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So we've determined that Formula 1 '99 is pretty as a picture, but what you really want to know is does it still handle like a sows ear?
Because it has been completely overhauled using brand new graphical and game engines F1 '99 comes across as an entirely new product and should be treated as such. There is little to compare with Psygnosis' past official FIA endorsements apart from the names of drivers and sponsors of racing teams.
All your favorites are back again including 1998 Constructors Championship Winners McLaren, alongside Ferrari, Williams, Jordan and newcomers BAR - British American Racing. Also present, of course, are all of the real name drivers including 1998 and current 1999 World Champion Mika Hakkinen, 1997 winner Jacques Villeneuve, 1996 champ Damon Hill and two-time winner Michael Schumacher, along with newcomers Ricardo Zonta, Pedro de la Rosa, Marc Gene and reigning CART Champion Alex Zanardi
All the tracks have once again been captured in all of their glory including Monaco, Melbourne, Monza, Magny-Cours, Montreal and the brand new Malaysian circuit Sepang F1. (I didn't realize how many capitol 'M's' there were in GP racing).
At the front end players are offered the opportunity of entering a Quick Race, Grand Prix or a 2 Player head-to-head championship. Let's get the gripes out of the way quickly and then move onto the benefits. First the 2 Player mode is simply a one-on-one split screen race without any CPU cars, which in my book sucks. There is a slight reduction in speed and detail but it's the lack of competition on such long circuits that will bore the socks off you. I mean... which two gamers will see each other more than twice in any given race. It looks as if I'll still need to hold onto the 1996 version for my link-up thrills.
A Quick Race replaces the old Arcade mode where individual circuits may be practiced against a full grid of opponents. Select from four ranges of difficulty and four varying weather settings for a frantic session that allows you to drive on and off the track without penalty. Sadly there is no competition format to enjoy, only individual races.
Grand Prix mode attempts to be a realistic simulation of motor sport racing and it almost succeeds. It's divided into three categories; Test Drive - basically a time trial mode, Single Race - racing on individual circuits, and Championship - a full blown assault to become crowned the king of F1.
Now it's time to get down to the real nitty gritty. After choosing your racing driver and team Grand Prix mode allows you to decide how realistic the racing conditions should be. Fuel, tyre wear, grid assist, damage, weather, flags, rules, pit assist, failures, crashes and spins may all be activated or switched off with varying effects. Skill level determines how much AI the other drivers have, while race length varies from a minimum 3 laps to a full race.
Assuming that most gamers think suspension is what the ladies wear to hold their stockings up and that brake bias is an extra half-hours lunch for those in favor with the boss, the car set-up menu has been greatly simplified. Three predetermined recommendations allow for a quick and easy set-up to be chosen. Should the player wish to set their own car up then downforce, suspension, brake bias, gear ratio, tyre type, steer assist, brake assist and gear select may be personally tweaked and tuned.
The handling is unlike any other racing game to date. It's has neither Gran Turismo's simulated feel of realism, nor Ridge Racers arcade power sliding, while it certainly doesn't feel anything like the slippery Newman Haas Racing. You will feel in control of the car, but only after playing out a few races. If the set-up is not to your liking then a few tweaks and adjustments in the tuning menu will change the feeling of grip and control. As I said it's a whole new game engine and only plenty of practice will lead to perfection!
The control pad caters for analog and digital control, while both types may be combined. Aside from the usual brake, accelerator and reverse actions please take note of the addition of a limiter button. This must be pressed when entering and leaving the pits as it locks the car into first gear so as to not incur a penalty for speeding.
A track preview is on hand for those new to the game in which Martin Brundle takes you through every single corner and straight. Because there have been so many changes to the game engine I would heartily recommend a lengthy practice session before racing. In fact why not take two... because morning and afternoon sessions are available, just like the real thing.
Qualifying begins in the pit lane where time is allowed to make a few final changes to the car set-up. Perhaps reducing the fuel load may give you a couple of fliers! Make sure the limiter is switched on... and off we go! Entering the first corner I am unsure about the frame rate. It seems sluggish. Hold on! I forgot to switch off the limiter, damn new fangled gadgets! This is more like it. Concentrating on the road ahead and not on the helicopter flying 'Ridge Racer style' overhead is difficult, especially when you must learn how to drive these circuits all over again. This really feels like a brand new game!
Qualifying is tough, even on Medium setting and I settled for 8th position on the grid. On race day the realism of it all finally struck home. Murray Walker screams the countdown over a deafening roar from 22 straining engines, while overhead the five red lights systematically all go on. Failing to wait for them to go off, indicating the start of the race, I toed the acceleration button... jumping the start. Black-flagged! I'd gained a few positions up the grid but had to suffer the indignity of sitting out a 10-second penalty in the pits after the first lap. I also forgot to switch on the limiter and received a further penalty for speeding into the pit lane. Damn this is so realistic! Furthermore Michael Schumacher was in there for also jumping the gun. Ha! Cheaters never prosper.
After a few laps I settled into the race and began to take note of a few things. I found the collision detection to be a little too pre-programmed with accidents not always happening by chance or error. Driver AI is very challenging making overtaking very risky, but then isn't that the way the cookie crumbles in real Formula 1? Breakdowns do occur regularly but the yellow flags are never followed by the green to give overtaking maneuvers the all clear.
Enough of the gripes. It is suffice to say that Formula 1 '99 is back with a vengeance. Check it out!
This is a 1 disk game for 1 or 2 Players. It is compatible with the standard (digital) joypad and the analog stick controls of the dual shock joypad. Games can be saved via memory card (2 block per save).
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