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Another month, another formula one game racked and stacked down at the local game shop. Ubi Soft are either extremely brave, slow off the mark or have something very special to release another F1 simulation onto a market already brimming with quality titles. Among the best are the long running series from Psygnosis with their current incarnation Formula One 99 and new boy on the block F1 2000 from EA.
So what have we got then, a fly weight about to crash and burn or a heavy contender ready to topple the king from the racing simulation throne.
The profile of F1 has been considerably raised in the past few years with heightened television coverage and media interest propelling drivers into the lime light and making the sports top dogs household names.
In recent years rules and regulations have been introduced in an attempt to make the sport safer, enforcing grooved tyres and modified bodies, some might say, turns the sport into viewing for coma induced dullards, but it throws a new angle on things when you get to take control yourself.
Admit it, you've got more chance of winning the lottery or taking Pamela Anderson out for a kebab than driving for a top F1 racing team. The closest thing you're ever likely to experience, from the comfort of your own pit, is a bit of joypad jiggling, which with a little input may well make the disbelievers sit up and take note pumping a little adrenaline on the way.
All 11 teams and their cars from the 1999 season have been wheeled out, giving you the opportunity to trade places with the crop of last years drivers. Slip in behind the wheel, rev the engine and burn rubber around any track of your choosing from last years F1 calendar.
From Melbourne to Silverstone, they're all here, plastered with sponsors logos, distinct landmarks, chicanes and all.
All of this has got the full endorsement of the FIA, the F1 governing body, which is a bit of an ace up the sleeve for Ubi Soft. The developers have quite rightly used this to full advantage in-game and in the presentation.
Whether you're an armchair tifosi, blood running pure red, or a fan of the sleek silver Mclarens, the scene is set for you to climb in and discover what all the excitements about .
Sound and Vision:
Straight off the bat, the rendered intro of cars shooting around a circuit is fairly average, and to be honest is nothing you won't have seen before. The whole thing does however score a few extra brownie points for the thumping sound track, by Garbage, which accompanies the action, although it's all over a bit to soon.
If like most of us you haven't got money to burn, you won't buy games for the intros alone, so let's peel back the wrapper to see what lies beneath.
The menus are straight forward, well laid out and a doddle to navigate, leading easily into the available options. A nice touch is the ambient race sounds that play while you make your choices. Close your eyes and you could almost be standing in one of the pit lanes as the wheelnuts spin, engines rev and distant tannoy relays a message to the eager crowds (perhaps I should get out more).
A visit to the garage is essential before a race and the car options, like the menus, are clear and easy to use. Each time you tweak the settings, the overall effect on your car is shown by sliding graphic displays which'll soon let you know if you're turning a well oiled Ferrari into some bastard off-spring of a Minardi.
To choose a driver, check the photographs which are displayed next to their relevant cars, pick one, pick a circuit and off you go.
The tracks are well reproduced and whether flooring it down tree lined forest straights at Hockenhiem, or screeching round curves and curbs of Monaco, the graphics move at a slick rate and don't disappoint. However, impressive as they are, they still fall short of the tracks delivered by Psygnosis, which seem to ooze a little more realism. This may come down to personal preference, as there's not a lot between them, they both look good in their own right.
You can choose from a number of external views while racing. From above and behind, which gives a clear view of the track ahead, and I'm pleased to report suffers from very little pop-up, to just behind the driver, where you get to see his helmet thrown around as the car bounces across the gravel traps. The actual in-car view is decent enough, and the excellent wing mirrors give clear views of approaching rivals, which gets to be a common sight when first racing.
If you happen to collide with anything, which I guarantee you will, the view immediately jumps to the next lowest racing viewpoint, emphasizing the collision, and causing you to quickly collect yourself, or end up having another shunt while momentarily disorientated. Nice touch.
Just as the tracks look good, so do the cars, decked out like Piccadily Circus with sponsors logos slapped all over them. With clear colours and distinct texture mapping, they're easily recognizable from a distance and reflected light gleaming across the body work adds a good finish.
Playing in split screen mode the attention to detail doesn't really suffer, although pop up is evident, its not enough to distract from what is great fun. Choosing from a horizontal or vertically split screen, arcade or simulation mode, the screen is littered with race information and a neat small graphic indicates the distance between you and your mate.
As you race, the FIA endorsement is evident, right down to statistic graphics which appear as the top six drivers cross the line. Fastest lap info, distance between cars etc. duplicates live televised race coverage, giving a familiar feel to the whole proceedings.
One area where graphics fall by the wayside is replays. After the race you can review your performance, but all you get a minute or so of drunken camera angles. Also, any wing that's been rudely ripped off your car during the race, is mysteriously bolted back in place during the replay. If replay options are your thing, then take a look at EA's latest offering, where you can view the last ten seconds of footage at any time within a race, served up with selected highlights at the end.
Some people like race commentary or in car radio chatter, if that's you, then you're going to be disappointed. There's just the whine of the engine and the screech of rubber on tarmac to keep your ears busy. However, other sound effects are rousing enough to create the right atmosphere. Displays and radar, which I'll come to in a moment, keep you up-to-date with who's all over you like a cheap suit and who's miles ahead, out of sight.
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