F1 2002 Review
By Jeremy Vancleave |
Image Space put itself on the map with Sportscar GT, and since then they've been churning out the annual hardcore F1 simulations for EA Sports. It was a bit of a rough start, requiring substantial hardware to run and lacking in some key elements, but it was a solid physics engine that ISI has been able to build on for the last couple of years.
The two audiences for this review are those that have a previous version of their F1 sim, and those that are new to it. If you are wondering whether to upgrade, the immediate answer I would give is that if you like the one you have, I believe you should most definitely upgrade.
For this version, we've gotten ridiculously detailed telemetry, several more setup options, a hidden high fidelity physics model which can be enabled with a tweak to a configuration file, long replays, updated teams, drivers and tracks, and most notably, the drastic changes to the Nurburgring and Hockenheim circuits (these modifications are unique to the PC version, as the console versions sport the old tracks). These changes alone will give you a lot more to work with than the version you have, so assuming you want to continue with the logical evolution of the title, this upgrade is for you.
However, if you do not already own an EA F1 title, think carefully about the other games you like before you buy this one. Do you own and enjoy Grand Prix Legends or Papyrus' NASCAR series? If so, you are probably in the right market for this one. Outside of these titles, this the overall most complete physics model I've seen in a racing simulation. That is good news and bad news. The bad news is that if you're a casual arcade player, it's easy to get overwhelmed. However, EA Sports has not forgotten about you. Many assists and setup aids were put in the game to make it fun for anyone to race with, provided they have the patience to learn the tracks and race at whatever level of skill they possess.
But let's first look at the presentation of the title. The game doesn't look substantially different from previous versions. The game still sports very nice car models and track layouts. The tracks stand out as excellent not so much for accuracy (they are fairly accurate for the most part, but I'm sure some people who look closely will spot flaws), but for the bumpiness of the track and the way it interacts with the car. The bump coming down from Casino at Monaco is bad enough it'll launch your car, and you will probably want to drive around it, as real F1 drivers do. Going up the hill at high speed at Suzuka starts out smooth but gets bumpier as you gain speed. Force Feedback wheels really transmit this to you, so the circuits not only look great, but what you see is what you feel.
The graphics are indeed excellent, as you'll see from the screenshots, which don't do the game justice, because watching the cars in motion is so much better. One gripe I have with the graphics is the rain effects, they just aren't great. Even in monsoon conditions there is little plume of spray behind the cars, and the pavement doesn't exist the same pools of water and drying areas that were present in games like Grand Prix 3.
The replay presentation initially had me swearing because it, quite frankly, looked like a poor piece of work. The car was jumping all over the place in the replay, as if the session had been recorded from an Internet session with lots of lag. The car would hover over the track and sometimes sink into the track. Yuck. And this is a big deal to me because replays are half the fun of doing well in a race. Then I discovered that my 'fidelity' setting was medium. Not good. I set it to "Full" and suddenly my car was no longer jumping around, but tracking just where I was driving and respecting the irregularities of the course surface. In short, it went from being about 30% okay to about 90% okay. I'm sure this hogs more disk space, memory and CPU cycles, but on my Pentium 1.7 Ghz it looked great. It's just another reason why you want to have a pretty fast machine for this title.
With this configuration and a standard GeForce3 board, I was able to get 30+ frames per second with everything on, and dropped into the low 20's with a field of cars around me. That's pretty darned good considering how much had to be turned off in previous versions to get the same results, even with what was then a standard PC. No doubt hardware plays a role in this, but the programming appears to be better.
The detail in the game is incredible. When you are in the pit lane, you'll see lights indicating whether the track is free or not (red means don't leave the pits). If a car is coming down the straight that you're about to merge onto, you'll see flashing blue 'overtake' lights letting you know that a fast car is coming so you should watch out.
The sound is solid, but not spectacular. The engine sounds and the sound of the cars around you is fine. I do not like the sliding tires sound. The tires don't squeal, they 'rub' in this game. It makes judging corrections trickier than some other sims. You also get a crew chief who will tell you a fair amount of information. I think the engines and sound effects could be improved, but I also expect, based upon prior years' versions, that 3rd parties will address this with mods if they haven't already. It is also somewhat annoying when a name is mispronounced, such as newcomer Takuma Sato, pronounced, Sahhto, and not Sayto, as the game does. It's also amusing when you lock up your brakes and bump the car in front of you, only to have your crew chief tell you "David Coulthard hit you," as if he was going backwards into you!