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F1 Championship Edition is one of the most excruciatingly technical racers out there. It's also awesome.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 28, 2007
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In the interest of doing something different, I'm going to do away with the usual bloated intro and gameplay/controls/graphics/sound/final comment breakdown most of our reviews have. F1's learning curve is almost retardedly steep, but the payback you get in learning each corner of the track, proper racing lines, and general control of a machine designed to move faster than anything else on the road yet stop on a dime is so rewarding that it's unlike anything else out there.

Every person who plays the game will have a different experience based on whether or not they're using a racing wheel, how quickly they wean themselves off the aids -- which all but drive for you in the beginning -- and how much they can stomach stringent race rules. It's not a game for everyone, but hopefully my expletive-laced recounting of how a complete newbie comes to grips and eventually loves the game can paint an honest and open picture of how the game is received through the eyes of a guy trying to review it.

So, here it is, in all its cuss-filled glory:

Day One - Part One
Already it feels like a lot of the reviews out there just haven't gotten the game -- that or they just didn't play a whole lot. I know this sort of goes without saying, but Formula One driving is extremely technical. I've never really played a racing game where every single corner is almost life-or-death.

Every turn is about managing speed, g-forces and control, and what sucks a little about it is that none of these factors are something you can glean from just looking at the game. As a huge Gran Turismo fan, I'm used to the game giving me a clear indication of when I'm losing grip or when weight is being shifted. With F1 cars, that's just not possible; if you've lost grip, chances are the race is already over.

The assists in the game help, certainly, and I think I've finally stumbled onto the right combination of user control and help from the game; ABS on, steering and braking/accel assists off, and the defaults for traction control and stability. The latter two are actually options you can configure pre-race and then switch to on the fly as race conditions change (say rain comes in, but you can't pit to change your tires).

I still haven't played with the more hardcore gearhead tweaks like camber, downforce and so on, but just going through the career mode, it's made pretty damn obvious how different wing setups or camber can radically change how you have to drive. I remember an early online review said that there was no way to kick out the back of the vehicle, and though I feel if you do that you're pretty much asking to end the race early, just reducing downforce and camber can make that happen fairly easily, so I don't know what game they played.

Other comments about the visuals are also patently wrong. Having the game run at only 30 fps does hurt some of the basic "feel" of the game (stuff like knowing when you're starting to lose it and so on), but even on my rinky-dink standard-def TV, the game just gorgeous. The lighting and reflections are more than enough flash for me. Could there have been more? Yeah, sure, but this is a first-gen dev effort on Studio Liverpool's part, and what they've managed to pull off is nuts.

Okay, another couple hours in career mode so I can get down the tests and then I'll start digging into the races, I hope. The game starts with you getting recruitment offers from the bottom three teams and then a series of tests determines if you stay a test driver or if you get a chance to jump in with the big boys.

Day One - Part Two
Fuck these fucking tests. Seriously, the license tests in Gran Turismo were hard (especially if you were going for gold), but requiring someone to complete multiple tests where you have to do three consecutive error-free laps is beyond sadistic. I can't count the number of times I've had two fantastic laps and then took a corner wrong and spun out or accidentally clipped a corner too much and was docked for unsportsmanlike conduct (fuck you, Melbourne and your wide paved section with teeny tiny little curves). They give you enough time to make a couple goes at it, but if you do two laps, fuck up the third, then do another two laps and fuck up the third again, kiss your chances of passing that test goodbye -- and that's after you already ran the previous three-lap section with one car configuration.

Being a perfectionist (and not knowing how many of the tests I have to pass to graduate to full-on driver at the end of the eight tests), I have to quit out completely and re-load the career screens. It's a good minute or two of loading to sit through just to retry things because I don't want a failure on my record on the off chance that I won't actually get to actually race against people.

I can kinda see why people were bitching about the controls, though, and here's why: everything feels digital. The SIXAXIS' analog sticks have no dead zone anymore, so there's a wonderful range of movement, but F1 hardly even uses it. Give things the slightest nudge and the car will react far more. I can understand that the game is made for wheels, but I don't fucking have one, and the twitch nature of things is seriously messing me up when I try to take corners at high speed.

The same goes for the triggers, which have all that travel but really feel like you only use the first 20% or so. I switched back to the face buttons for gas/brake because it's obvious that's how the game was designed to be played. The motion sensitive stuff is a joke; laggy and imprecise, and I can't bring myself to race for any stretch of time with them on since I just end up kissing walls or facing the guys lapping me while I imagine them laughing and pointing.

And why the hell can't I switch out the controls anywhere but on the main menu? Argh... This is what hours of being on edge (since every goddamn corner has the potential to have me doing another three laps where I can't fuck up) has done to a man. I need a break, but I just want to see what the career mode is like for races...

Day One - Part Three
A little break and a walk down to grab some crap to cook for dinner definitely helped. I retried the test I was on and nailed it with just a single lap error. It was a test to see how the car handled with a full tank of gas and then far less in the tank. I don't know if I just properly visualized the concept in my head, but the test was supposed to teach how the car gradually (or in my case, suddenly) goes from being weighty and with just a bit of understeer to having a ton of oversteer comparatively. I think I'm starting to get addicted to pulling perfectly out of a corner with full throttle and just letting it pull me out to the outside line. It feels so freakin' awesome.

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