Formula One 99 is the fourth installment in Psygnosis' FIA-licensed, Formula One series. All the racing teams, drivers, cars, and technical specs have been updated to match changes in the real world of Formula One racing. Even the newly constructed (as of 1999) Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has been added to the season.
Players may choose to participate in a Quick Race, an arcade-style game, a Grand Prix, which is a racing simulator, and various two-player racing options. In Quick Race, there is no concern for fuel, damage, pits or penalties. Select a track, set up race options such as weather, and go.
Players can choose to set a number of realistic details to affect racing. They may choose to play with pitting, fuel usage, tire wear, damage, and variable weather. Players may also modify their cars to suit the appropriate weather and track styles.
During a race, players must pay attention to flags that will be displayed by track marshals to indicate various race factors. Black flags indicate a driver has received a time penalty or has been disqualified from the race. A blue flag indicates a driver is about to be overtaken by a faster car and must allow that car to pass. A yellow flag warns of danger on the track ahead, and of course the checkered flag indicates victory.
After each race, points are awarded to the top six finishing cars to contribute to their overall season standings. Players may save their games between races.
Perhaps in an effort to establish proof positive that all the licenses and famous faces in the world still can't guarantee a good game, Formula One 99 snuck out of Psygnosis' offices in the dead of night and somehow ended up on PC retailer shelves. At least, that's how I hope it happened. Because if this was released on purpose, I'm a little ashamed of the boys and girls responsible.
Starting off on a lighter note, Formula One 99 definitely contains the aforementioned licenses, tracks, and famous competitors from the world of F1 racing. As a matter of fact, the 16 circuits in the title are littered with the names and logos of everybody who's anybody in the racing universe. Sadly, the amount of attention focused into gathering these juicy tidbits and incorporating all of the tracks into the game did not carry over to the rest of the program.
Though the print manual is adequate enough, everything seems to start rolling downhill from there. The beginning cinematic is laden with pixelated cars, odd lighting effects, and overly excited music for what is being shown. Once past this, we arrive at the opening menu screen. Shown in an attractive display of such colors as "black" and "white", the simplistic interface appears to have been thrown together at the last minute. Navigating through the menus is easy enough, but with no background music, and rarely anything else happening on the screen during the process, gamers may begin wondering exactly how much time was really put into this game. That thought will continue to develop as you move further....
Choosing Quick Race from the main menu (the other choices being Grand Prix and Multiplayer), gamers are then dumped into a secondary option screen where everything about their racing experience can be customized. Players can choose which track to race on, weather conditions, driver, and other such mundane attributes. Curiously enough, this menu is exactly the same one that players are brought to when choosing the Grand Prix option from the main menu. Therefore, in a fascinating display of redundant choices, players can begin a Grand Prix game in the same amount of time it takes to start a "Quick Race". Nice.
Before starting any race (once again, Quick or GP), players must first run a qualifying lap to determine what their pole position will be when the real action begins. It is here that gamers will first begin to notice some of the real flaws that existed on this disc when it crept out the door. From the beginning, players will feel cheated when viewing the drab colors presented on the cars, and the blocky "audience" gracing the sidelines. Stepping on the gas for the first time, you'll detect the car picking up speed rather quickly, as it most definitely should. However, what you may not realize is that the car slows down almost as fast as it accelerates. The game manual stipulates that "...the most astonishing thing about a Formula One car is the power of its brakes." This is no understatement since it appears that these miraculous devices actually function without having to be pressed at all. If under 75mph or so, the car will come to a dead halt within a few seconds of releasing the gas. Going faster only requires a bit of planning ahead, since the physics model seems to have nearly no accurate representation of how long one of these machines should coast. If you're wondering what happens if the brakes are actually applied, I recommend trying it out in a race that really doesn't matter to you that much. At speeds over about 150mph, simply looking at the brakes the wrong way will send your car spinning off into the grassy knoll, and believe me when I say that the race is practically over at that point. Navigating back onto the track from the "rough" areas is a true exercise in patience, as the press of a single steering button is interpreted by the engine as "I'd like to drive in a circle now."
In a sad twist, driving around the asphalt portion of the track is just about as taxing as traversing the gravel fields of death. Since the settings for either keyboard or joystick control allows for absolutely no play between "straight" and "turn", users of these devices will most likely be uninstalling within the next half hour. The use of a wheel somewhat alleviates this deficiency, but not by much. A single frame of animation is all that separates you from barreling down a straight-away or suicide turning into the stands, so be prepared to exercise skills in patience. Also, if you're a fan of the manual transmission, be sure keep in mind that the keys for upshifting and downshifting have been transposed for your inconvenience. Enjoy.
After racing around your track of choice in the qualifying run, you'll take up position in the actual race among 21 computer-controlled competitors. Formula One 99 takes an interesting approach to beginning races, opting to do it twice per event. Sound odd? Well, it should. Soon after reaching the start screen, the camera switches to a separate angle, and you see the racing field begin to tear off down the track. A split second later, the camera returns to its usual "behind the car" view, all cars are back where they were, and the lights begin counting down to when you'll actually be leaving the start line. Fear not though, you don't even have to perform a legal start (twice) if you don't feel like it. Stepping on the gas at any time during the countdown will not result in a penalty, but instead will actually begin the race. Who needs that "realism" stuff anyway?
Continuing our trip through racing purgatory, we now look to the AI controlled opponents on the track. As seems to be the case with many sub-par racing titles, these guys drive around the path as if they are attached to it. No speed is too fast to pull a hairpin turn, and no amount of tire rubbing will send them careening off the track. In fact, an all out slam into the side of their vehicle only results in an inappropriate "thunk" and a fascinating burst of speed for the afflicted car. On any track with more than three turns which require you to slow down, it seems nigh impossible to come away with the trophy. Again, a steering wheel removes some of the pain you'll have to endure while trying to control your racer, but the chaotic intellect and 23rd century engineering of your competition will still most likely leave you back in the garage feeling wholly inadequate.
In a final, dismal attempt to unearth a nugget of intrigue from this sucker, I decided to take a trip down the pit area in the wrong direction...at 200 mph. I sped happily along, watching my position in the race fall catastrophically low, knowing full well that I would be doing no better if out on the track with the other drivers. It was actually a rather exhilarating experience, serving to release some of the tension caused by the rest of my time on the circuit. However, that all came to a screeching halt when the wrong way indicator flopped up onto the screen a full 10 seconds after proceeding in that direction. C'mon, ten seconds? Gee, it's nice to know that after my inevitable spin I can continue onward confident in the fact that I'll probably be blazing dead into the face of my opponents a few moments later.
Essentially, this game is a good idea gone horribly wrong. The amount of mistakes present here is bad enough. When laid next to the raw frustration caused by the control interface though, things start to get pretty much inexcusable.
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