These are wonderful times for racing-sim fans. Over the last two years, there have been top-notch simulations in nearly every category, from superbikes to road rallying to GT sports-car racing. EA Sports' new F1 2000 is another strong contender, and despite a few problems in the retail version, the game will doubtless achieve at least one goal: It will prove that EA Sports can produce a racing sim that's as realistic and exciting as the best racing games on the market.
But before you open up a new browser window and head to your favorite online store to buy a copy, you should bear in mind that the game does have a few potential problems, such as its steep system requirements. EA Sports recommendeds a 450MHz system with 128MB RAM, which is probably slightly higher than what the average consumer is using - but the harsh fact is that such hardware is only average according to F1 2000's internal rating system. What it all boils down to is that if you want to see this game in high resolution in its full glory, you'll need at least a 600MHz machine with a fast 3D accelerator. As such, you may find yourself gradually reducing the game's detail setting and even turning off the mirrors to get the smooth animation needed to drive an F1 2000 car at 200 miles per hour.
The good news is that some judicious tweaking can eventually provide a frame rate you can live with and also race with, provided you can avoid the maniac antics of the computer-controlled drivers who've apparently decided they're participating in Death Race 2000 instead. It's to be expected that most F1 crashes take place at the start of races, but at times F1 2000 feels too chaotic, especially when you check replays and see drivers viciously slamming into you when there's plenty of room for them to pass safely by. And earning the pole position is no guarantee of safety, because for some mysterious reason, the opposing cars tend to blow by you at mind-boggling speeds off the start line as you either spin out of control or are immediately hit by some crazed Frenchman.
Then again, no one said F1 was for wimps. And once you get adjusted to the bump-tap-crash tactics of the computer opponents, you can get set to enjoy the most exhaustively authentic F1 game currently available - at least as far as modern-day cars are concerned. Every track and driver from the 2000 season is available in F1 2000, though some tracks seem a bit narrower than they do on TV. F1 2000 lets you craft your own persona as you race for the championship, and its quick-race mode is a joy to use. You get to bypass qualifying and warm-ups, but you also have the ability to choose your start position, as well as head to the garage and fine-tune your car and even load a predefined setup based on your experiences in the game's test-day mode.
All 17 F1 circuits are available in any mode you race in, which gives you every opportunity to learn the distinct nuances of braking and shifting that separate winners from losers. The game's engine sounds are a bit tinny, though they do accurately reflect the location of vehicles screaming alongside you, and the game's garage setup options are about as extensive as you'll ever find in any racing game you can buy. They're not just for show, either: If you fiddle with tire pressures, gear ratios, differential lock, and dozens of other settings, you'll immediately feel the difference out on the track.
The 17 circuits include a track for every taste - Hockenheim for the speed freaks, Suzuka for the corner burners, Monza for the purists, and on and on. You can easily customize your controller for use with F1 2000, though activating force feedback seems to have a major impact on the game's frame rate. So aside from the overly aggressive computer opponents and the game's steep hardware requirements, about the only knock against F1 2000 is its lack of an online multiplayer matchup service, as the only way to hook up online is by exchanging IP addresses and hoping the lag isn't too bad. But a quick glance at the F1 2000 web site reveals that soon you'll be able to test your mettle on virtual courses against the times of real-life drivers at the most recent F1 events, so a dedicated matchmaking service can't be far behind.
As a company that many racing-sim fans didn't believe to be a serious contender, EA Sports has now proven it can run with the best on just about any circuit imaginable, thanks in large part to F1 2000. If your system can handle the game, then you'll find that it's one of the best F1 racing sims to date.