Having already heard the chief game designer of F1 2011, Stephen Hood, talk up the game's focus on multiplayer, we've been curious to see the improvements for ourselves and check out the improved handling model. With the British Grand Prix taking place this weekend, there's no more fitting a track than Silverstone to go hands-on with the new two-player split-screen mode and 16-player online grand prix.
In addition to 16 online players, you have the option of adding eight additional AI-controlled cars to make up a full F1 grid. Before the start of a race, you can set up your assists such as braking and racing lines, as well as choose your preferred team to race as. There are also options for adjusting the performance of cars. You can choose to have each car perform identically--thereby levelling the playing field--or have each team's car perform as in real life, with tweaks and engine differences affecting speed.
Once you're in a race, you have further time to tweak your car in your garage, making adjustments to your tires, engine, or team strategy. After a brief drive down the pit lane, we made our way onto the grid. We chose to race as Ferrari, using a steering wheel setup that had been specially adjusted to mimic the feel of an F1 car. Racing on a full grid was an intimidating prospect, and indeed, the start of the race was complete chaos. Our competitors were all over the track, and trying to sneak up the grid from our starting position of sixth without hitting any other drivers was a near impossible task.
By the first corner, several cars had already spun out, giving us a chance to cut through on the inside and move up a few places. As the cars spread out, we were able to start working on our lap times, making use of a racing line overlay that let us know when to go heavy on the brakes and accelerate out of corners. Each of Silverstone's classic corners was instantly recognisable, from the gentle curve of Copse through to the steep angles of Club and Vale. We also experienced some significant improvements to the handling model, most noticeably with the car's suspension. It felt tighter, meaning it was less prone to suddenly spinning out when hitting a curb. There was also more feedback, allowing us to gain control of the car and keep it on the track, rather than being thrown off in an instant.
That's not to say keeping the car on the track was easy, and with all the assists off we found it difficult to get the car round corners. Those with real-life racing experience will find it an easier task, and it's a testament to the accuracy of the simulation that our competitors who were real-life racing drivers commented on how true to life the experience was. Our racing skills were somewhat less advanced, so we made do with playing on medium simulation settings, which still offered up a challenge but let us complete a lap without crashing off on corners.
Using a standard controller certainly results in a different experience, but not necessarily any better or worse than using a wheel. We tried out a split-screen race using a pad--racing split-screen felt as good as in our online race, though some concessions to the visuals have been made to accommodate, so you won't see reflections in the mirrors of the car, for instance.
We walked away from our demo impressed with the improvements Codemasters has made to the game. There was a noticeable improvement in the handling, meaning it felt better and more accurate. The multiplayer modes were fun too, and split-screen is a great option for those who have friends over to visit and just want to have a quick blast around a track. F1 2011 is due for release on September 23 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Look out for a full review from GameSpot soon.