On the track, the already incredible racing experience of last year's installment, F1 2002, is incrementally better this time around.
When EA Sports' F1 series first bounded into our consciousness in 2000, it appeared as a thrilling and exacting, but somewhat flawed, strike at the reigning Formula 1 champs in Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix and Ubisoft's superb Monaco Grand Prix II. In the three short years since, developer Image Space Incorporated has tweaked the game through three revisions, the most recent of which drove this series to the top of the open-wheeled racing genre. Surely something even more exciting would arrive in the next edition. And it has, in the form of F1 Challenge '99-'02. Sadly, this excitement is somewhat tainted. Firstly, though the game is a grandiose and stunningly gorgeous affair that builds upon its already strong base by combining all four seasons from 1999 to 2002 into one neat package, it is not the huge face-lift some were expecting. Nor does it even brush upon the most recent season, 2003. Furthermore, there's little doubt that it feels like a backward-looking wrap-up--a parting shot--to a series that has unfortunately come to its fruition. And that's because it has.
Indeed, F1 Challenge is to be the final installment of this superb franchise. Whether it is resurrected in the distant future is anyone's guess, but it is most assuredly gone for some time to come. According to EA, "The license was up, and we chose not to renew." According to its growing fan base, which has come to view F1 as the most authentic depiction of open-wheeled racing on any gaming platform--and leagues ahead of anything played on a console system--the end came far too soon. The good news is that EA and Image Space have given us a really big finale that is already the subject of numerous third-party modifications.
F1 Challenge begins humbly, with a simple interface sporting a simple request to login with your chosen player ID. It then expands exponentially from there. Once you've entered your ID, which, thankfully, allows you to race as yourself rather than one of the game's 34 real-life F1 pilots, you have a big decision to make. Namely, you have to decide which of the last four seasons, excluding 2003, you wish to enter. To the uneducated driver, four separate seasons--each with many of the same venues and many of the same drivers, teams and cars--would mean very little. But the seasoned pro knows differently. Image Space has done a nice job in this respect, developing a unique set of parameters for each year. If a circuit has been altered, dropped, or added in the real world during those years (Hello, Indianapolis!), such changes are reflected in the game. If a driver has changed teams or a team changed sponsors or colors, you'll see it.
When you create your ID, you'll also be asked to choose a nationality, a team, and a car in which to drive. The latter is quite important, as a fast, capable machine in the real world is also just that within the game. This means by selecting something like an also-ran British American Racing entry, you'll have to perform at an even higher level if you hope to dislodge the Ferraris and McLarens from their typical podium positions.
Once through the opening rigmarole, you needn't revisit it unless you want to change teams or seasons. In the meantime, you'll want to do some driving. F1 Challenge offers a variety of choices, including single races, test days, and full season-long championships; the latter of which incorporates every test, qualifying, and warm-up session you'd find at a real F1 event. Unfortunately, EA decided to drop its informative driving school component, which certainly makes the game a more difficult proposal for newcomers. What's worse for returning veterans is the continuing exclusion of a career. Seeing that this is the grand finale of the series and an examination of four full seasons, a career or even a chance to do a little sponsorship hunting and business wheeling and dealing would seem like a natural fit. Too bad EA didn't see it that way. In F1 Challenge, you can't even campaign the four championships concurrently without starting freshly on each given season. Nor can you build a custom season or undertake a second championship without first ending your current championship.
On the track, the already incredible racing experience of last year's installment, F1 2002, is incrementally better this time around. It should be noted that the game sports no dramatic enhancements, just a few key improvements here and there to further increase the sense of authenticity. From a visual standpoint, F1 continues to excel, delivering the finest, most painstakingly detailed representation of open-wheeled racing cars of any game past or present. Each of the game's 44 vehicles is purportedly modeled to perfection, right on down to every aerodynamic nuance and sponsor decal--and they certainly look it. Only slightly less impressive are the game's incredible lighting effects, which are seemingly picture-perfect from any perspective. Certainly, for believable three-dimensional virtual racecars, you can't currently do any better. As a bonus, Image Space has apparently fiddled slightly with the graphics engine to produce a more fluid frame rate, even at comparatively high levels of detail.
Vehicular damage is a slightly different story. Though suspensions may bend and tires and wings may detach, F1 Challenge cars never display the raw, ragged effects of collisions. When a chassis takes a beating, it doesn't crumple as it would in real life. When two or three cars come together in an accidental mass, there are few flames and very little of the smoke that accompanies serious real-world contact. And when a part separates, it never, ever remains on the track long enough to harm another car. It simply disappears instead.
Conversely, tire smoke is billowy, translucent, and dead-on perfect. Skid marks and offtrack tire indentations are convincing and permanent. Track textures are meticulously and grittily depicted, thus enhancing the game's already awesome sense of speed. Bumps and dips in the track can be seen and felt, bouncing your car about like the fragile piece of technology it is. Motion-captured pit crews and scantily clad grid girls add a human touch to the ambience, and the skies above are now alive with distant aircraft and hovering helicopters. Away from the track, the menu interfaces are polished and much more professional than ever before, though they still rely on cryptic icons that may confuse newbies.
- Player Reviews: 6
- Game Universe:
- F1 2000 (PC, PS),
- F1 Championship Season 2000 (PS2, PC, PS, GBC, MAC),
- F1 2001 (PS2, XBOX, PC),
- F1 2002 (GC, PC, PS2, XBOX, GBA),
- F1 Career Challenge (PS2, XBOX, GC),
- F1 2011 (X360, PS3, PC, 3DS, VITA),
- F1 Racing Championship 2 (PS2, GBC, PC),
- F1 Challenge '99-'02 (PC),
- Ferrari Formula One (C64, ST, PC)
- Online Modes:
- Number of Players: