Formula One games have been an acquired taste in the past due to their steep learning curve. Developers have tried to tone down the customization and detail-oriented controls, but this always causes F1 fans to cry foul. Sony's European branch has designed Formula One 2001 for the PlayStation 2 to be a compromise between the two camps by including a user-friendly control interface while packing the game with a wealth of attributes to fiddle with. If it weren't for a few technical shortcomings, Formula One 2001 would be the definitive F1 game on the PlayStation 2.
With the complete F1 license in tow, Formula One 2001 has all the trimmings any hard-core F1 fan could ask for. All 11 teams have been included in the game, as well as two drivers for each car, for a total of 22. All 17 official circuits have been included as well. There are four main gameplay modes included in Formula One 2001. You can test adjustments to your car in the test-drive mode, jump straight to the track for two-player multiplayer races in the single-race option, challenge your best lap times in time attack, and rip through the F1 circuit in championship mode in four different difficulty settings. In any mode, you can tweak your car in a multitude of ways to alter its performance. You can adjust wheel camber, tires, gear ratio, brake balance, fuel load, aerodynamics, and much more. Changing something as simple as the fuel load makes a big difference in how your car handles on the track. It can be extremely rewarding to cut an extra second off your lap times simply by adjusting your car's attributes. For those who like to keep the simulation elements to a minimum, you can toggle elements like fuel usage, tire wear, and damage. Even with the damage setting turned on, it takes several wrecks before your car's performance drops.
While Formula One races are normally quite lengthy, you can adjust the lap percentage so that each race is around 15 laps. Granted, this isn't the usual three-lap races most are used to in other driving games, but you'll need the first 10 laps to fight your way to the front, anyway. You can make controlling your car as in-depth as you choose. A helpful driver-assist option will alert you to coming turns, and you can choose between manual and automatic transmission to suit your skill level. The first lap around the track for most players will be an exercise in frustration. It can take quite a while to come to grips with the braking and acceleration unique to each car. But by the middle of your first 17-lap race the controls will start to become second nature, and you'll be negotiating hairpin turns and carving a smooth line through S turns. In the championship mode you have the option of practicing as much as you like before attempting to qualify and claim your spot in the starting grid. Out on the course, you have to jockey with 22 other cars in each race, which can seem daunting at first. But Formula One 2001's gameplay problems help to make the game easier. Computer-controlled cars tend to take the corners extremely slowly, so it's often easy to careen into a corner, bank off another car, and go on your way. F1 fans will undoubtedly find this to be unrealistic, but casual fans of driving games will enjoy the chance to swap paint in an otherwise sterile racing game. The major problem with the gameplay is that you can often take your car off-road and gain several places in the standings. Each track has at least one section where heading off the asphalt effectively eliminates a series of turns. Going off-road in a real F1 car would likely damage the undercarriage, but in Formula One 2001 it's a viable tactic for moving up in the leader board. Even if your car does become damaged, its performance rarely is hampered enough to warrant a pit stop. If you've invested in a Logitech Wheel for Gran Turismo 3, you can use the same wheel to play Formula One 2001.
Creating graphics for a Formula One game is no easy task. With 22 cars onscreen at once, expansive tracks, and a great number of off-track objects, there are a lot of polygons for the hardware to push. Formula One 2001 is an excellent example of this issue. The cars look great except that the decals and other logos littering their bodies have been removed, making it impossible to tell one car from another. The sprawling tracks have some problems with draw-in during especially long straightaways, and the off-track detail is considerably low for grandstands, buildings, and trees. There are five different weather settings included in the game, and Formula One 2001 looks its best when cars are kicking up trails of water during rainstorms. There are a number of details that aid in making the game immersive, such as grass congregating on tires, particle effects for smoke during spinouts, and real-time reflections both on the bodies of the cars and in their rear view mirrors. There are three different camera angles to choose from, including a first-person view, a cockpit view replete with the bobbing head of the driver, and a traditional view that shows the entire car. The main issue with Formula One 2001's graphics, outside of the lack of off-track detail, is the frame rate. The game will sometimes slow to a crawl when several cars are onscreen at once, and some tracks with a great deal of off-track geometry border on unplayable. The sense of speed is seriously hampered by the erratic frame rates as well--going 150mph often feels more like 45mph. While by no means ugly, Formula One 2001's graphics fail to impress. The cars look fine, but the tracks and the environments surrounding them often look the same due to repeated textures. There are a few nice touches that can be discovered after extended play, but nothing that hasn't been done in F1 games before.
If you've ever been to a live F1 race and forgotten earplugs, chances are you were hanging out by the concession stand before the fifth lap. The cars are loud, but this never really comes through in Formula One 2001. They have the telltale whine that most are familiar with, but the way the car sounds are mixed with the other aural elements makes them seem muted. The announcer is awful. His statements repeat constantly, and he says the drivers' names in such a deadpan manner that when the computer puts all the samples together to form a sentence, it sounds hilarious. The lack of chatter from your pit crew also makes playing Formula One 2001 seem like a solitary experience most of the time. They'll jump in with a snide remark before beginning the final lap, but that's about it. The soundtrack is composed of progressive house. While it doesn't necessarily fit the game all that well, it's good nevertheless.
If you're looking for an F1 game for your PlayStation 2, you would do well to give Formula One 2001 a look. It's not the most visually astounding game, but it finds middle ground between being a rigid sim and a strap-in-and-stomp-it arcade racer. The wealth of customizable options combined with a tight, user-friendly control scheme result in an F1 game that will appeal to more than just gearheads. But the game's several gameplay quirks ensure that it falls short of perfection.