Friday, December 5, 2008



Given how long it had been since the last Formula One game was released in the United States, many felt that Formula One Championship Edition would never see the light of day in North America. Perhaps it's just here because the PlayStation 3 needed some original content, but regardless of the reason, Formula One CE has now been released in the US, and the PlayStation 3 is better for it. The touted rearview-mirror feature didn't make it into the final game, but the visuals look great and the gameplay is quite good.

Rather than focusing on the upcoming season, Formula One CE lets you relive the 2006 FIA Formula One Championship. All of the official tracks and teams are included, as are the drivers that started the season. That means that retired great Michael Schumacher is still winning races for Ferrari. It also means that even though he left midseason to drive for NASCAR, Juan Montoya is behind the wheel for McLaren, and though he actually had his license revoked by the FIA, Yuji Ide drives for Super Aguri. People that don't follow Formula One may not mind the dated roster, but with the game being released so close to the start of the 2007 season, fans hoping for the latest rosters will be let down.

Knowing that it had been a long time since an F1 game was released stateside, developer Liverpool Studios did a nice job ensuring the game would be accessible to someone with little or no knowledge of Formula One racing. The game defaults to the easy setting with the full complement of driving assists turned on. Stability control, braking and steering assistance, spin recovery, and even a virtual racing line that shows the ideal path around the track are all available to ease you into the world of F1. Should you prefer to focus solely on getting around the track, you can turn off pit stops and car damage. As you get more comfortable with the controls, you can turn off individual assists, which makes the game more realistic and challenging. The controls are simple and responsive, which is a must in a game that demands precision at all times. If you like, you can use the Sixaxis tilt controls to steer by turning the controller in the direction of your turn. This method works OK, but it isn't always as responsive as the analog control. Several Logitech racing wheels are supported, as well, and they work fine, though none of them offer any sort of force feedback.

Basic game modes include quick race, time trial, grand-prix weekend, online, world championship, and career. Online play lets up to 11 people race at once; you can even round out the field with computer-controlled drivers. It would have been nice if online leagues were supported, but the online play that is here runs great and is easy to use and set up. If you're looking for a little more depth, you can take an established driver through a year on the circuit in world-championship mode.

You can also embark on a five-year career with a created driver. Like many aspects of the game, career mode is simple enough that beginners can figure it out while still offering enough options to satisfy series veterans. You'll start as a driver without a team, and your agent books trials with lower-tier teams in need of a driver. If you perform well enough, you'll be offered a position as either a primary driver or a test driver. You can accept the team's offer or try your luck with any other team that may be interested in your services. Gearheads may enjoy being a test driver, but running solo laps against the clock isn't very exciting and the lap requirements are often pretty tough to meet. Once you've come to an agreement with a team to be the primary driver, you're given a series of goals for the season, such as average starting and finishing position, as well as where the team would like to finish in the Constructor's Championship. Your team and agent will keep you informed of your standing by e-mail, while series news is distributed via fake, but well-written, news articles. You can find out who is the favorite coming into a race, read about the race results, and keep an eye on what other drivers are up to.

Once you've gotten the business aspect of racing out of the way, it's time to head to the track. When you select the start grand prix option from the career mode's main screen, you're given the option of participating in "race car evolution." Here, you drive around the track, the CPU makes adjustments to your car, and then you drive another lap to see how the changes affect your car. You can still make changes on your own, and you don't have to do test laps, but this is a great way for beginners to get to know how different settings can change a car's performance. Once your car is set up how you like it, it's time to qualify for the race. Qualifying is broken into three sessions. Every car must complete one lap during a 15-minute session, and at the end of the session the slowest six cars are placed at the back of the field. The next session fills the next six spots, with the final session completing the field and deciding pole position. In theory, you only have to complete one lap for each session, but because starting position is so vital, you'll want to complete as many laps as it takes to earn a position near the front of the grid. Qualifying this way is fun, but between testing your car and qualifying, it often feels as if you're doing more practicing than racing. That may be how it is in real life, but real life isn't always fun, and neither is practicing all the time.