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In September 1996 the original Formula 1 Playstation game was released. It was the Gran Turismo of our time and quickly attained classical status. It shall always remain in my sparse collection of quality link-up games... two players, two screens, full grid of CPU opponents. Heaven sent!
Twelve months later Pygnosis unveiled their 1997 version of F1. The annoying bugs had gone and the graphics were of a higher resolution. Rich colors, smooth textures and an almost cartoony appearance gave the power-sliding Arcade mode almost a unique guise. My one disappointment was that split-screen had replaced link-up mode... but then I still owned the original game.
It was then revealed that the producers of the two original games, Bizarre Creations, had been replaced by a new team of developers.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! Formula 1 '98 was awful... dreadful... a disgrace to our intelligence! Without dwindling on this truly horrific road accident we wondered would they... could they... will they ever get back to basics?
When I first heard that the particular team of Pygnosis' programmers who had been offered the monumental task of rediscovering the correct formula were Studio 33, well... I was slightly dubious to say the least. After all Newman Haas Racing, their previous racing effort, had hardly set the genre alight.
Thankfully we have our hands on the completed 1999 version of Formula 1 and it looks as if the show is firmly back on the road again. Featuring all-new innovations including fresh vehicle dynamics and handling, ultra-realistic crashes, advanced engine sound effects, intricate AI - including enhanced pit strategies and start grid behavior - and much more.
Formula One 99 brings together all the drivers, teams, tracks and regulations of the 1999 season, allowing them to race against the best, all in the comfort of your living room.
Sound and Vision:
I fondly remember the introduction to the original game. As a camera slowly panned in towards the Formula 1 racing car a delicate drum roll gradually rose to a deafening crescendo raising the tension beautifully. First impressions are so important (especially after last year's debacle) and this time out the intro is simply the best. It's haunting... it's atmospheric... it's gripping... it's exciting... in fact it captures all the thrills and spills of a real Grand Prix event in a matter of moments.
Before diving straight into the game there are a few graphical representations in the option menu worth mentioning. When selecting your team and driver, not only do you get to glance at the cars in full regalia, but also a mug shot of each driver accompanies their profile and Grand Prix record to date.
Furthermore a visit to the circuit selection mini-screen provides a start to finish first person ride around each track before racing begins. Ignoring the technical options for the moment it's time to visit trackside and run through the visual changes.
The wait is finally over... I can tell you that graphically F1 '99 excels far beyond my hopes and prayers. Long gone is the nasty pop-up, ugly vehicles and abysmal weather effects from the '98 version, to be replaced by a complete visual package that is pure eye candy.
Once again the 16 circuits that make up the 1999 Formula 1 racing season are remarkably realistic, capturing every straight, corner and bump of the real tracks. From the ever-popular streets and tunnels of Monte Carlo to the new Sepang circuit in Malaysia, all of the grandstands, advertising hoarding, even cities on the horizon over lush green fields have been carefully recreated.
There are now only four selectable viewing angles ranging from in-car to above and behind vehicle. What is immediately noticeable from the out of car view is how realistic the vehicle you are driving now looks. Everything from the deep groves in the tyre grips, right through to the team logos and coloring has been perfectly replicated. If I had one complaint it would be the omission of the high above perspective that allowed more of the track ahead to be viewed.
Cloud cover actually changes dependant on the climate as the realistic weather effects play havoc with your race strategy... which is just how we like it. Beginning a practice session the rain was realistically hammering down onto the track therefore I opted for a set of wet-soft tyres. A couple of laps later the dark skies had brightened and the rain was but a trickle. Into the pits and a switch to a dry-hard compound. A few hundred yards down the track and the skies opened up again... Doh! What I found most impressive was the way that when turning a corner the raindrops also changed direction as if guided by the prevailing winds. Remarkable!
Regular updates of race position, lap time and number, gap times, speed and gearshift will once again appear on screen. Also present is a small map of the circuit highlighting all of the cars and relative positions. A mass of information is displayed when entering for a pit stop. Twelve symbols allow you to quickly issue instructions regarding changes in set-up. Thankfully the pit crew are now hidden from sight so we no longer see those six hooded ghostly apparitions from yesteryear.
On the down side the replay mode is still pretty awful. The camera always seems to be in the least helpful viewing position and I can only recommend that after each race this mode is skipped.
Once again Martin Brundle joins the commentary team along with the excellent Murray 'I don't believe it!' Walker (Yeah, I know that line belongs to Victor Meldrew, but Murray keeps on saying it). 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 match up to the standard of past F1 titles.
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