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A.P.I Review: FORMULA 1 '98
Developer: Visual Sciences OPTIONS: S.SHOT
SCREENSHOTS:
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Psygnosis 1-4 Player Split & Link Up
Game Type: Racing Memory Card
Review Date: November 1998 Dual Shock/Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

After much hype and so many delays I can still remember counting down the days right up until to the arrival of the original Formula 1 racing game on Playstation. Bizarre Creations had developed a fine simulation of the official Grand Prix racing season. Okay, so most of the competitors started taking pit stops when the race was only half completed, making it easy to overtake and finish in the top six. But I'll settle for a half-baked F1 session in link-up mode rather than a few rounds with any of those other crap split-screen arcade racers. It was not without bugs, but then try to name a game that is.

Twelve months on, as another thrilling GP season was about to reach it's climax, Bizarre Creations unveiled their 1997 version of Formula 1. The bugs were gone, the graphics were a higher resolution, rich colors, smooth textures and an almost cartoony appearance gave the power-sliding Arcade mode a unique guise. This mode could never be accused of being a simulation, more a out and out, tear-arse, cut-corner, smash-your-opponent-to-oblivion racing thrash and the appearance suited the purpose. My one disappointment was that split-screen had replaced link-up mode, but then I still owned the original game.

Earlier this year we heard that a new Formula 1 game was being produced for 1998. Our initial thoughts were of amazement that Psygnosis could improve on their first two games. It was obvious that there could be no new tracks because this was afterall an official Grand Prix racing title. There were also very few changes in driver personnel. Hmm, what were they up to?

It was then revealed that the producers of the original two games, Bizarre Creations had been replaced by a new team of developers. Visual Sciences proceeded to rewrite the game from scratch. Perhaps we were in for a brand new Formula 1 game? You bet!

Genre

Formula 1 is a racing title that takes place on circuits from the 1998 Grand Prix racing season using real name drivers and constructors teams. The game includes both an Arcade and a Grand Prix mode.

Graphics

Oh dear, where do I start? Perhaps I had better remark on the changes for the better. This shouldn't take long.

Once again all of the circuits that make up the 1998 Formula 1 racing season are remarkably realistic, featuring every straight, corner and bump of the real tracks. Err, what else is there.... grandstands, advertising hoarding, even cities on the horizon over lush green fields have been carefully recreated. Err.... oh yes, you can now actually loose a front wheel should you take too much damage.

Let's cut the crap, Formula 1 '98 is shocking! Let's start with the vehicles. Where are those stunning racing cars from the two previous efforts? I've made more realistic cars from a lego set! At the beginning of a race looking down the grid is astonishing. Some cars are bland colored smudges with a couple of black marks for wheels. When turning the first corner all of the other cars suddenly became solid blocks of red, or yellow, or blue... no detail at all. Others are actually invisible... you can see straight through the body work. Remember the cheats for a shrinking car in the original title? You got it now whether you like it or not. I even parked by the side of the track and watched a rival drive into the pits, slow down and then completely disappear. Formula Twilight Zone '98.

Vehicles are not the only thing that mysteriously disappear. Looking further down the track you see those carefully recreated building over the horizon that I mentioned earlier... then you don't... then you do... then you don't. Packed grandstands have huge chunks of blue sky carved into the middle of them. Trees flicker along the track... one minute they are there... the next they are gone... there... gone. This is nothing compared to the distraction of suddenly having a corner thrust in your face at the last possible moment. Horrendous!

Then there's the pit crew. Drive into the pit lane and six hooded figures await your arrival. They bend over your vehicle and wiggle around a little. When given the order to move off your car jumps slightly left and then drives straight through the bodies of the ghostly apparitions.

Worst of all are the messy weather effects. Once of the best effects in Bizarre Creations F1 '97 was when the clouds gradually darkened and a few spots of rain grew into a frightening storm. Thunder clashed and lightening flashed across the track before the skies would slowly brighten and the track surface would gradually dry out. You had to carefully judge whether to visit the pits to change your tyres or chance one more lap in tricky conditions. Visual Sciences prefer to have the rain hammering down one second and then move a dividing line of fine weather slowly up the screen. At one point the top half of the screen is dark and rainy while the bottom half is bright and sunny. Enough!

Sounds and Effects

Once again 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.

Throughout the entire race a realistic engine sound cuts through the cheering din of the crowd which grows in volume as you near the start/finish line. Overall the sound effects are very good and up to the standard of past F1 titles.

Playability

API has always been very constructive with it's criticism but this time it's going to be difficult. There are five modes of play; Arcade Challenge, Arcade Single Race, Arcade Time Trial, Single Grand Prix Race and Championship. Play in single player mode, two player split screen, two player link-up and four player split screen link-up. The two player split screen mode now includes ten cars. This would be excellent news had the gameplay and handling not been so substandard.

In Arcade mode you are no longer restricted to driving on the track. Slipping down a few positions? No problem, take a short-cut over the grass. It won't slow you down, in fact you sometimes move faster. This mode is fine for a half-hearted smash through the courses but it fails to offer any serious challenge at all.

There are so many arcade racers already available on PSX but a F1 game would always stand out from the crowd with it's accurate simulation mode. Well you can forget that now! In my view Formula 1 '98 is relegated to the ever growing pile of substandard arcade racers.

Here's how it goes. Don't waste your time setting up a full blown championship with all the tweaks and settings switched on because you'll never make it to the end. I foolishly decided on using Nika Hackinen with flags, fuel, damage, tyre wear and failures all turned on.

Before each race you are allowed three practice sessions before qualifying and boy do you need them. On my first practice lap I struggled to keep the car on the track, even on the long straights. The physics seemed all wrong as a slight tap in either direction swung your car almost 90°. Once I reached the first corner the car just kept on going... straight ahead. I went into the pits at least a dozen times and tried adjusting downforce, suspension and brakes, but to no avail.

I qualified in eighteenth position on the grid, mainly due to the fact that I had stopped at every bend and heaved my car back on the racing line. Revving up on the grid I prepared to fight my way through the pack when the strangest thing happened. As soon as the light changed from red to green all of the cars in front of mine decided to play Destruction Derby instead of Formula 1. Cars were turning at right angles and smashing into every opponent in range. This was crazy! I tried to move ever so slowly through the carnage when this dark blue smudge of colored lego started ramming into the side of my car for no apparent reason. Once the nose and tail wing had been removed I ground to a halt and was disqualified for dangerous driving. Me? I didn't even make it down the opening straight.

I restarted again and the same thing happened so I dropped the difficulty onto easy and qualified in pole position. A good start left me way out in front. Unfortunately as soon as I tapped the brakes and began heaving my car around the first bend each of my rivals took it in turn to leap across the track and shunt my car into the barriers. Once again trailing the pack I set out in chase and carefully studied the group of cars in front. I could not believe my eyes as they flickered and jumped all over the track. This was impossible so I packed up and did something much more entertaining. I washed the car.

Value for Money

If you don't own a Formula 1 title then go buy the original at budget price. At least it's playable.

Opinion
MARTIN
GRAPHICS: 8/20 I must first apologize to those readers who prefer to check out our views before purchasing a game. Feedback has already began to arrive from disappointed gamers and will be posted in the Letters section.

Formula 1 '98 has been available for a couple of weeks now but while the previous two F1 games arrived well in advance of the release date, a press copy of F1 '98 still hasn't arrived to this day. Strange! We therefore went out and bought a copy. Now there's a first!

We also like to play test racing games for a couple of weeks to make sure that we don't make rash assessments. However playing F1 98 for two weeks was more than I could stand. I had to quit playing after only a few days before all my illusions were completely shattered.

I loved the first two Formula 1 games. They were a breath of fresh air and still rank up there with the best PSX racers. But this....
SOUND: 9/10
PLAYABILITY: 10/50
VALUE: 9/20
OVERALL 36%

 

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