F1 Championship Season 2000 (PSX) Review
Presentation/Graphics : 89
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
Interface/Options : 90
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
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
Overall : 79