One niche that is flooded with quality games, regardless of platform, seems to be Formula One racing games. So the arrival of Monaco Grand Prix begs the question: Why does the world need another F-1 simulation? The answers is a simple: Why not? The game has superb graphics, strong control, and an attention to realism that racing gearheads will appreciate.
It's hard for any F-1 game - this one included - to stand apart from the pack, since most games are bound by the conventions of the sport. It boasts 16 world tracks built to-scale, including Monaco, and every singleone looks unique, picture-perfect, and impressive. The silky frame rate helps hide barely noticeable instances of pop-up. Several racing camera views look cheesy, since the car fronts look like 2D cutouts, yet other views (such as the in-car view that shows the steering wheel, cockpit, and hands) look so sweet you may lose teeth. Added effects, such as the rain splashing off tires and lens flares add to the realism. But the game's realism gains most of its points in the racing modes, car modification, and physics. In addition to championship racing, this game has all the expected modes: arcade and simulation settings, practice and qualifying runs, a time attack, and a two-player split-screen duel. A unique bonus is a career mode, in which you take a driver through different teams to win a championship. Messing with the nine car-modification options is painless: A box shows the direct effects of each change on your car's performance, so you don't need to know the sport too deeply. The effects of car changes, which hint at the high quality of the game's physics model, make a marked difference on the track. You must treat your car gently and race smartly, as one mistake can end a race - this makes for nerve-racking, intense gameplay. Other aspects that bolster realism include weather changes that occur midway through a race, and the ability to race between 10 and 100 percent of actual race laps. If you're insane and want to take a stab at all 78 laps at Monaco, go ahead. In the end, this game gives racers a lot to do, so it requires a huge investment of time to master its ultra-realistic settings.
The computer AI plays smartly, if a bit defensively. In simulation mode, this AI fits perfectly into the game, since protecting a car is as vital as staying in first place. In easier arcade modes, when damage/penalties are off, the AI's defensive nature makes it vulnerable to cheap brushes and late-breaking cutoffs at no expense to you, which seems less than ideal. Some minor quibbles: First, the audio commentary is nonexistent, with only the sparse messages from the pit crew, a loud gear box, and crowd noise to entertain the ears. It wouldn't have hurt to have a snotty British commentator as an added option. Second, computer racers seem to switch automatically to rain-tire setups without pitting. This glitch gives them an unfair advantage when the weather turns sour halfway through a short race, since you must pit even though they don't have to.
The bar for F-1 games has been raised high in past years. Although Monaco Grand Prix may not push that bar much higher, it certainly has little trouble reaching it. For arcade players looking for a quick, dirty, one-night-stand racing game, this one may prove a shade too serious - but it can still satisfy. For simulation players looking for a long-term commitment of months, and perhaps years, add this puppy to the list of games that fulfill racing needs to the maximum.