Nearly everyone has had the itch for speed at one point in their life. Whether it’s while driving a car on the highway or redlining a motorbike, many of us have experienced the thrill of speed and enjoyed it. The ultimate form of adrenaline in racing is Formula 1 (F1), where the world’s best drivers race extremely quick cars on various circuits. Since most of us will never get that experience, we have games like F1 2011 to give us a taste of the fast life.
F1 2011 puts you right in the cockpit of the 2011 Formula 1 race cars. It's impressive to see the amount of different gameplay modes that Sumo Digital has put into a portable title. While each involves the same general idea of getting the cars around the tracks as quickly as possible, the variety greatly improves the fun factor and feeling of scale.
The overall sensation of speed isn't mindblowing, but it isn't bad either; you can definitely sense it when rain starts hitting the tracks. The handling feels more controlled and less variable compared to the console versions, but with an on-or-off throttle and brake, a more forgiving handling system is important.
The main single player mode puts you directly in the shoes of an aspiring F1 driver. You accept or decline email offers from various race sponsors, as well as take place in qualifying, practice, and trial races in order to work your way up to the big race days. Each session offers somewhat realistic features, from real time limits for qualifying sessions to the ability to tune up and customise various aspects of your car. It can take a few races to get the feel for the flow of events, but there is also a handy in-game calendar to remind you which events are coming up.
Other modes include a challenge mode filled with a plethora of various mini goals to accomplish under specific settings, quick races, time trials, and a championship mode, which essentially compacts the career mode down to just the important races in the series. In these modes you can select from a list of real F1 competitors from the 2011 race year, as well as their vehicles.
When it comes to the physics and tuning of each car, F1 2011 mixes arcade and realism nicely. There are enough true to life features, such as the KERS braking system and real-time adjustable rear wings, while still being simple enough for non-F1 fanatics to pick up and drive. Damage and tyre wear can be turned on or off for each event, as can various driver aids. Those looking for a true to life F1 simulator might be let down, though, as the game focuses more on playability rather than being a completely realistic simulation of true F1 racing.
Nearly every aspect of the car can be adjusted to best suit each track or event. From simple things like tyre choice, to more advanced settings such as the geometry of those tyres, F1 2011 has covered most of the bases for car enthusiasts. While tuning is generally not required, knowing how to set up your F1 car can certainly give you a competitive advantage online or in the online leaderboards. The multiplayer is smooth, responsive and fun — provided that you can find a competitor. In the days following Vita's launch, it took a while to find people to race against. It’s also important to note that you must be using Wi-Fi, not 3G, in order to race online.
What is a race without a few crashes, though? When it comes to graphics, F1 2011 for Vita hits a brick wall. While noticeably smoother than the 3DS edition, the visuals are still more befitting of PlayStation Portable’s hardware capabilities. It would have been nice to see some of that much-vaunted console-like quality from this title.
One of the biggest disappointments is the lack of touch screen integration in the menus — or anywhere, in fact. When adjusting the cars' performance you use a series of sliders that would have translated perfectly to touch. There's even a part where you type your name but are unable to use the on-screen keyboard; you're restricted to the D-pad and face buttons instead. These aspects make the Vita edition feel a bit rushed at times, but don't take away from the game too much considering the menus still navigate well with buttons.
Unfortunately, the controls sometimes handle like a flat tyre. For those racing with manual transmission, you’ll find yourself stuck with a few control schemes that just do not feel right. You have to sacrifice throttle for real-time adjustments like KERS or the ability to comfortably shift gears. Given the Vita's huge list of features created just for gameplay control, this lack of customisability is awfully disappointing. The rear touch pad is completely optional and only utilised under a couple of the control layouts.
For extras, there's a Circuit guide to provide you with statistics about each track, driver biographies filled with information, and constructor profiles of statistics and data about each car. The garage mode from the console edition is absent, which is another disappointment as the Vita's motion and touch capabilities could have generally improved the overall experience from the console version.
The amount of gameplay options and slightly realistic customisations help drive this title past the muddy graphics and unfriendly controls. Hardcore F1 2011 fans should pick up this title and prove their loyalty in the career mode and online multiplayer. If possible, the console version of F1 2011 would still be a much smarter purchase, but those looking to take the action of F1 racing anywhere should consider this title.