Formula 1 features the tracks, cars, advertising, and excitement from the 1996 Formula 1 season. Murray Walker provides the commentary in his unique style and players can choose from 35 fully customizble drivers before heading out onto one of the 17 tracks. Options include weather conditions, arcade or Grand Prix modes, car dynamics, skill level, and number of rounds. Players can also view the action from a number of view points, including above and behind the vehicle and TV-like presentation.
Formula 1 is Psygnosis' entry into Grand Prix simulation racing on the PC. How does it fare compared to the likes of Grand Prix II and Indy Car Racing II? Despite one major annoyance and one major omission, it's not all that bad. You get 17 tracks fully modeled after real world circuits, 35 drivers, and 13 teams also modeled after the real thing. Among the 17 circuits you will find enough variety, including track layouts for racing, and different surroundings for scenery, to keep you from getting bored of this title any time soon. You also get to choose between Arcade mode and Grand Prix mode with various levels of reality (difficulty) to choose from. You can go for a quick race, a full-blown Season of 17 races, or a "Ladder" option which puts you up against one other car for a series of 12 rounds. For a single race, you can select whether you race against one car or the full set. The one major omission in Formula 1 is multiplayer support. The odd thing is that when you are selecting your options for your race, the screen titles state "Single Player Race" as if there is a multiplayer option.
Formula 1 in arcade mode has to be the one of the funnest racing games I have played yet and is ultimately what makes this game great. The AI is challenging but not impossible, the sound is excellent and the graphics scroll smoothly. There is a good sense of speed and the AI keeps the suspense up. Oddly, though, the default view is like standing rather than sitting on the driver's seat, which I thought took away from the realism in the game. I almost gave Formula 1 a lower score because of this, but I accidentally found that I could change my view by pressing the bottom buttons on my SideWinder 3D pro. This functionality was nowhere to be found in the user's manual or the game interface itself (oops, someone messed up). I managed to find a view that worked particularly well for me, which was basically a road-hugging view from the nose of the car. For purists out there who want a truly seated view as in Indy Car Racing II, Psygnosis left it out for whatever bizarre reason.
The one major annoyance, I discovered, is a completely unforgivable reverse view that pops up every now and then while you are racing. Imagine being in fourth place, coming up to the top three on a tight curve, and the view changes to rear view only. You go smashing into the curve and end up falling back to 14th. Unforgivable -- and there is no way to turn this off. I don't know what it is with Psygnosis, but they always seem to manage to throw in something unbelievably irritating in their racing games. Yeah, reverse view might be kind of cool at certain times, but let us control that with a hat switch or some other key, or at least let us disable it. This irritation nearly ruined the whole game for me and cost this review score several points. One last thing I found kind of lame as far as realism goes is that you can actually bounce off other cars without damage in even the most realistic mode. No major accidents here as in Indy Car Racing II.
The graphics for Formula 1 are simply outstanding. This is a 3D accelerated game and it shows. All the scenery is true 3D and well detailed. There is absolutely no pixelation and at times your opponents will leave cool smoke trails that you can drive through. You will also find a good variety among the 17 tracks, including boats, tunnels, buildings, hills and the like.
Along with the good, there is always the bad. Fortunately, the bad in Formula 1, as far as the graphics are concerned, isn't too serious. The first thing I noticed was that although the colors and texture maps were gorgeous and vibrant, they were a little more on the arcade side than the realistic side. I liked it, but this will disappoint those of you looking for the utmost in realism. On this note, the asphalt didn't scroll as fast as it should have in my opinion, hampering the sense of speed found in, say, Indy Car Racing II. There was also a little clipping now and then, including "Goodyear" labels that floated on a plane apart from the tires rather than directly on them. This again was only a minor annoyance and didn't really detract from the game.
The audio in Formula 1 is outstanding as well. Microphones where attached to the racers, ensuring that you heard the real thing. Qsound Virtual Audio was used for surround sound. One thing I particularly liked is how the audio changed appropriately as you went through tunnels, realistically creating that echo effect. The music consisted of typical rocker pop as expected, and the announcer is "the legendary Murray Walker" who can be annoying at times, but can be turned off. Unfortunately, Walker will sometimes shout, "That was a close one!" or the like when you literally ram into someone, so his presence seemed to be there more for effect than realism.
Despite some major complaints, Formula 1 by Psygnosis ended up being a heck of a lot of fun for me. As a standalone arcade racer, the graphics and gameplay blow the competition away. The controls are solid and the frame rate on the low-end minimum requirements is more than passable, with all the graphics turned up. Unfortunately, the lack of multiplayer options and some minor annoyances, namely the rearview mode that comes up at the worst times possible, prevent this title from being truly exceptional. The reason I give Formula 1 an 80 out of 100 is because in the end, it is an extremely fun game to play.
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