over some grass or gravel? No problem, you'll hardly notice a thing! Even driving over the curb has very little effect on the handling or the grip. To prevent you from racing around the track like a madman, EA Sports have implemented some fairly realistic tire wear, but even if you don't slam on the brakes at every turn they're still far too powerful. The increased grip means that you also have to be incredibly careless to spin out during dry conditions, while racing on a wet track the tires provide grip that somewhat approaches realistic dry levels. This takes a lot of the fun out of the game, as these are supposed to be some of the fastest, most powerful, cars on the planet, driven by the world's best drivers and you'd expect an F1 racing game to reflect that. Unfortunately, it seems exponentially harder to drive a Nissan Skyline around Trial Mountain in Gran Turismo than it is to drive Michael Schumacher's Ferrari around Interlagos.

The unrealistic braking also manifests itself in another negative aspect of F12K; the utterly insane lap times. On the hardest setting in the game (Expert) I was able to do a lap of Monza in just under 1 minute and 15 seconds, which is pretty darn good when you realize that the lap record is just over 1 minute and 21 seconds! So by beating the lap record by a staggering 6 seconds I'd be in pole position right? Wrong, I ended up finishing seventh! Mika Hakkinen won the pole with a staggering 1 minute and 13 seconds! The madness doesn't end there; I finished almost 8 seconds faster than the qualifying record for Monaco and ended up tenth on the starting grid! At the 'Expert' difficulty level the opposing drivers have ridiculously fast qualifying times on every track and it's a nightmare trying to qualify in the top 6. However, despite their amazing performances in qualifying, the AI drivers are pretty slow (and stupid) when it comes to the actual race. For example, just before I sat down to write this review I had a quick 4 lap race of the Spanish Grand Prix. I skipped qualifying so I started at the back of the grid in 22nd, but even on the 'Expert' difficulty level I was able to work my way to the front of the grid and won the race by two seconds in only four laps! Now that race was undoubtedly a lot of fun, but when a game allows you to do that on the hardest setting you know that replay value and overall challenge are going to problems. While the cpu drivers jockey for position amongst themselves they rarely put up a fight when you try to pass them, and the opposition drivers don't make use of the amazing tire grip so it's incredibly easy to just out-brake the driver in front of you and get ahead.

Fortunately, if you choose (as most will do) to race for 32 laps or even the actual number of laps in a course, the mechanical failures and tire wear make up for the poor driver AI and add some challenge to the game. Gearbox, engine and other mechanical failures can occur randomly during these longer races, and tire wear becomes a larger factor. More often than not you'll still end up winning the race, but at least the margin of victory is smaller and you'll have to work your way up the grid again once you leave the pits. It's not realistic, nor is it incredibly challenging, but it's still relatively fun.

The game's best aspects are definitely the Scenario and Training modes. The scenario mode is a blast, and since you always have the odds stacked against you with a damaged car, or poor positioning or low fuel levels, this makes the game a lot more challenging and rewarding. I also found the Training mode to be just as fun as many of the races, and those gamers who liked the challenge of getting all Gold licenses in Gran Turismo may enjoy trying to get perfect ratings in all categories for many of the courses which will take quite a while.

The game is a lot of fun, but the fun is over all too soon, and I'm certain that most gamers will be able to win the F1 Championship at even the Expert setting on their first try. Once you've done that there isn't much of an incentive to come back and do it again as you'll probably have broken each course's lap records by 5 to 10 seconds!

Replay Value : 60
The replay value all depends on whether or not you like the arcade-style racing; if so, then F12K will provide enough action to last a few weeks. However, ultimately F12K's purely arcade roots, and overly simplistic handling make it a shallow game that won't take very long to master. The Scenario and Training modes are both novel ideas and add longevity, but what should have been the real meat of the game; the Championship Season, can be won far too easily even on the hardest difficulty settings.

Overall : 79
It's a real disappointment that EA Sports went the arcade route on this one because Playstation F1 fans have been waiting for a true simulation of the sport. Yet, even as an arcade experience the game is held down by flaws in AI and handling. There's no question that F12K's presentation is top notch, and it's just frustrating to think that if some of the work put into the presentation had of been channeled into improving the physics and AI, then F12K could have been definitive console F1 simulation. The game still provides a lot of fun and excitement, but its low difficulty level means that the fun is over far too quickly. If you're an arcade racing fan I can recommend F12K as a solid purchase, but if you're an F1 aficionado and want a simulation you should look elsewhere.

By: Lavan Chandran 2/6/01



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