For the life of me, I can’t shake the image of the PS Vita version of Codemaster’s F1 2011 joining Dorothy and her gang of misfits on their journey to see the Wizard of Oz.
Where the Lion. Scarecrow and Tinman needed courage, a brain and a heart; F1 2011 desperately needed a soul.
For instance, F1 2011 barely uses any of the Vita’s functionality, and while you’d expect even the most basic attempts at utilising the touchscreen features (in the menus), the game merely smirks at you, while it taunts you with lacklustre visuals and mediocre sound effects. In fact, F1 2011 practically begs you to change the cockpit view (using a flick of your finger), and it literally screams “Please for the love of all that’s good, use the Vita’s touchscreen capabilities” during pitstops, but all is for nought, since these features only exist in your mind. It’s a design oversight that’s quite baffling, if not in the least frustrating.
You’d also think that the Vita version would have a near symbiotic relationship with the version on the Vita’s older brother (PS3), however it lacks the ability to transfer and use saves for true cross-platform play. You’re not even allowed to continue your PS3 career on your new PS Vita. The two versions merely stare each other with gaping mouths, while you awkwardly realise that the word “port” should be written on your gamebox.
But, all is not grim…. because, while F1 2011 drops the ball in terms of the Vita’s capabilities or even cross-platform mischief, it certainly makes up for the sheer amount of unlockables, races, cars and modes. In this sense, it might not be the prettiest Vita title out there, but it’s definitely the most content-filled. Not to mention, you get to drive “Kinky Kylie” (and nothing beats the sheer pleasure of lapping Jenson Button).
F1 2011 ships with a smörgåsbord of gameplay modes. These include a single player career mode, challenge mode, time trials, quick races and even a championship mode (an abridged career mode). The career mode puts you in the shoes of an aspiring Formula One driver, which means there are emails to wade through, constructors and racing teams to woo, and if you eventually sign up with a racing team there’s also an in-game calendar to consult for those big race days. Each of the big race day sessions offer qualifying sessions, practice runs and the option to tune up your race car. It gives a rare glimpse at the frantic nature of Formula One racing, and all in your pocket to boot. Generally this would be enough for any racing title, but F1 2011 throws in a dynamic weather system, which adds a little spice to the proceedings, because a little bit of rain adds a completely different dimension to racing.
In addition, F1 2011 seamlessly mixes the joy of casual arcade racing with the more theoretical pursuits of a simulator. There is freedom to play the game as you see fit, and it accommodates both the beginner and the hardened petrolhead. The game allows for numerous adjustments to gameplay, with the addition of a host of driving assists (all of which can be turned on or off). This means that the gameplay is scalable to fit your comfort levels, and if you require something more challenging, the option to add tyre wear or car damage is but a button away. There is also the option to tune your cars prior to a qualifying event or race (and there’s even a limited amount of car customisation). The tuning options are not as detailed as with the other versions of the game, but it certainly comes in handy, and it adds to the versatility of the title.
F1 2011 is not perfect, but Formula One fans will find themselves on cloud nine and while its approach is unequivocally “paint by numbers”; it’s still the best F1 racing game on the PS Vita. Granted, it’s the only F1 racing game on the platform, but let’s not get bogged down by semantics.
F1 2011 takes pole position in how it seamlessly blends arcade racing with simulation attributes, without bogging down the controls. In fact, the controls remain delightfully responsive. Veteran petrolheads can take pleasure in tuning their cars or challenging themselves by disabling all driving assists, while beginners and casual fans can live out their fantasies by taking a corner like Michael Schumacher.
Design and Presentation: 5/10
It’s hard not to be disappointed by the dull and uninspired visuals, or the fact that the Vita’s functionalities were squandered. If there was ever case to be made for a game desperately needing additional polish, look no further than F1 2011.
Even though this version of F1 2011 ships with less features than on the other consoles, the sheer amount of content (for a portable game) is breath-taking. The long career mode, quick races and challenges will keep even the most cynical gamer smiling for weeks. Not to mention, multiplayer adds longevity, provided you can find someone for an ad hoc game, or a race through PSN (SEN).
At the end of the day, F1 2011 offers a plethora of gameplay options. It doesn’t showcase the Vita’s capabilities (and the muddy “almost PSP-like” graphics are a turn-off), however it’s still a decent racing game, that will not only resonate with Formula One fans, but also casual racing fans. As a portable game, F1 2011 does just enough to keep itself in the good books, but if you’re left choosing between the full PS3 (or Xbox 360) version and the PS Vita version; you’d be better off investing in the former.