F1 World Grand Prix was supposed to have been a US launch title for the Dreamcast, but countless development delays shifted its release to well into the second quarter of 2000. Thankfully, the time was wisely spent, as the shoddy racer from the DC Generations sampler disc is nowhere to be found. Instead, Video System has created a Formula 1 racing simulation that lives up to the reputation of the FIA World Championship.
F1 World Grand Prix focuses on the 1998 FIA Formula One Championship season. In the championship, single race, time-attack and versus modes, you can join one of 11 teams, such as McLaren, Ferrari, and Sauber. Within each team, there are two drivers to choose from, such as Jean Alesi and Michael Schumacher, and there are 22 drivers in all. The game also boasts 16 real-world racing circuits, such as Albert Park in Australia and Germany's Hockenheim. Once you've decided how to tackle the game, you can choose a variety of racing options. Simulation buffs can adjust weather, car damage, and nine categories of car modification for best results. Arcade lovers out there can adjust CPU difficulty, steering assistance, and a plethora of other realism controls, making the game accessible to veterans and neophytes alike.
The gameplay itself is extremely realistic. With car damage disabled, navigating the twists and turns of each course is as simple as careful braking and acceleration. When car damage is enabled though, watch out, as pushing past 100mph through a slippery curve is a one-way ticket to DNF (did not finish). As far as F1 games go, F1 World Grand Prix exhibits nearly unmatched physics and gameplay. Cars really do handle differently on grass and asphalt than they do on pavement. Skilled braking is required, and riding the wall is not a tactic that will win the race. At times, the CPU AI is questionable, and crashes don't pan out the way one thinks they should, but the game is as close as a $200 console is going to get to a $1,000 F1 car.
Racing fanatics love gameplay, but don't be fooled - it's the eye candy that suckers them in. As far as F1 WGP goes, courses are vibrant and detailed, with real-life landmarks and weather imparting the feeling that you really are in the cockpit. Car models are extremely detailed, and they react in such a way that they don't have that pasted-in look that some games (Driving Emotion Type-S) exhibit. Switch to the second or third inside-the-car view, and watch the Goodyear logo spin on the tires or the rain reflect off the mirrors, and you'll get some idea of the level of realism F1 WGP achieves. All of this comes at a cost however, and that cost is fluidity. With no weather and no opponents, the game has a decent frame rate. However, take a corner with another car, or race during a rain shower, and you'll find yourself in a choppy mess.
Fortunately, F1's sound is pretty good. The soundtrack, while lacking in variety, offers a decent selection of soothing New Age techno. Pit-crew radio and PA-announcer snippets lend a complimentary flair of amusing reality to the situation, and the never-ending variety of engine noises and car sounds make it almost possible to feel the real racing situation. More excitement would have been nice, but the auditory experience is decent nevertheless.
Though the development delays were annoying, Video System took a stinker of a game and did its best with it, and it succeeded. The game plays perfectly, and the real-world license lends it a measure of credibility. If the game's release had been more timely and the frame rate problems minimized, it might have been a Spring blockbuster. Unfortunately, these flaws are all too real, and while the game contains a near-perfect F1 simulation, one has to look past the gripes to enjoy it.