Also available on: 3DS, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Sumo Digital
Genre: Simulation Racing
The console edition of F1 2011 pleased the purists well enough when it touched down in September last year, but some felt it could have done more to improve on its 2010 predecessor. The PS Vita version was never likely to suffer from the same criticism, primarily because it's a brand new product developed by a different studio.
Sumo Digital's latest handheld iteration of the popular motor racing sim brings most of the features from its console counterpart to the palm of your hand, along with some platform-exclusive additions. As we've come to expect from the series, the level of depth and realism will delight the petrolheads, but it's accessible enough to tempt newcomers in for a test drive too.
Once you get out on to the track, F1 2011 impresses with its tight physics and realistic vehicle handling. It's both fast and smooth, and while taking corners at top speed takes a little getting used to, the responsiveness is generally good. Although the computer-controlled cars are a step up from their counterparts in Sumo Digital's half-baked 3DS version, many of them seem reluctant to hit top speed and are easy to overtake. This leaves the game stranded on the wrong side of challenging, and is perhaps its biggest criticism.
Controls feel robust for the most part. F1 2011 relies on the tried and tested physical interface rather than experimenting with tilt and accelerometer support. Throttle and break can be mapped to rear touch, but this is entirely optional. In fact, it actually works better than the default button layout, though the optimal customisation is to have these commands mapped to the shoulder buttons.
F1 2011 on Vita is backed by extensive licensing agreements, with all of the top drivers and teams from the real-life sport that inspired it lending their names to the title. There's a wealth of game modes on offer. Quick Race lets you jump right in to the action, while Time Trial has you racing against the clock for trophies. There's also the option to play a standalone Grand Prix Weekend, from qualifying to the big race itself.
No doubt the diehards will be after something of more substance, and they won't be disappointed by the globe-trekking Championship mode, or the in-depth Career. The latter plays out across three seasons as players seek to land a spot with a top Formula 1 team and challenge on the world stage. There has been some scaling down for the Vita edition's career mode. The garage and crew team from the PC and console editions has been replaced by a list of stats, but the tuning and customisation options make the jump intact.
With Career mode making up the crux of the single-player portion of the game, the sheer volume of stats and options is enough to alienate newcomers, despite the gameplay itself being relatively intuitive. Fortunately, the Challenges mode dishes things out in bite-sized chunks, making it ideal for the more casual-minded among us. Players are set objectives ahead of each race, which vary from setting a record time to passing a specific number of cars. It has more of an arcade feel than the rest of the game, making it easy to pick up and play.
F1 2011 kicks off with a lavish intro sequence that harnesses something close to the Vita's processing power. It's easy to forget that you're using a handheld console at moments like this, but sadly it seems more of the budget was spent on this show piece than the in-game segments. The vehicles themselves look solid, but the tracks have been rendered in low detail. Given what we've seen of the PS Vita's graphical prowess so far, this is disappointing.
Strong multiplayer is a must in games of this manner, and Sumo Digital knows this well. F1 2011 offers online contests for up to four players. There are standalone races take take part in across any of the 19 circuits, competitive Time Trial, or the team-based Constructor Face-off. We had trouble locating opponents, but this is unlikely to be an issue once the Vita has extended its reach across the globe. It'll certainly be the preferable way to play once a dedicated following has amassed around the game, given the mediocre AI you're pitted against in single-player.
F1 2011 is a laudable attempt at scaling down a sophisticated simulation racer for a handheld platform, but it would have benefited from stronger AI and more challenge. In its defence, it caters well for newcomers due to its casual Challenges mode and forgiving level of difficulty, but still falls marginally short of expectations.
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