Licensed by the Formula One Administration Limited, EA Sports' F1 2002 features the sport's real-life teams and drivers racing around the tracks of the 2002 F1 circuit. The first game designed to represent the 2002 season, the game features the new Toyota F1 and Renault F1 teams in addition to all the returning favorites. This PC version of the title offers special features such as multiplayer racing, fully animated 22-man pit crews, and the option to use the state-of-the-art cockpit technology found in many real-life 2002 F1 machines. Race for the checkered flag with skill, strategy, and style.
There's nothing quite like the rush of burning simulated rubber. I suppose that's why there are more racing games around than you can shake a stick shift at. Of course, the spectrum for this genre is so broad that it has broken up into numerous sub-genres over time. On one end of the current spectrum are over-the-top arcade racers like Crazy Taxi, Midtown Madness, and Grand Theft Auto, in which the primary objectives tend to revolve around wreaking maximum havoc behind the wheel.
On the other end of the spectrum are meticulous simulations such as the Gran Turismo games and Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix line. In these games, smashing into the opposition is sourly frowned upon, and the ultimate objective is to become an ace driver capable of tweaking a car to perfection and truly paying your dues for first place status.
EA Sports' F1 2002 shares this latter objective, but has a more reasonable learning curve and a more initially arcade-like feel than one might expect from a Formula One racing simulator. It doesn't go so far as to reward poor driving, but there are enough drivers' aids features available to allow newbies a very smooth transition into what might otherwise be a very daunting game experience.
Of course, to those familiar with the F1 line, this is nothing to be particularly surprised about, even if this latest edition happens to be the best in the series (and it most certainly is). But for casual gamers seeking an introduction to the F1 realm, this one's for you.
For those itching to hit the tarmac without a fuss, it's possible to start a race within moments of first installing the game. The initial default settings are pretty forgiving and geared towards the likes of such impetuous gamers. Enter a name for your driver, click through the easy-to-navigate iconic menu to choose your car, driver, nationality, and desired track, and you'll be racing in next to no time (not counting the customary sluggish load times that are an irksome trademark of the EA Sports line).
The chances of coming in first place without getting considerably more involved in the particulars are next to nil, but you'll find that as you hug a curve, the car magically helps you along, slowing down a bit, even steering slightly on its own at times. Moreover, should you happen to plow through an opposing vehicle, you'll find that amid the explosive burst of broken axles and twisted metal, your own set of wheels remains perfectly intact. Should you happen to spin out and face the wrong direction following such a distraction, your vehicle will automatically reorient itself. This is a far cry from the overall scope of what this game has to offer, but it provides a reasonable segue between casual arcade racing and the more nuanced realm of hardcore F1 simulation.
Once you're ready to ditch KITT and turn professional, it's a good idea to read the straightforward "default controls" and "cockpit overview" sections of the instruction manual, then play a few rounds at the driving school, gradually toggling the assistance features off as your skills improve. Basic controls, from acceleration and general movement to gear shifting, can be handled with any standard joystick, gamepad, wheel controller, or keyboard. Force feedback support is also available, a first for this series, and a definite bonus for owners of the appropriate hardware. More advanced controls (such as sorting through various difficulty and display settings) are designated to the keyboard by default. There are far too many control features to detail here, and they are all well catalogued in the instruction manual. Advanced players will appreciate the option to adjust controller rates, which serves to fine-tune your controller's input sensitivity, making for a smoother, more intuitive racing experience.
The driving school serves as more than a simple tutorial session, as you'll be competing with your own best times from the get-go. Colored lines and flashing cones on the driving school circuit indicate the best paths, key braking points, and key acceleration points for each section of track. Should you happen to dramatically spin out or drive off course, you'll need to start your current lesson over from scratch. It's tough at first, but this is the best way to learn the differences between handling a hairpin turn and a double-apex corner without getting distracted by other drivers.
After you've completed a few lessons at the driving school, it's time to move on to the test day game mode. Once you've selected a circuit and weather conditions for this challenge, it's a good idea to start learning how to tweak your car in the vehicle setup area. Again, there are too many options to catalogue here (spanning eleven pages in the instruction manual), but the straightforward interface, which utilizes sliders to adjust everything from gearing ratios to springs and ride height, ultimately proves less daunting than it may appear at first glance. As you make adjustments, your estimated top speed, grip, and acceleration stats will alter accordingly onscreen. Spending a bit of trial-and-error time in this mode will make for a smooth transition into the race mode, which consists of four practice sessions, one qualifying round, one warm up round, and finally, a full-fledged race.
It is, of course, still possible to skip straight ahead to the race itself, bypassing all of the preparatory rounds. In fact, you can skip ahead to a championship season or multiplayer session (via LAN or Internet) if you feel up to the challenge. But easing into things is the best method for truly mastering a game of this nature. Tweaking your vehicle in accordance with the nuances of each track becomes as rewarding a challenge as racing itself, over time.
Those familiar with this series will be pleased by the improved framerates, enhanced graphics, wheel-to-wheel collisions, and more authentic feel of the cockpits, which are based on the actual cockpits of each and every team in the 2002 season. Advanced players of the obsessive variety will also enjoy the telemetry utility, which provides a thorough analysis of where you are gaining and losing time on any given lap, and why.
This is by far the best edition of a topnotch series, but there's still considerable room for improvement in a number of areas. The lackluster sound and weather effects are a mild disappointment. Crowds still appear as static pixelated blotches. Side-view mirrors do not accurately depict your full surroundings, rather opting to filter out details in a somewhat surreal fashion (pass a row of trees and you may see only track and sky in the side view mirror). Overall, the graphics are excellent, but they pale in comparison to Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4, which takes pains to be as breathtakingly photorealistic as possible.
Even with the reality settings on high, the physics are considerably unusual at times. On more than one occasion, I found that a high-speed crash resulted in a weird sort of suspended sequence of flipping over directly in place, as if a trans-dimensional vortex had been partially opened by the impact. Such effects are well suited to sci-fi racers, but prove irksome within the context of this otherwise solid simulation. One last minor grudge: competing vehicles vanish almost immediately after the impact of a collision. Perhaps this helps maintain a higher framerate, but it can give the game a cheap feel at times.
For fans of the EA Sports F1 series or newcomers looking for an enjoyable primer to the racing simulation experience, F1 2002 is a solid title well worth checking out.
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