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GRAND PRIX

Graphics

Okay. We've read all of the pre-release quotes such as 'Improved high resolution graphics (512 by 240 resolution) that will now speed along at 30 frames per second by dynamically adjusting the draw distance, even when the screen is packed with opposing drivers, while all of the glitches have been reduced by tighter clipping', but what you really want to know is - does it look any different?

Well I'm going to hedge my bets a little by saying yes... and no.

The untrained eye will be cast over the circuits that appeared in the original game and proclaim "it's looks exactly the same!" First appearances do suggest this but closer inspection does reveal a higher resolution. There is now a display option where draw distance can be toggled between Dynamic and Locked. The Dynamic setting will alter the draw distance in order to maintain a rapid frame rate. Locked draw will fix the draw distance but the game's frame rate may suffer. I noticed that certain circuits suffered from a slight pop-up when using the Dynamic setting, not close enough to affect you judgement, but it was noticeable and distracting. Clicking over to Locked draw corrected this immediately, therefore you will have to make your own decision on which setting you prefer.

There is a major improvement with the vehicles which now look like they are racing ON the track rather than slightly above it. They have more of a solid appearance to them and I am very impressed by the way that sunlight reflects over the paintwork. Turn a corner and the shaded side moves around the car as if hiding from the suns rays.

Regular updates of race position, lap times, gap times, speed and gear shift will once again appear on screen, while the inclusion of an on screen lap counter will be warmly welcome, as this omission from the original game caused great confusion when planning strategic pit stops.

In addition to the multiple viewing angles that were present in the original Formula 1, there is a brand new in-cockpit view that allows you to experience the action from the adrenaline rushing position that the worlds top racing drivers endure.

Sounds and Effects

So what's new in the sound department?
Well Martin Brundle joins the commentary team to link up with the excellent Murray 'Oh, Oh, Oh, he must have hit the barriers' Walker for a duel opinion of the racing action, so expect a few disputes and gaffs in there. In Grand Prix mode there is an option which allows you to select the commentary level which can be informative, normal or enhanced.

Throughout the entire race a more realistic engine sound cuts through the cheering din of the crowd which grows in volume as you near the start/finish line.

There is also voice feedback from the Pits advising on car damage, fuel consumption, tyre wear and the way the car is handling. If you involved in a collision the damage will be recorded on the your constructors hi-tech computer which will then be analyzed. Your pit crew will then suggest that you call in for repairs. You could always ignore their advise but this will usually result in your car grinding to a halt due to mechanical failure.

All of the sound effects are available in Mono, Stereo, Q Sound or Dolby Surround which may be tampered with via the CD Player option.

Playability

So far we have determined that Grand Prix mode bares many similarities to the original game. So how does it play? Let's find out.

Selection of Grand Prix mode will send you into the first of many options screens.

Circuit Select allows you to choose your race type from: Training - a practice session over the circuit of your choice. Single Race - a one off race from the 18 circuits that make up the 1997 F1 season. Championship - a full F1 season of 18 races.

Driver Select allows you to scroll through the 11 teams and 22 drivers. Edit Driver lets you change the name of your selected driver to... your own. Hey, cool.

The Game Mode and Car Set Up is where most of your pre-race time will be spent. Here you can make extensive and detailed adjustments to the car and race conditions. Each circuit is different in demands therefore your chosen car will need to be adjusted for every race. The following adjustments are now available:

Race Length - short (3), medium (5), long (10), half and full race.

Skill Setting - Novice, Amateur, Rookie, Professional and Expert. When the skill is set at Novice you will only be able to make a few minor adjustments to your car set up whereas Expert level opens up all race options.

Steer Assist, Brake Assist, Damage, Tyre Wear, Fuel and Sessions remain as the original Formula 1 except that fuel load will affect the weight of the car and cause understeer.

Failures, however, is one of the new options. All of the cars are subject to mechanical failure. Some from bad car set ups, some from bad driving technique, others are plain bad luck. Engines will blow up, pistons will burst and there's nothing you can do about it.

Weather options include Sunny, Rain, Variable or Random. Variable is the one we all wanted as this allows the weather to change during the course of a race.

Two of the best new ideas are the inclusion of Marshal Flags and Tear Offs. Yellow flags are waved when danger is imminent. Slow down and do not overtake. Green flags signify the all clear. Red flags indicate that the race has been stopped. Black and white flags informs the driver that he has been issued a warning and a Black flag disqualifies the driver. During a race, if you select cockpit view, your vision will become impaired by dirt, debris and insects. A press of the triangle button will remove a tear-off and clear your vision but they are limited so use sparingly.

Car Set Ups will win or lose your race. There are no right or wrong decisions, just experiments.
Tyres are chosen from slicks, wets or monsoons (for storm conditions). Soft or hard compounds must also be chosen. Suspension may be set from 0 - 100%. Brake discs can be adjusted as can Brake bias. Front and rear downforce must be set individually with a scale available for each.

All of the above setting may be saved into one of the twenty available Set Up slots and transferred onto your memory card. This allows you to pre-set twenty different car set ups and then try each one out on a test drive. Now it's time to race. At last.

The reason I have explained the set ups in so much depth is because this is the major difference from the original game. Each cars handling is so different to the last game that you will be thankful that you do not have to also learn the circuits. I felt confident, having triumphed at hard mode on last years game, so I selected Damon Hill for the Arrows team, clicked on Expert mode, set up my car and trudged off to Melbourne for my first race of the season.

After a couple of practice laps I began my first qualifying session. I crossed the line after a cracking first lap in pole position. This is too easy. Expert mode, in an Arrows? By lap five I had fallen to third position, so I settled for that and quit the session.

Lining up on the staring grid I knew there was something wrong. I was in 22nd position. What the hell is going on? Learn from my mistake fellow racers. We asked for an accurate game and we got one. Qualifying takes place over a one hour session with a limited number of laps. In the last few minutes of the allowed time all of the drivers pile onto the track with their cars readjusted and clock up their best times. Did we want this to be so realistic? I suppose we did.

The red lights turn to green and I tore off down the opening straight - right into a pile up on the first corner and because I ran straight up the arse of the car in front, I received my first black and white flag as a warning. I scrambled through the debris, yellow flags waving, and came out of the smash in 16th position. I nearly jumped out of my skin when a voice boomed out of the left speaker "you've got quite a lot of damage there. Do you want to come in for repairs?" It was the pit crew and they were right. My car handled like a pile of scrap metal so I crawled around the circuit and took my first of many pit stops.

Pit stops have a new procedure, they are more automatic. As soon as your vehicle grinds to a halt, tyres are changed, repairs are carried out and the only action you need to concern yourself with is stopping the intake of fuel or changing your tyres when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Back on the track I had learned my lesson the hard way as the race leaders were lapping me on only my second circuit. I was so far behind the leaders that I almost gave up. Suddenly, up ahead, there was a trail of cars crawling around the circuit. On closer inspection I spotted the cause, one of the drivers engines had blown up and he was staggering back to the pits. I carefully eased my way past the line and the race was back on. A couple of laps later I was beginning to make time up on the leaders so I began to relax and take note of the scenery. Bad move, I didn't notice the yellow flag and collided with a stationary car that had not been removed from the track. Both cars flew up into the air before smashing into the barriers, debris flying everywhere. I only just made it back to the pits but this time I was so far behind I had nothing to lose so I tried out a few manoeuvres of my own. Heavy braking had Murray warning me that the break discs were really glowing. Wet and Monsoon tyres do not mix with a dry track, uncontrollable. Deliberate collisions result in an immediate black flag, as does driving the wrong way around the circuit.

Do not listen to the commentators weather warnings as I was moving through the pack at Interlagos when Murray claimed that the skies were darkening and clouds were gathering. Ah ha, I thought, it's going to rain. Out of the pits I came, wet tyres at the ready. The first thing he said was "the clouds have blown away and the sun is coming out". Twat!

Drivers appear to have their own personalities, far more than just the 'team orders' of the first game. For instance Michael Schumacher will attack on the inside at corners where other drivers will back off or drive less defensively. All the cars are completely free to drive on (and off!) the track rather than just certain lines, and will avoid crashed cars or obstacles on the track and can even make mistakes themselves.

The brand new split-screen mode that will allows two players to race against each other on one console was a little disappointing after experiencing the tremendous two player link-up mode from the original. There is also the option of horizontal or vertical splits depending on the user preference.

Value for Money

Is F1 '97 a new game or a quick cash in?
Racing games are all about playability and F1 '97 plays like an entirely new product. Everyone knew that many of the tracks would appear in their original format because you simply cannot redesign a tried and tested Grand Prix circuit.

Should I purchase a copy of the new Formula 1 '97 when I already own the original game?
F1 still remains the most played game in my collection, but I would still buy the new version as it will take an age to master the set up of each car and go forward to win a full Championship. You now have to drive as if you are taking part in a real race as any damage sustained will see you limping back to the pits. Keep hold of the original game if you enjoy the link-up mode as the two player split screen bares no comparison.

Formula 1 '97 comes complete with a FREE Radical Games Demo that features playable versions of forthcoming Psygnosis titles G-Police, Overboard, Colony Wars and ShadowMaster. Now there's an unexpected bonus.

Opinion

MARTIN

GRAPHICS:

Brilliant

I was initially a little disappointed when first viewing Formula 1 '97 because I was expecting to react in a similar way as I did when first seeing the original game. I suppose I was anticipating massive graphical improvements but then I realised how little they could have been bettered, as the original graphics still stand high above any other racer on the Playstation. F1 '97 is all about playability and in this department it comes up trumps. Still a little disappointed about losing the link up mode, but I'll get over it.

SOUND:

Good

PLAYABILITY:

Brilliant

VALUE:

Brilliant

OVERALL
96%

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