I am a simple man. Give me a decent circuit, a good sense of speed, a believable enough simulation of a Formula 1 car, and a grand prix weekend’s complement of practice sessions, and I’m happy. F1 2009 does just that, so in terms of their first game with the license, it’s job done for Codemasters.
It’s to the game’s credit – and arguably my discredit – that I will gladly sit there and complete lap after lap after lap to get a circuit absolutely ingrained in my brain-space. I’ve not enjoyed just improving lap times this much since WaveRace 64. That probably says more about me than the game – it’s fair to say that I’m a motorsport man – but the fact remains.
The reason I enjoy it so very much is that it’s just hard enough – when played with the Wii remote and nunchuk, anyway. It feels better playing with a wheel – like you’re really throwing the car around the track – but it’s not as precise, and it’s tougher as a result. Which is a shame, but pretty much inevitable. It’s definitely playable with a wheel, but you’re at a disadvantage. And it gets a bit tiring on the arms, if you ask me.
Back to it being just hard enough. As is required these days, you can switch driver aids on and off at your whim, and vary the severity with which the rules of the sport are applied. That helps, obviously, but the key to the game is braking, and that’s bang on. If you get your braking right, the lap times tumble; get it a touch wrong, and you’re off the track. I don’t know whether it’s accurate or realistic, but it feels right.
For me, qualifying is the most enjoyable element of the game. The three-session format – the first two knock out five drivers each, leaving ten for the final shoot out – is great on TV, and equally suited to a game. Even against easier competition, the pressure to deliver a decent lap in each session is there, and when there’s traffic to contend with, it’s not a given.
Which brings me to my only vaguely serious complaint: the other drivers are faintly annoying. They aren’t desperately clever, make seemingly no effort to leave fair room for overtaking, and just get in the way a bit. It’s realistic that it should be tricky to overtake at some circuits, but it’s still frustrating.
Although not to the point that it spoils the game. Under that same category come the less-than-impressive graphics, and the slightly-too-often drops in frame rate. The compensation for those two niggles is the superb sense of speed.
The pedantic fan can easily pick holes too. Only the drivers who started the season are included, all the cars have KERS, blah blah blah. It doesn’t matter. What matter to me as a fan are the tracks, and they’re tremendously recreated. The likes of Spa are obviously classics, but more modern efforts like Istanbul have a lot to offer too. I’m not keen on Sepang, mind.
So maybe it won’t please some hardcore racing game fans, and some hardcore F1 fans. But for the general interest gamer, with a general interest in F1 – which is the sort of market the Wii excels in – it’s spot on. And I’m rather fond of it too.