When you first start playing F1 2011 (Xbox 360, PS3) it will probably feel like little has changed since last year's F1 game. Developer Codemasters did the major building work for the series ahead of the launch of F1 2010 and the same framework supports the latest game too, but if you take a closer look under the bonnet you'll uncover a range of exciting new additions and more subtle tweaks. F1 2011 represents an evolution of an already winning formula rather than a revolution, but it improves on its predecessor in almost every respect and is undoubtedly the better game if you're looking to get into the genre.
What's clear from the off is Codemasters' dedication to authenticity, a quality that may be lost on some casual players but one that will certainly be apparent to F1 fans. As well as all of the teams, drivers and circuits from the current F1 Championship, safety cars and mechanical failures make their debuts in the game. The former can be switched off if it's not your thing, while the latter occurs as a result of overly aggressive or careless driving. This season's real world re-introduction of KERS, a boost which refills each lap and can be spent in bits or all at once, also makes the cut, as does DRS, which opens your car's rear wing for a huge speed increase that's only usable in specific sections of each course.
The Wheel Deal
On the track the handling model has been tweaked too, delivering a great mix of heavy in the corners, twitchy on the straights driving, meaning you won't simply get away with tearing around the track like a lunatic. Races feel pacey and dangerous as they should, and on the whole computer controlled opponents have been adjusted for the better too. They're stronger at holding their racing line and are generally more competitive, although on occasion their aggression can sour races on the tighter circuits like Monaco where pile-ups seem to occur a little too regularly.
Again responding to fan feedback, Codemasters has improved the game's multiplayer experience by extending competitive online races to a full grid of 24 drivers, with 16 human players battling it out with up to eight additional computer controlled ones. The introduction of two player split-screen play allows you and a friend to play simultaneously on one TV, while a brilliant new co-op championship mode lets two players form an F1 team and play through the season together.
Something for everyone
While the meticulous and repetitive nature of real F1 driving has limited the sport's audience, exciting additions like KERS and DRS aren't the only features that will appeal to casual race fans. Visual improvements mean you can now see when you need to get your tyres changed simply by looking at the condition they're in mid-race, while the engineer's voice barking at you over your car radio helps you make more informed decisions than was previously the case.
F1 2011 strikes an almost perfect balance between fantasy and reality. Less experienced players can enjoy the game on easier settings with the auto-aids switched on and they'll find it to be an exciting, dynamic racing experience, while F1 fans can up the difficulty and realism levels, turning it into a more strategic, challenging affair. Whichever way you choose to play, this is the best F1 game this console generation.
+ An F1 fans' dream game.
+ Multiple improvements over F1 2010.
+ It looks and feels great.
- Not the best racer for non-F1 fans.
- Can take a while to learn the ins and outs.
- Computer racers can be overly aggressive.