Official Formula 1 Racing is a game for any racing fan who wants to try something new. The depth in the game is outstanding. Hardcore racers will love being able to tweak everything from the type of tires on their cars to the height and type of the suspension to the racing strategy which will be employed come race day.
Every attempt has been made to recreate the F-1 experience. You get to run in a qualifying session, which determines your starting place, you can get in some practice time on the Thursday before the race, and can even take a helicopter ride over the track and have someone give you the scoop on its layout. The final option is really a sight to behold; it's fun just watching the 'copter fly over the tracks and looking at the little touches in this game.
Lankhor has really outdone itself in the graphics department. Every car is meticulously rendered, and you'll marvel at the way the sunlight dapples off it as you race. On the tracks that have trees, you can even ride in the shade and then emerge into the sun, with the reflections on the car changing accordingly. Everything else about the tracks looks impressive as well, from the crowds in the stands to your pit crew to the background scenery.
My only gripe is that the handling is a bit tricky, even in arcade mode with all the driving aids turned on. It's way too easy to spin out, which is frustrating. You'll get the hang of it after a few races, however, and if you're really daring you may want to turn off some of the aids and try playing in realistic mode. It's tough, but it really does give you the feel of actually racing a Formula 1 car; it's sort of like Pole Position times 1000.
Finally, the manual is well done. While many games ship with only a flimsy pamphlet, Official Formula One Racing has an exhaustive 102-page manual. Every nook and cranny of the game is explained, and there's a one-page overview about each track along with a picture of it.
In short, if you're a fan of racing games and want to try your hand at Formula 1 cars, give this one a whirl. It's definitely worth it.
Graphics: Exquisite details in the cars, the tracks, and everything else. A lot of care obviously went into this aspect of the game.
Sound: The race sounds are very realistic, although there isn't any memorable gaming music to speak of.
Enjoyment: I have to knock this category down a notch because of the difficult controls, but some may be more adept than I am at them.
Replay Value: Once you've played a season there isn't much else to do except play for the heck of it.
What makes Formula 1 so interesting to watch (and play) is the complicated dynamic of the formula cars and their relationship to the tracks. The fragile nature of the vehicles mean that a slight bump, squeal or error means disaster for the driver. Unlike stock car racing, which allows for a little bit of friction, Formula 1 demands perfection. That's exactly what makes creating a perfect Formula 1 sim so hard to accomplish-- if it's too easy to play, then it's not a true simulation. Then again, if you can't get past a lap without wanting to throw the keyboard out the nearest window, then the game hasn't pulled you in enough. Official Formula 1 Racing is the latest competitor in the world of racing sims, and though it tries to encapsulate the world of real-world racing, it doesn't seem to deliver enough of the package to please either the hardcore fans or casual gamers.
There are 16 official tracks to conquer from around the world, including the beautiful Monaco Grand Prix and an odd number from Germany which gives you a near oval track, with a crunched up set of corners to keep you busy. Racing options include Championship and Quick Race modes, as well as an Arcade option in case watching the world spin out of control ever time you touch grass isn't your thing. Unfortunately, the Championship mode never feels that separate from any of the other sub-modes, and you'll find that it ends up seeming more like a series of randomized single-levels than an epic battle for dominance. Still, you can select your team affiliation, and move on to the garage, where you'll be able to tweak (or not tweak) the car to your hearts content.
The garage allows you to set up how you want to customize your vehicle for each race, whether it's the brake ratio, the wings, or the suspension. Each track saves your player settings, so after a few races you can hopefully fine-tune your car to each track the way you like it. After moving through the maze-like set of options, setting up your race and configuring your car, you are now officially ready to race officially. Feeling official? Good, because you'll need a cool head if you're going to make it through a full circuit.
As the green lights hit, the game starts out strong. The cars look nice, if not a little rounded, and the sound effects are crisp and solid. The menu system has a nice thump-a-thump soundtrack, but the designers have decided to keep the in-game sound effects as real (and soundtrack free) as possible, and it shows. The layout of information is perfect, not taking up too much screen real estate while delivering the goods. You've got mph, gears, rpm, and car information located in the steering wheel, and a convenient graphic to the right which denotes how much you should start worrying about your tires, brakes, and engine. This comes in handy when making quick pit-stop decisions about what you need repaired, and what can wait until after the race.
With a steering wheel the game controlled smoothly, and didn't need much (if any) tweaking to get it running like butter on the raceway. Playing with a keyboard is a completely different story -- it's frustrating, it's awkward, and there's no such thing as slow. Like Joust, you'll have to do a lot of tapping to keep from completely losing control without a solid analog controller. This is a sim however, and I'm not offended by a detailed game requiring some detailed equipment to wrangle the action. Goodbye, keyboard.
Once you've gotten your grounding, that's just when you start to notice something strange... sure, it feels like 1999, but oddly enough it looks like 1995. Most of the scenery details are flat, and you can actually notice the pixels drawn into the grass, dirt, and raceway. Sure you can see your hands as you steer the steering wheel, but since when did they look so chunky? And why is the crowd so, so ant-like? Take a breath -- you're official, remember? Sure your front wheel just blew off and you're being attacked by giant yellow pixels every time it scrapes the ground, but this is about the race, not the scenery, isn't it?
Here's where the tragedy begins. Like I said earlier, the best part of watching Formula 1 (other than watching wheels fly into the audience at 150mph) is the intricate relationships between the cars and the track. Every vehicle has an agenda and a mission, and while they may be taking corners and curves in a nearly identical fashion, each driver has their own unique game plan. The drivers in OF1, however, race more like the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica than real humans. Don't even think about sneaking in to an existing line without facing some serious penalties. I played the Hungarian Grand Prix about twenty times, and each time the cars would take corners and position themselves in the same way every race. If you just happen to be next to a car when it decides it needs to take the left bank, then you'll be immediately slammed off the course, despite all logic. In the middle of the line, and going too slow? Don't worry -- the car behind will crush you into oblivion, despite the fact that they've ruined their own chances at success. None of the cars ever seem to try and stop you, beat you, or do anything other than follow their pre-designated paths. In my first race in Monaco, I was suddenly crammed in a traffic jam around the second corner. After an eternity of waiting, I switched the camera to helicopter mode only to find that everyone was stuck behind one car -- with the entire right side of the track open. Ug.
At times OF1 feels like a road-based version of Galaga, where the slightest error can mean sudden death. Touch another car and you'll feel the misery. That's fine. Formula 1 is about precision and perfection, and the game handles that well. Unfortunately, get stuck in a sand trap and you may be stuck for life spinning your tires aimlessly while your fellow competitors laugh with glee at your misery. I'm not talking about "hey everyone, I've crashed and I feel like an idiot," I'm talking "umm, the tires aren't doing anything... maybe I should go slow... or turn, or... restart." Sometimes you'll gas out of the grass to find yourself spinning like a top, without rhyme or reason -- and if you expect cars to get out of your way, don't. You're dead meat any time you make a mistake, and you might as well restart the race.
Official Formula 1 is in an odd position. The developer, Lankhor, has put a lot of effort into trying to create a hardcore sim for sim fans, but the AI and controls aren't realistic enough to warrant sim fans' praise. For more arcade-type gamers the racing is a frustrating affair, where you really do feel like you're racing in a real Formula 1 circuit -- only without the proper training. The Arcade mode doesn't help, as the physics become ludicrous (100 mph corners, car which ram you into the air like a football) and still don't stop the main frustration with the sim, the inevitable spin-out.
The game isn't horrible, but the controls cause for confusion, and the graphics go from great (the cars) to woefully outdated (the sparks). With so many racing titles competing for shelf space, Official Formula 1 Racing just doesn't stand out from the pack.
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