That game, in addition to being absolutely gorgeous, lit a fire under me that finally got me interested in the sport on a more serious level. I'm still very much a casual viewer; the lack of easy access to programming here on TV means, if I'm being honest, I haven't even followed the 2009 season. I don't know team names by heart nor do I know the ins and outs of each track. I am, in the purest sense, just someone who likes to see cars go fast and none of 'em go faster than these.
But I'm not an expert or a die-hard by any means, so when the license changed hands from Sony to Codemasters and became a multi-platform effort again, I didn't really share the same sense of trepidation or worries that the sim-like nature of the last few games would somehow be compromised. I didn't even play those other games save for the last one, and as such I'm hardly the voice of the hardcore. If you're looking for that, I'll happily point to you some of the other reviews out there, because this one won't be nearly as scathing or laced with proper terms for, well, anything, I'm sure.
So when I say that I was... entertained, understand I mean that on the most basic level. F1 2009 demonstrates two things very, very well: these cars go fast, and controlling them is an art that I don't know the PSP is really up to the task of replicating. That's not to say that SUMO Digital hasn't done a fantastic job in paring down what was obviously the Wii-led development efforts for Sony's little portable (they certainly know the hardware), but with a racing game where one of the settings is to control wheelspin, a lack of analog... anything but a notoriously imprecise nub means the precision of controlling a machine with a thousand horsepower that can hit 100 miles an hour in just over three seconds is left to the imagination.
It's manageable, I suppose; I spent my first few hours with the game wrestling with all assists off and the slowly worked my way through flicking a few on here and there until I was comfortable with just leaving the wheelspin one on, but there was never a point where I felt a genuine attachment to the machine I was controlling. There were moments where I glimpsed the kind of raw power and ridiculous traction these things actually possess, but it was mostly about keeping myself on the track and memorizing course layouts.
You'll get plenty of practice in the latter, of course, as the game offers the full raft of qualifying, practice and general pre-race warm-ups which can last for dozens of laps if you don't opt to fast-forward time or just zip through the qualifying rounds. That almost means you'll start at the back, and have to inch up through the pack slowly (or recklessly depending on your difficulty level and number of laps), but there's certainly consideration for the authentic replication of the grand scale of the whole race process. Thankfully, it's also trimmable to a more bite-sized, portable-friendly size with plenty of in-betweens.
Unfortunately, if the game is fairly enjoyable when you're leading or behind the pack, it tends to fall apart in the thick of it. The AI, for lack of a better description, is entirely artificial and utterly lacking in intelligence. There's no attempt to avoid impacts, no sense of aggressiveness beyond sticking rigidly to a line and flipping off everyone that would dare approach and no feeling of anything beyond that polygonal helmet, which is a shame as it turns most races into either frustrating or, more importantly, boring exercises in racing oneself rather than other drivers.
The game isn't particularly pretty either, though I'm not sure if that's because of the need to try to stay true to the real-life locations and look of things or just a lackluster engine. The sense of speed is there, absolutely, but the texture work is a mottled mess and the polygonal detail is basic at best. SUMO clearly understands how to make a gorgeous looking PSP game, but their other efforts have been stylized to say the least. That goes double for the audio, which sounds fine enough on engine noise, but the rest of the chatter and crowd roar is almost non-existent, making races seem that much more disconnected.
F1 2009 is entertaining, but just. It does a decent job of delivering a sense of speed, but with nothing beyond the 2009 race lineup and a "Career" Mode that just has you trying to work your way up over the course of a trio of full seasons, there's not really enough meat to really dig into the game. That may be fine for Forumula One superfans, but for more casual racers like me, it meant the game suffered the same eventual fate as every other F1 game pre-PS3 (albeit along a much larger timeline): I got bored. I stopped playing. And I won't start anytime soon.