Love him or hate him, Michael Schumacher has all but wrapped up the 2002 season of Formula One racing. With Electronic Art’s latest racing game you can relive the 2002 season and write your own finale’. All the teams are represented in glorious detail, as well as the tracks (including the new Hockenheim upgrade), the scenery, and even the weather! It’s all there on your PC, ready for pedal to the metal action.
One thing that I’m glad has evolved with a bigger and bigger gaming market is that installing a game is now simpler than ever. F1 2002 installed painlessly onto the systems tested and even configured graphics / sound / steering wheel correct first go. Although there are still more graphics and controller options than you can point a stick at, they are hidden behind an excellent automatic detection script. Intrigued, I had a go tweaking the options myself without coming up with too much difference from the original setup. Clean, crisp graphics with an excellent framerate; just how a 3D game should be.
Next it’s off to set up a driver profile, with team and driver selections to follow. Shuey or Webber? The choice is yours. Me, I like the underdog, so I turfed out Yoong to take up a position alongside Webber in the Minardi camp. Go Aussie go! Lets just hope the thing doesn’t blow up under me. There’s a glimpse of some stats on the profile that tweaks my interest. Number of laps completed, average starting position, average AI difficulty level, etc. Although it’s pretty easy to do, it does give a good binding feeling to your persona in the game. Not exactly career mode, but a good start …
Let’s race already:
Jumping into a single race was next on the cards to test the real meat of the game. With experiences of both F1 2000 and GP3 from a few years ago I hoped it wouldn’t take too long to get back into the swing of these powerful machines. After ½ a lap and a few spins it seemed obvious I still had a bit of rust in the system, but maybe it was all the gawking at the scenery that was to blame. The game looks fantastic, especially the shadowed straits of Albert Park. Add leaves and you’d think you were looking at TV. What I did realise though was that the driving wheel was responding very well. No need to recalibrate, no need to adjust deadspots or assign buttons. Mmm installer, excellent.
One thing that was missing though was a driving line. Although it’s not that realistic, it’s an excellent driving aid to help learn new tracks and Albert Park seemed even trickier without it. All the other aids that you’d come to expect from a driving game these days are there, including auto gear shifting, auto braking, traction control, etc. The next best thing to a driving line is to find another car and follow it for a few laps, trying not to hit it when you miss your braking point too.
Individually, the computer-controlled cars seem to do a good job of circulating around the track. They brake at appropriate moments and generally give you good racing room when you barge up the inside. Part of the problems I’ve heard AI criticised for in racing games is that they just stick to the driving line and don’t get out of the way for the player. Well, although it does suck from a player’s perspective to be hit, a lot of the time the AI’s are WAY more lenient than in real life. The great thing about real life racing at the top level is that you pretty much know what the other people are going to do. They all have been groomed in the etiquette of racing from a young age and have often experienced the agony of being taken out (or taking someone else out) of a race due to poor driving. With virtual racing the player gets thrust into this mix with rarely the qualifications to back it up. AI drivers would do well to treat the player as if he had a big sign on the front that said “MANIAC ALERT: GET OUTTA THE WAY”. And me, I’m the biggest maniac there is.
If you sit behind an AI car for several laps you get to learn where they drive on the road, what parts they leave open, when they brake, where they are faster and where they are slower. Once you get a good feel for their driving pattern you can usually find 1 or 2 points where you can comfortably pass. Try a few more laps where you pass in those spots and then let them overtake on the parts where they seem quick. Once you get to know them they aren’t such a bad bunch ;). F1 2002 goes to good lengths to curb this by giving 2 separate controls for AI, both overall speed (as a % of true speed) and aggression. Set aggression down low and they’ll practically pull over for you, crank it up and they’ll even block passing opportunities. Somewhere in the middle is a good mix between real life driving and strapping on the maniac sign.
Together, especially at the start of a race, the AI cars go a tad bit haywire in the usual 1st turn mayhem. But then I guess they do on telly too. Overall the AI is adequate for the job. It would still be better racing real life people, but for the meantime they’ll do.
For those that may not yet have heard, the FIA have decided to only hand out official licenses as long as they DON’T have dedicated online support. I’m still unsure as to exactly what they are trying to gain by doing this, as racing online has really only moved into the realms of playability in Australia through the introduction of broadband. Just when almost every other genre is attempting go get more connectivity for players through the web, racing is going the other way. Strange, very strange. That aside there still is multiplayer support, but only through individually hosted games of up to 8 players. Playing through modem was a waste of time, but I wasn’t expecting much. If I’d written the game under those limitations I would bother putting much effort in. I’ve heard some reports that on LAN it’s OK, so hopefully this QGL I can test that out.
On today’s F1 cars, virtually everything going on is recorded and sent back to the hoard of mechanics in pit lane. Speed, G forces, wheel temp, ride height, etc. are all displayed in real time. A tech-head’s paradise. In F1 2002 you can upload your current laps to the telemetry section so that you can see comparisons between laps and find where to get that next 1/10th of a second from. I’m not sure of exactly what information the real guys get, but the plethora of diagrams and comparative analysis in this module is staggering. Probably too staggering since there’s virtually no explanation to any of the screens and how to ‘read’ them. To me, the best by far is the time differential view, which shows selected laps in different colours compared to a preset lap. This screen makes it easy to see where you have lost time and where you made it back up from lap to lap. Looking at 5 or so laps with the same setup but taking different lines through corners can show you how to improve your driving style. Showing 5 laps with different setups but the same driving line helps you tweak the physical characteristics of the car.
Hidden in the telemetry section is an answer to poor mulitplayer. Hotlappers of the world unite as any lap that has been sent to the telemetry section can be uploaded to the world charts. It’s amazing to see some of the times that people are doing, and which aids they had on to help them out. To use this awesome highscore table you are required to have an EA account, but unfortunately no documentation anywhere suggests how you get such an account. Finally I found a registration page
off EA’s European site that let me in. As you can save and load telemetry data, I thought that you would be able to see other people’s data for their lap on the table, but alas it is simply time based. If it were telemetry based this would be a wonderful tool for learning setups and enhance the competition at the top of the ladder for experienced drivers. Since fastest laps are also automatically recorded in the playback system, these too could have been incorporated in charts. During this review they have changed the format of the online table, so hopefully there is moves afoot to integrate some of this extra information.
The future ?!
With GP4 hitting the shelves at almost the same time, it will be an interesting battle as to who will wear the F1 crown. In my mind F1 2002 is certainly the leader of the older stalwarts with virtually every aspect of GP3 and F1 2001 covered. The polish on the game is excellent, with little touches (like the loading screen) showing the extra effort put into the game to make it feel more ‘rounded’. At the start the menu system seemed a little obtuse with a little too much reliance on icons, but is adequate to get you into the driver’s seat. The physics model feels much more improved over the original, and with a full array of advanced setup options you can tweak to your heart’s content. The default T-bar view gives the game a more arcadey feel than is probably warranted, but cockpit views along with others are still available (just always changing to them is painful). For some reason you always have to wait a minute or so as the game shows you the whole starting grid before a race TV style. Maybe it’s atmospheric, but after the 15th race you wish for a get-me-to-the-race-already key.
The adjustable difficulty would suit virtually every driver and being able to crank the AI past 100% is sure to give anyone the challenge they need. After completing the championship with your favourite settings there may not be too much more to do though. To me the biggest aspect will be the world charts and telemetry / recorded lap data swapping. If enough community can build behind these features the life expectancy of the game would be remarkably increased.
The ball is now in Geoff Crammond’s court to see if he can deliver again.
- Official Website
- Work in progress Demo