F1 Career Challenge Review (PS2)
F1 Career Challenge from EA Sports is their newest title that attempts to bring the F1 series home to the player’s console. The difference between this title and the others before is the career mode, which takes place with you starting the series in 1999 and has you attempt to become the best in the world by the end of the 2002 season. This year however EA Sports decided to only let the PS2 users in on the attempt. PC users get a game of the same title, but for this review I am only looking at the PS2 version. Now I will start off by saying I don’t follow the F1 series, but I am familiar with the tracks. I do know who some of the drivers are in the game, so it is not completely unfamiliar. The other side though is as far as the rules of the series go, I don’t know squat about them. For a period of time I stumbled through the paces of racing trying to figure things out as I was going, and even requesting a little help from Paul Kelly over at Digital Sports who sent me a set of pre 2003 rules to attempt to instill some knowledge of the series into my warped mind. Thanks to the developer of the game this didn’t help much at all as you will find out as you go on. Read on to find out what this inexperienced F1 series reviewer thinks about the game in the end.
The graphics in F1 Career Challenge are good at times, great others, and then you get the dose of trying to figure out what they were trying to accomplish. The cars and the tracks look good. The graphics are not going to blow you away, but they don’t flat out stink either. The other cars look about the same, none of this is going to make you turn it off because it is ugly, but it also isn’t going to give you the sensation of saying wow your first couple times playing.
While racing you are treated to a couple of unique effects. The first one is the slipstream effect. The effect is similar to drafting as stock cars racers do. If you get in the air of the car in front, you can pick up a slight boost of momentum and speed that allows you to suck up to the car in front of you. In a F1 car this allows you to also break out and zip past the car with a slingshot type pass. To showcase this you get a visual effect of the slipstreaming, which is very similar to Auto Modellista’s effect with lines and a sort of deformation of the slipstreamed path to the car in front of you. I liked the look of this and when it is done right it not only looks good and wild but also results in an excellent pass of the opponent, especially when you break out of the slipstream for the pass and the screen shakes and shimmies giving you the effect of the speed boost as you fly past the car you are passing. The second interesting thing I saw was when my screen would start to turn red from the outer edges in. I am assuming that this is meaning I am damaged or have damaged something recently. I can only say assume since this is a typical EA manual that is limited in what it tells you. The next bad part is the game doesn’t do a damn bit of good in helping you here either. I’ve raced a ton of races and I am still not completely sure what it means other than something isn’t good somewhere.
There are some cut sequences that you will be treated to now and again, with most of them related to the career mode, but they don’t vary much at all, main thing being the cut scenes after a race. You either get a group of guys standing around your car clapping or standing there staring at you like you just kicked their favorite pet. Lastly the best effect I saw was when a ‘race weekend’ was going to start you got a menu option with the background basically fast forwarding from day to night with the clouds whizzing by. With a fly-by type camera showing you various parts of the track. Yes it is just fluff, but I liked this.
Now the bad side to the graphics, the slowdown and choppiness of the graphics is present when racing, which can be dealt with, but it can also be distracting. Worse than this though are the warping issues I noticed, which is completely inexcusable. I had a time when I was trying to pit during a race and as soon as I entered pit lane the graphics turned into something that had the background looking like a cartoonist just started emptying his ink pen and mixing everything together. My car would still look normal but everything else looked as though it had just been put into a blender and plastered onto the screen. When this happened my car just kept on going into a virtual nothingness, leaving me with the only option of blowing my motor in hopes of resetting it. Unfortunately this put me back onto the track to try it again, with the same results. Another issue I saw in different tracks is a floating car on the screen. I only saw this three times so far, but that is once more than I should have. During a race hitting the square button will give you a quick replay of a portion of what you had just done. This is a decent segment, and can prove to be valuable in learning the twists and turns of the tracks.
The graphics in the end are a mixed bag, at one point they do the title justice and the next they are completely unusable to the point that you cannot even finish a race you started, with the only option being to shut off the game and restart from where the beginning of the last track you were on (this is due to the auto-save feature that I leave on so I can keep myself honest if I have a bad race).
The sound effects in F1 Career Challenge are also a mixed bag. The sounds of the cars and other drivers do a well enough job of giving you the feeling of being in a F1 car, but the sounds of your car when cornering are about enough to drive you up a wall. The screeching of the tires is way over done, especially considering there is absolutely no way around it giving the way the car controls (I will go into this more later in the review). If you are looking for any semblance of music while racing you can also forget that, however, this is not exactly a bad thing, as the vast majority of the in most games the music gets toggled off after a while (though custom soundtracks on the Xbox have spoiled me). Instead of music you have a spotter similar to Colin McRae Rally 3 that tells you certain things that are upcoming or happening on the track, but the spotter in F1 is no where near as helpful or even a joy to listen to as Colin McRae’s title is. The spotter here occasionally will tell you that you made a good pass, or that there is an accident ahead, but there were times when I really could’ve used the spotter but it flat out disappeared from my speakers, never to be heard from for the rest of the race. The bad part about this is your spotter is key into knowing when to pit (at least for me who still doesn’t understand the overall rules that the developers were trying to get me to follow). Not knowing when to pit can be crucial since a missed pit lap will almost certainly cause you to end your race the next lap. There is music in the menus. Most of it sounded very reminiscent of electronica, which to be wasn’t a bad thing. The volume of the music even when turned way up seemed extremely low compared to the rest of the sounds, so I really cannot give a good opinion on it, as it was extremely easy to tune out as I couldn’t hear it anyways.
F1 Career Challenge is all about the career mode. Yes, there are other options to race under, but none of them are in this game to give you long-term gameplay. If you are picking this up for just a quick race now and then, or to race against other people in your living room, forget it. Stop reading now and go waste your time on something that might be more productive. The other options I am speaking of are Quick Race, which lets you choose any year car and driver and go out and race a length that you the user will pre-determine. The other option is Multiplayer which consists of a Split Screen 2-4 player mode, with just the players sitting next to you or with up to twenty other CPU racers on the track. (Mutlitap needed for 3 and 4 players) Lastly there is Time Trial mode, which lets up to 22 people try and set the best lap time with the 5 minutes they are allowed on the track. Only one person at a time can race Time Trial mode and it must be done through a single controller no matter how many are plugged in.
Of course the main mode here is the Career mode. To get you started you need to name your driver, give them a nationality, and choose initials to identify yourself when you see the current standings during the race. Once everything has been chosen you have to obtain a superlicense to be able to race in the F1 series. Accomplishing certain tasks on the track in a set amount of time gets you your superlicense and lets you finally start your official career. Now choose your first team to race with and then move on to the menu options for your career. The options you are presented with give you a choice of Testing your car (which I have yet to see highlighted and able to be chosen, but is supposedly there to give you a chance to improve the overall power and ability of your car), Race Weekend (head to the track), Career Info (see how you have been doing throughout your current season as well as overall in your career), and finally Spend Points.
Obtaining points to spend comes from racing on the track, depending on how you do, lets say passing cars, or going so long without running off of the track, has you earning points that can be used pre-race to obtain things such as a better qualifying engine, stronger brakes, or something as meaningless as a new ‘pit babe’, or different colored helmet.
Once finally to the track itself you then can practice for a while or head out to the track and attempt to qualify. You get 12 laps to try and qualify your car higher than last place. Technically this is only 6 laps as you start with a rolling start, which means your first qualifying warm-up lap has already been done. You then get the 1 lap to post your time, or head back to the pit to try again. The AI is also qualifying at the same time, so even if you set a good lap on your first lap, you better be ready as the AI can bump you down (which they will) on the balance of the laps. After your position has been set it is on to the race itself. This is where you find out just how much F1 will occupy your time.
Once the green light appears and the race starts you see the first semblance of questionable happenings in that all of a sudden the cars are bunched up and some are spinning everywhere and others are just sitting there. Even more questionable part is when you hit a car the other car has pieces flying everywhere, but you are damage free (for the most part). The damaging model looks interesting when it happens but it is so random as to when you take damage it annoy you more and more as it happens. A light tap on another driver will cause them to go spinning off the track while you just plow on through. This is EA’s wonderful idea of arcade racing (unlike the PC counterpart which is definitely geared more towards the world of simulation racing). If arcade racing is your thing then you will be happy right away, as cheaters will definitely prosper, and even if you are not a cheater you will still prosper, but only for a while. The thing that really frustrated me about the damage and crashing is that I would run an entire race as best as I could, then all of a sudden out of nowhere I am tapped and I have a wheel fall off or go spinning out of control, this after I have hit cars with no problems beforehand.
The controls while racing are pure and simply a joke and should not even been an issue to begin with. If you have a wheel, you more then likely will not have a problem, but considering the vast majority of the people who are going to buy this are not going to shell out thirty dollars plus for a wheel, they will be very disappointed with the controls. They are learnable and usable, but don’t expect to post excellent times for quite a while, as the controls take a long time to master using a controller. The steering is very jerky, it is a pain in the ass to keep the car on the track, and every time you try and correct your steering or even try and turn, the jerkiness causes your car to slow down. Maybe I am controller ignorant, but this problem was evident in Nascar Thunder 2003, but not nearly to the level it is here as I could make the controls work in Nascar Thunder with a little bit of effort. The developers here really need to remember this game is for a console, Americans are not as into F1 racing as our European gaming counterparts are and most of us are going to stick with a controller. The die-hard racers here in America will be doing their racing on a PC with a wheel if they are of the serious variety.
Pitting is an interesting concept. In all career races, pitting must be done once a race. This is where things were interesting for me. My spotter would tell me shortly after the beginning of the race when they suggested I pit. First few times I went along with it, thinking I really had no choice, as there are no gauges to be seen that inform me of how much gas I have left, or damage, or anything that would give me a clue when to pit. Well when it actually comes time to enter pit lane (you better be watching while your taking laps where the entrances are as well, otherwise you are in for a world of hurt, because unless you know the tracks the pit entrances are only noted by the lane you see when driving by) that is when you are subjected to how you will pit every race during your career. You will have already done this at least once, and probably more than that since this was the last challenge in obtaining a superlicense. You will find out that once you are in pit lane the CPU will take over. During this sequence you are expected to press a controller button or direction during the pit stop in a certain amount of time to get to your pit stall quickly. Any press out of sequence or late will cause valuable time to be wasted as well as increase the possibility of a stall in the pits and more lost time. Once the sequences are done you will be shown how well you did coming in and how much time you lost in the pits, thankfully since the career mode races are short you only have to put up with this once a race if you pit at the right time. This pitting sequence does get boring ad repetitive after a while. On top of that sometimes when I am being informed to pit I enter pit lane only to find my spotter telling me that I cannot pit this lap for whatever reason (I haven’t been given one yet) and I just go through the pit and usually run out of gas sometime over the next lap. Best part yet is even if I try and pit early thinking I will outsmart my moronic spotter I still end out running out of fuel before the end of the race. This baffles me in that sometimes I can pit late in the race and not have it be a problem, but the same track I pit early I will run out of fuel. This just does not make any sense to me.
In the end the gameplay more than likely will be the reason you take this game out of your PS2 and fling it across the room, but if your patient you may actually come out of this happy. This person sure didn’t.
F1 Career Challenge throughout the time I have had this title has kept drawing me back in to try it some more thinking that maybe I am not giving this game enough of a chance. Try and try again to convince myself that this is worthy title and deserving of a recommendation I end out telling myself there is absolutely little reason why I would want anyone to waste their money on this title. Even if found for twenty dollars I think the gamer is nuts for putting money down on this game. Now that the review is done this game is going to go by the way of a trade-in, as I cannot keep convincing myself to try and find a reason to like it, nor do I have to anymore. The developers need to be commended for attempting to put out a unique title to the market of something that has been released quite frequently. With more time and care it possibly could have happened and this review would have been much better. However, with all the things that left me scratching my head wondering how it made it in the game I just wonder why they released a product with as many glaring flaws as they have in this. Whoever did the quality assurance on this game needs to have a rope set up from a chandelier and hung by their balls because it is a disgrace to gamers it was released. If you are a true fan of F1 racing then you may actually be able to overcome the issues and have some fun, but I really doubt it. The rest of you I suggest to steer clear of this title and look to many of the other racing offerings out for the PS2.