Motor Racing seems to be one of those sports that people either love or hate. Oddly enough I’m just about to contradict that by saying that I fall somewhere in-between. I used to really enjoy Formula One but I have found that my enjoyment has dwindled somewhat over the last few seasons. All that said, I do love a good racing simulation and in the past I’ve spent many an hour pretending to race a car on my TV or PC monitor, in fact I still play Live For Speed every weekend and to this day have fond memories of F1 World Grand Prix on the Nintendo 64.
As you can imagine when I heard Codemasters were developing a brand new Formula One game I wasn’t too displeased. The strange thing about F1 2009 for Wii is that instead of being released to coincide with this year’s F1 Season as you’d expect, it has in fact come out after the fact. If I’m honest I would have preferred to play this game alongside the season on TV and not afterwards when we’re already hearing details about the 2010 season starting next March.
As mentioned just a moment ago, I have been partial to Formula One game or two in the past but will not hide the fact that in retrospect they have been somewhat disappointing. I don’t think that anyone has gone out of their way to make a bad Formula One game but the fundamental problem I think is that F1 is a very difficult sport to simulate. Not only are the basic physics of the sport (such as aerodynamics) very challenging to recreate accurately, designing realistic AI CPU controlled opponents is near impossible as well. Both of these and more (or the lack of), tend to result in a F1 game which feels like an arcade title rather than the proper simulation you’re expecting.
So let’s get back to F1 2009 for Wii. Firstly if you’ve been waiting for a next gen F1 game that puts you so close to the cockpit of an F1 car that you can smell the exhaust fumes of the car in front then sadly you’ll have to wait a bit longer. If you have just been waiting for a fun spot of F1 gaming on your TV then we do certainly have a contender here.
F1 2009 Wii is all about the racing; to start with you can either create a profile then head into career mode trying to become a top F1 racer. Or you can race a standard championship/single race and drive it with your favourite F1 driver; mine is Kimi Raikkonen but yours is probably Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton. All of the drivers and teams who started the 2009 season are here but fans of Luca Badoer who substituted for Felipe Massa will not be able to race with him.
I don’t think there is anything particularly unique about the championship mode that hasn’t already been explored in countless other F1 games. You pick a driver, race every race and see if you can win the season, if not try again. So let’s gloss over that; the same goes for picking a single race. Boring. Career mode is where you’ll have the most fun so let us start there.
After creating your profile you are an upcoming racer who is looking for his (or her) chance to drive in Formula One. From the offset I was invited to test for a seat with two teams, Red Bull and BMW. You are pitched with beating a set time around the Melbourne circuit; if you do then you’ll shortly get the chance to join the team at the expense of a real F1 driver. Once you are in the team the pressure is on; you will be given requirements and expectations of race wins etc. Whilst I didn’t drive too bad for my team I can imagine that poor results see you getting the sack. All of this is presented to you via a virtual email account which you can check before and after ever race, here you’ll get the latest news and views from the team but also headlines from the press regarding your performances. This is cute but I’d ideally have liked the option to send an email back to my team telling them to eff off or give me a faster car but as you can imagine this in an unlikely feature of any game outside ones imagination.
Taking a break from racing as a ‘real’ Formula One driver you can head into the Challenges arena; here you are pitched with a nice selection of short yet fun F1 style racing challenges to play through. For each you are awarded a rating based on your performance, the best being A of course. Some of my favourite challenges include a terrifying drive around Spa in the pouring rain on slick tyres and racing to checkpoint after checkpoint in an almost OutRun like affair. Whilst it was fairly easy to get an A rating on most of the challenges there are a few which are very tricky and even I, the ultimate gamer, still can’t manage to get the highest mark on. Something to keep me entertained for a bit longer to come I’m sure.
Something else that will longetitify Formula One 2009 for Wii is the inclusion of what is probably the best multiplayer F1 experience to date. The chance to compete with another player in a full season split screen on your Wii; yes I know this would have been a much better online experience but that’s a criticism to come later. What makes this a real treat is that unlike past multiplayer F1 games I’ve played in my life, this one has a smooth framerate attached. As you can imagine having to draw and calculate two F1 circuits and up to 39 cars on screen at once (well almost) is a big task of any platform let alone Nintendo’s humble Wii with a relatively slow CPU and GPU pairing. Right enough of the geek speaks for a moment, time to get back on track (pun not intended).
Another nice feature of F1 2009 is that you have a whole host of control options; those who love the Mario Kart Wii Wheel will be pleased to hear that they can certainly have a go at motion F1, traditional gamers can stick to the Wii Remote and Nunchuck or Classic Controller setups but real core drivers can shell out on Logitech’s official Nintendo force feedbacked steering wheel for the ultimate realism. I don’t have the fancy Logitech Wheel but do have the rest and came to the conclusion that the Remote and Nunchuck felt the best even though the classic controller offers analogue acceleration and breaking. Sadly the awful shoulder buttons of the classic controller spoil what would have been my first choice of controller (why no Gamecube pad support though). Whatever your flavour you should be able to handle an F1 car like a pro and if not, you can turn on a number of helpful driving aids which will result in a much easier car to drive.
While I mention how easy cars are to drive I would like to give the game credit on being fun yet fairly realistic. Once you take away the driving aids and raise the AI level things become mush trickier and winning a race becomes a much harder prospect indeed. Real F1 teams may recall that 2009 saw the introduction and subsequently the end of KERS; this was described as a push to pass system which would allow a driver 3 seconds of extra speed per lap. Even though only a handful of teams actually used the system and all but two managed to use it well, every car now has access to the boost button here. In short this means that when you come to overtake a car you can hold the C button for an extra bit of oomph, yes it feels like cheating but if everyone else is doing it – you need to too!
Because this review is heading into ridiculous word length I should come to some sort of conclusion and rather quickly.
F1 2009 for Wii is the best Formula One game I have ever played; now whilst they sounds like high praise it isn’t actually quite that grand. This is because I haven’t played very many good F1 games at all, however there is a lot to like about F1 for Wii. Firstly it plays pretty well and that makes enjoying it a whole lot easier, secondly being able to experience a decent racing game besides Mario Kart on the Wii is a bonus. Thirdly the game for the most part looks great, obviously detail is quite low to keep things smooth on Wii but every track is recognisable and when you bump or go up/down a hill you really feel like you are. Also it’s great to finally have a go at driving around some of the new circuits such as the Singapore night race, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
Yes there are a few issues; the menu screens are annoying and bland, the music is awful and the Pit Stops are CPU controlled and seem to take much longer than the pit clock suggests. Worst off all though is when in single player mode you notice slowdown issues even when no other cars are near you. Some of the circuits and stadiums appear to be too detailed for the Wii’s own good and cause the FPS to drop down at times. However this happens rarely and isn’t that bad, it’s just very odd that in multiplayer the slowdown disappears; it must have something to do with the huge drop in graphic quality, resolution and car detail in two player mode.
Overall I’d say this is a must by for Wii owning F1 fans, 360 and PS3 owners who don’t own a Wii can probably wait until next year when F1 2010 is scheduled to be released on all formats.
I award Formula One 2009 for Wii a competent 6 out of 10 and praise Codemasters for a good first effort at F1 gaming, however this grace is short lived because I expect a solid 60FPS, 480p and online mode in next year’s edition if I’m not to be disappointed.
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Related: Mario Kart review