LOS ANGELES--At the end of Sony's pre-E3 conference earlier today we had an opportunity to get our hands on no fewer than eight PlayStation 3 games, one of which was Formula One 06. Also in development for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, Formula One 06 is a fully licensed re-creation of the popular open-wheeled sport that boasts all of the official teams, drivers, cars, circuits, and rules that you'd expect. The few laps of Monza that we got to drive during our time with the game were enough to convince us that the game will be both accessible and realistic, but the really exciting stuff came from our subsequent conversations with members of the Studio Liverpool development team.
If you're wondering how a Formula One game can possibly be both accessible and realistic, the answer is simply that there are a number of driving aids that you can switch on and off at any time via the pause menu. The first thing that we did after picking up the incredibly sensitive PS3 controller and getting a great start off the line was to accelerate past a corner and subsequently end up with our car's nose pointing at the oncoming traffic after a clumsy attempt to rejoin the race. Not wishing to embarrass ourselves any further, we opted to race our first two laps with the "assisted braking" option turned on, which not only gave us an opportunity to learn the circuit in a relatively incident-free fashion, but also saw us overtaking a few of the drivers who were skilled enough to take advantage of our earlier mishap. The CPU drivers that we were up against on this occasion weren't particularly good at defending their positions when we moved to overtake them. However, we were almost certainly playing the game on one of its easiest difficulty settings, and the overtaking maneuvers were still very satisfying because they worked only when we chose the right moment to execute them, and so they felt realistic as a result.
Adding to the realism of the Formula One 06 experience, at least as far as Studio Liverpool's plans for the game are concerned, will be an option to download real-life race weekend information as and when it happens. You'll be able to compare your practice and qualification times to those of real drivers, for example, and then you'll be able to start the race proper on the same grid and in the same weather conditions as the guys doing it for real. Other features planned for the game include parade laps, realistic damage, changing weather conditions, CPU drivers having accidents as a result of your applying pressure, and safety cars coming into play after serious incidents. A career mode in which you start out as a test driver was also mentioned briefly, though no details were forthcoming.
The most impressive, though not necessarily practical, feature of today's Formula One 06 stage demonstration was undoubtedly the ability to use your PSP as a wing mirror. You'll need to stick your handheld onto the side of your TV for this to work, of course, but Studio Liverpool seems convinced that the idea is much more than a gimmick, and they shared some even more ambitious PSP connectivity plans with us when we spoke. For starters, you won't be limited to one PSP wing mirror when playing the PS3 version of Formula One 06--you'll be able to stick handhelds on both sides of the TV. Furthermore, Studio Liverpool has been playing around with a three-PSP setup that sees the third handheld being used to display all of the same telemetry data that a real driver would find on his steering wheel. But wait, there's more.
Up to 22 players will be able to race each other online in the PS3 version of Formula One 06, and it's hoped that PS3 racers will be able to line up on the grid alongside players using the PSP and PS2 games of the same name. The impression we got during our conversation was that PSP and PS2 racers will definitely be able to compete with each other (though not 22 at a time), but because the PS3 version boasts additional features, it might end up missing out on the party. If the PS3 version were made compatible with the other games, it would require racers on the new console to do without some of their game's next-gen features (such as the realistic damage modeling) so that none of the players have an advantage because of their choice of console. We'll bring you more information on this and Formula One 06's other features as soon as it becomes available.